The River City Renegade


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About Marko Dano moving to Glitter Gulch…silence from the Winnipeg Jets…no whining from the Pittsburgh Penguins…Mike O’Shea calling Drew Willy to have him come back…empty seats in the Republic of Tranna…best CFL coach ever…lack of star power in golf…and gays in pro sports board rooms but not in dressing rooms

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

So, Marko Dano’s new mailing address might be Glitter Gulch, and this is a problem for the Winnipeg Jets how?

Seriously, all the teeth-gnashing and angst about which player the Vegas Golden Knights plan to pluck from a Jets roster not good enough to qualify for the recently concluded Stanley Cup tournament is so much ado about nil.

Marko Dano

Does anyone truly believe that the local hockey heroes can’t get along without Marko Dano? Or Michael Hutchinson? Or any of the lads available to Vegas in the National Hockey League expansion draft?

Exposing Dano to the whims of the new kid on the block is not a deal-breaker. If his name is called when the players selected by Vegas are revealed on Wednesday, it will have zero impact on the Jets. Zero. They missed the postseason with Dano, they can miss it without Dano.

Having said that, I don’t get the Jets’ infatuation with Andrew Copp. I see him as a fringe NHLer. A fourth-line forward who shouldn’t get more than 10 minutes of ice a night. If it was a choice to protect Copp or Dano from the Vegas vultures, I’m keeping the latter.

The Dallas Stars need a goaltender, they get one. The Carolina Hurricanes need a goaltender, they get one. The Calgary Flames need a goaltender, they get one. The Montreal Canadiens need scoring, they get some. The Golden Knights need draft picks, they’re collecting them like a squirrel stashing away acorns. The Jets need…well, apparently nothing. Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, will lay claim to a whack of freshly scrubbed teenagers later this month at the NHL entry draft, then hit the snooze button for the rest of the summer (except perhaps to gift Chris Thorburn with a fresh three-year contract).

It’s about Paul Maurice. Remember all that “oh, woe are we” whining about the schedule we heard from the Jets head coach when his outfit was required to play 32 games in 60 days at the start of the 2016-17 crusade? Well, the Pittsburgh Penguins just played 25 games in 61 days. I think we can agree that playoff hockey is a different animal than shinny in October, November and December. It’s much more intense, demanding, draining and flat-out brutal. It’s sort of like dog years, but not quite. That is, I’d say one playoff game is equal to three regular-season assignments, so the Penguins actually played 75 games in 60 days en route to their second successive Stanley Cup title. Yet not once did I hear their head coach, Mike Sullivan, sniveling about the schedule.

Drew Willy

What does Marc Trestman know about quarterbacks that Mike O’Shea doesn’t. Plenty apparently. I mean, it took O’Shea two complete Canadian Football League seasons and five games into a third crusade to realize Drew Willy wasn’t the answer at quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It took Marc Trestman less than one half of one exhibition game to arrive at the same conclusion for his Toronto Argonauts, thus he pink-slipped the former Bombers starting QB on Saturday. You don’t suppose O’Shea has already placed a call to Willy’s agent, do you? Talk about a frightening prospect.

Donald Trump will stop using Twitter before I part with money to watch exhibition football, and it seems that 99.9999 per cent of folks in the Republic of Tranna are of a similar mindset. The announced head count for the Argos’ one dress rehearsal at BMO Field was 5,532. I once saw that many clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle at the Shrine Circus when I was a kid.

I’ve heard and read a lot of “Don Matthews is the greatest head coach in Canadian Football League history” since the Coach of Many Teams died last week. Well, I beg to differ. I mean, what’s the measuring stick? Total victories? Wally Buono beats him. Winning percentage? Hugh Campbell, John Hufnagel, Marc Trestman, Bud Grant, Ralph Sazio and Buono beat him. CFL titles? Campbell, Buono and Frank Clair have as many, and Campbell did it in six seasons compared to Matthews’ 22. The best head coach ever? I’ll take Hugh Campbell or Bud Grant over The Don any time.

Once upon a time—and not so long ago—the first question you’d ask during one of golf’s major tournaments was “What did Tiger shoot?” and you’d expect to hear that Tiger Woods was at, or very near, the top of the leaderboard. The second question would be “What about Phil?” and you’d likely be told that Phil Mickelson was in striking distance of the lead. Those two were the heartbeat of the men’s pro tour. They were the latter-day version of Arnie and Jack. Now? The men’s tour is a mosh pit, with an assortment of players alternating as flavor of the month. It was Rory McIlroy, then Jordan Spieth, then Jason Day, then Dustin Johnson. Trouble is, there isn’t a swashbuckler among them. None has polarizing or riveting appeal. I wouldn’t say the PGA Tour has become a bore, but it ceased being must-see TV about the same time Woods got caught with his pants down and drove his car into a tree.

Quiz me this, kids: Why was the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s a good thing and the Golden State Warriors’ dominance the past few years a bad thing for the National Basketball Association?

Laura Ricketts

The president and chief operating officer of the NBA-champion Warriors, Rick Welts, is openly gay. One of the co-owners and a board member of Major League Baseball’s reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts, is an out lesbian. Two openly gay people in power positions with championship teams and yet gay players are still afraid to come out of hiding. I’d say that tells us all we need to know about the 1950s culture that still exists in the dressing rooms of the top four major sports leagues in North America.

I sometimes subscribe to the old bromide that our mothers often delivered: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I’m not going to say anything about the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather dust-up.

Add 3-on-3 hoops to Steve Simmons’ growing list of sports he doesn’t fancy. The Postmedia scribe writes this: “Coming to the next Summer Olympics. Three on three basketball. Honest. With a 12-second shot clock. Games are 10 minutes in length or end when the first team has 21 points. Somebody out there in Olympic land—or many IOC members—have lost their minds.” So, if you’re keeping score at home, Simmons wants 3-on-3 hoops, trampoline and women’s hockey eliminated from the Olympics. And he wants the best tennis players in the world to cease participating in mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. The reality that the Summer Olympics now will include mixed relays in athletics and swimming, as well as mixed competition in triathlon, table tennis, judo and archery must keep him awake at night. I mean, the poor sap might have to write about a female ping pong player if a Canadian does well.

I note that Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps plans to race against a great white shark. Man vs. animal is nothing new, though. Jesse Owens raced thoroughbred horses. Former National Football League receiver Dennis Northcutt raced an ostrich. NFLers Chris Johnson and Devin Hester raced a cheetah. And, of course, numerous men fought Mike Tyson.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About Jennifer Botterill breaking into the old boys club and lighting the way for young female hockey players in Manitoba…old friend Barry Bonni from The Bronx in the Hall of Fame…and old friend Vic Grant getting the last laugh about Bobby Hull

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Bathgate, Broda, Belfour and now Botterill…as in Jennifer Botterill. Female. Alongside the giants in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. As a player.

Step aside, boys, your old club ain’t what it used to be.

Jennifer Botterill

The historic significance of Jennifer Botterill’s nomination as the first female inductee to the MHHofF’s players roll call seemed lost on Tuesday when the class of 2017 was introduced. The focus was on Michael Gobuty. And for just reason.

Gobuty, to be enshrined in October as a builder, is a very nice man who long ago secured his place in local shinny lore by a) tossing the Winnipeg Jets a $250,000 lifeline when the World Hockey Association flagship franchise was about to go glub, glub, glub, and b) assuming one of the lead roles in the Jets’ move from the WHA to the National Hockey League.

Quick digression: We’re duty bound to point out that Gobuty, a mover and shaker in the local rag trade back in the day, also is the man who looked a gift horse in the mouth and balked at spending another quarter of a million dollars (chump change in today’s inflated market) on a scrawny kid named Gretzky.

Wayne spent two days in my house,” Gobuty was saying on Tuesday. “I had the opportunity to get him.”

Except Rudy Pilous, a learned man with a rich pedigree that included coaching Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup champions, wasn’t keen on this Gretzky kid. Believed him to be “too skinny.” Thus, the Jets general manager counseled Gobuty to consider better ways to spend $250,000. D’oh! We all know how well losing Wayne Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers worked out for the Jets. But, hey, let’s not be too hard on ol’ Rudy. I mean, someone at Decca records once rejected The Beatles, so there’s been at least one bigger gaffe.

So we won’t hold the Gretzky thing against Gobuty, who, not for the first time, also debunked the folksy myth that he lost the Great One at a backgammon table.

We played backgammon,” he confirmed in recalling a rendezvous with Nelson Skalbania during which the Indianapolis Racers bankroll offered up Gretzky for the sticker price of $250,000, “but it was not for Wayne.”

Anyway, as much as Gobuty’s tales make for terrific copy and get gums flapping, it’s about Jennifer Botterill.

I’d like to say that the Harvard honours grad (psychology) and much-decorated member of our national and Olympic women’s shinny side is keeping great company with legends like Andy Bathgate, Turk Broda, Ed Belfour, Bobby Clarke, Mosie and the rest of the boys who’ve been inducted since the creation of the MHHofF in 1985, but it must be said that they are in great company, as well.

Jen Botterill’s bonafides are exceptional:

* Five times a world champion.
* Three times an Olympic champion.
* The only two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female player in NCAA hockey.
* National champion with Harvard.
* MVP at the 2001 and 2004 women’s world hockey championship.
* Best forward at the 2001 women’s world hockey championship.
* Leading scorer in the 2007-08 Canadian Women’s Hockey League season.
* Manitoba’s female athlete of the year in 2001.

The Botterill induction in October won’t be all about the trinkets, decorations and records, though. It’s a message. The Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame no longer is an old boys club for players. It’s an anybody’s club. And young girls playing hockey in Manitoba can follow Jen Botterill’s path. She lit the way for them.

It should be emphasized that there are other female members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Referee Laura Loeppky, for example, is enshrined in the Officials wing, while Dianne Woods and Jill Mathez are honored as Builders. Jen Botterill, however, is the first to go in based purely on her playing cred.

Barry Bonni (front row, third from right) and the 1981-82 MMJHL champion River East Royal Knights.

So pleased to see old friend Barry Bonni get the nod in the MHHofF Builders category. Both Barry and I froze our tootsies more than once on the outdoor freezes at Bronx Park in East Kildonan, but we survived to tell tales about Dunc the Rat and other oddball characters in The Bronx. Barry went on to build a dynasty with his River East Royal Knights in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.

Also pleased to know another old friend, Winnipeg Tribune colleague Vic Grant, will be enshrined in the Media category in October. Whenever I think of Vic, I retreat to the spring of 1972, when he’d arrive in our sports department bunker on the fifth floor of the now-vanished Trib building in downtown River City. He was usually wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jacket, a gift from scout Jimmy Walker I believe, and he’d advise us that Ben Hatskin was about to take Bobby Hull hostage and sign him to a Jets contract. We guffawed. As history records, however, Vic had the last laugh.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Sports Santa delivers the goods to the naughty and nice in toyland

santa-crapping-2016Sports Santa is back in town and the jolly, ol’ boy isn’t so jolly this year. He’s actually in a bit of a snit. So tell us, Sports Santa, what do you have for the girls and boys in the toy department, a large lump of coal or a nice gift for those who scored big in 2016?

COAL: Mike O’Shea. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach deserves the entire coal bin, not just a lump or two. Where do we begin? It took him five games to realize that Drew Willy was a complete washout as a starting quarterback, he shows nothing but contempt for the media, he made an epic, boneheaded blunder that cost the Bombers any chance of winning the only Canadian Football League playoff game he’s coached in three seasons, then he went on record as saying he’d make the same epic, boneheaded blunder again if given the opportunity. Sigh.

GOAL: Justin Medlock. The guy hoofed 60 field goals, a CFL record, but he’ll be remembered as the victim of O’Shea’s playoff brain fart. Asked to kick a 61-yard FG in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium to preserve the Bombers’ Grey Cup aspirations, his attempt fell seven yards short of the target. He doesn’t take the rap, though. O’Shea does for asking his kicker to do the impossible.

GOAL: Matt Nichols took the ball that O’Shea was ordered to hand him and ran and passed it all the way to the playoffs, putting together a 10-3 record after taking over from Willy as the starting QB.

COAL: I put plugs in my ears, so someone please tell me that Paul Maurice has finally stopped squawking about the Winnipeg Jets’ schedule. The head coach provided his workers with a built-in excuse for failure with his constant, oh-woe-is-me carping about the grind foisted upon them by National Hockey League schedule-makers. Coach PoMo’s pity party was pathetic.

GOAL: What’s not to like about the Jets’ Lickety-Split Line of Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele, or as I call them Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat? The Lickety-Split Line should be terrorizing NHL defenders and goaltenders for the next dozen years. Mind you, with Maurice pulling the strings behind the bench, forward combinations last about as long as a Grade One kid’s attention span. He might have them split up before New Year’s Eve.

COAL: When Jacob Trouba and his agent went public with their trade request and the young defenceman chose to stay home rather than attend Jets training camp, teammate Mathieu Perreault branded him “selfish.” Perreault should flap his gums less and do more of what he’s paid to do—produce points. The overpaid and underachieving forward has a whopping seven points (two goals). Stop my beating heart.

christmas-stocking-coalCOAL: He’s among my favorite scribes, but Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press totally lost the plot with what came across as a personal attack on Trouba, rather than reasoned analysis. Among other things, Wiecek called him a “malcontent” and “impetuous” and “the biggest loser” and chided him for his “petulance” in requesting a trade and holding out. Well, excuse me, but Trouba was merely exercising his bargained-for right as a restricted free agent. It’s fair to question his decision, but we can do without the schoolyard insults. Wiecek is better than that.

GOAL: I’m told Kirk Penton is riding off into the sunset. The best CFL beat guy in the country, Penton leaves the Winnipeg Sun at the end of the year, and that’s a huge blow to the tabloid. No word on where Kirk is headed, but he’ll be a success wherever he lands.

GOAL: He didn’t appear in the Sun sports pages often enough, but the now-retired Cam Cole of Postmedia will be missed. His copy was golden.

COAL: Postmedia has ransacked the sports writing biz in Canada, with its non-stop stream of force-outs and buyouts of people like Cole, Penton and George (Shakey) Johnson, among others. Postmedia has also left the country with exactly one two-newspaper town west of the Republic of Tranna. That would be Winnipeg, where the Sun and Freep still try to beat the other guy to the story.

COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia said Kevin Durant had “no spine” and it was “gutless” of him to sign with the Golden State Warriors. He told both pro golfer Brooke Henderson and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman to “grow up.” He repeatedly has called people “idiots” and engaged in childish hissing contests on his Twitter feed. Seems to me that there’s a soon-to-be 60-year-old sports scribe who should take his own advice and “grow up.”

GOAL: Bravo Desiree Scott. The Winnipeg-born midfielder.made her 100th appearance for Canada in international soccer in February (the 15th woman to do so) and she helped our Olympic side earn a bronze medal at the Rio Summer Games. Desiree and her gal pals beat Germany, France, Australia and Brazil, all ahead of them in the world rankings.

GOAL: Executive director Mo Glimcher retired after 41 years with the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. I remember dealing with Mo when I worked at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. Great guy.

GOAL: Although she was wearing Alberta colors, Chelsea Carey did Manitoba proud when she skipped her Wild Rose Country team to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title. Chelsea, the daughter of Dan Carey, was groomed on the curling rinks of Winnipeg.

COAL: Evander Kane simply cannot stay out of trouble. Or court.

christmas-stocking-goodGOAL: A tip of the bonnet to the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, for bringing the Heritage Classic to Winnipeg and linking the current Jets franchise to the roots of professional hockey as we know it in River City.

COAL: The Puck Pontiff blew it when he didn’t make original Jets franchise founder Ben Hatskin the first inductee to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. The late, great Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who wore the C during the Jets glory years in the World Hockey Association, also should have been among the first group to be enshrined.

COAL: Bobby Hull refused to join Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson at a ceremony to salute the first three members of the Jets Hall of Fame. What a drip.

GOAL: Kyle Walters did boffo business in the CFL free-agent market, purchasing seven free agents at the opening bell. Justin Medlock was the pick of the litter.

GOAL (posthumously): We lost curling champion Vic Peters in March. A wonderful person.

GOAL: Old friend Ed Tait bolted from the Winnipeg Free Press toy department to the Blue Bombers, where he’s made the CFL club’s website sing with his fine prose.

GOAL: Mr. Everything with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelly McCrimmon, moved to Las Vegas, where he sits at the right hand of general manager George McPhee with the NHL expansion outfit.

GOAL: Winnipeg Goldeyes are rulers of all they survey in baseball’s American Association. The local nine has brought two titles to River City this decade.

COAL: Goldeyes owner Sam Katz took a cheap shot at the Bombers and Jets for their lack of success. Such a shame to know you’re still a total drip after all these years, Sammy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.


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Winnipeg Jets: Their victory over the Soviets was the signature moment for an undervalued team

Perhaps because a broad brushstroke of hockey nostalgia is about to sweep across good, Ol’ Hometown, I find myself reaching back to distant times and a shinny barn long ago reduced to rubble.

I couldn’t begin to inventory the number of days and nights I spent in the Winnipeg Arena during my three decades writing about hockey in River City, but I confess that the large majority of the games I witnessed have faded to black, lost in the foggy moors of my ever-eroding memory. Mostly, they come back to me in vignettes. A highlight here, an incident there.

There are, however, three matches that remain indelible: 1) The Winnipeg Jets’ victory over the Soviet Union National team; 2) Game 6 of the 1979 World Hockey Association championship; 3) the first Tuxedo Night.

jets-sovietsThe latter two I recall because one carried historical significance, in that it was the WHA’s final act and the local lads took permanent ownership of the Avco World Trophy, while the other was noteworthy for its marketing quirkiness and behind-the-scenes madness that brought closure to Bobby Hull’s career in Jets linen. Poor Bobby was all dressed up with no place to go on Tuxedo Night, and his clumsy exit is a humorous, oft-told chapter of folklore that I’m certain will be recited and embellished when the old boys gather for their Heritage Classic hijinks this week.

That’s strictly Sideshow Bob stuff, though, when measured against the caging of the great Russian Bear. That was the defining moment for a team and its players whose accomplishments often were pooh-poohed by the hockey establishment because of the company they kept. The WHA and its member teams, you see, were looked upon like the Canadian dollar is today—not up to par. Devalued. Or so the prevailing logic went.

But wait. Don’t talk to us about second-class citizens. The Jets beat the Soviet National side, dammit!

I can still see Ulf Nilsson delivering a short, delicate pass to Dave Dunn, a big, lumbering defenceman with a square, planter-like pot for a helmet. No one had ever mistaken Dunn for, say, the smooth-as-silk Peter Sullivan or Kent Nilsson. More to the point, his was a hunch-shouldered, laborious skating style that evoked imagery of a beast of burden pulling a milk wagon. Yet there was Dunn, suddenly with some lickety-split in his stride as he departed the neutral zone and navigated his way into enemy territory.

Looking up from the end boards, Dunn spied Hull standing at the lip of the crease, and he dished a backhand pass to the Golden Jet, who flicked the puck past Vladislav Tretiak. Game, set and match. The Jets had beaten the Soviets, 5-3.

It is the irony of Dunn’s daring, as much as Hull’s three scores and Ulf Nilsson’s four points, that revisits me when I ponder the events of Jan. 5, 1978.

I recall watching from on high, in the Arena press box, as Dunn accepted Nilsson’s feed and began his foray along the right wing boards and into a corner. I thought it totally out of character for him to be so ambitious. Dunn’s technique and skill level were directly at odds with the shock-and-awe swagger of his playmates, Nilsson, Hull and Anders Hedberg. Not to mention the three Soviet forwards on the freeze at that moment—Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov. Dave Dunn belonged in that group like Donald Trump belongs at your teenage daughter’s pajama party.

This can’t possibly end well,” I muttered to myself.

It did, though, and the Jets had their signature game, the one match we can point to after this great passage of time and say “that’s how good those guys were.”

***

This wasn’t a championship skirmish. It wasn’t even a regular-season assignment. It was, as soccer people are wont to say, a “friendly.” A pleasant interlude of sporting pleasure to perhaps soothe the sting of another long and dreary Winnipeg winter.

Yet any frolic with the Soviet National side during the Cold War, circa 1970s, carried political overtones, if not intrigue, plus the promotional wallop of a heavyweight tiff.

Dave Dunn

Dave Dunn

And so it was when the Jets, with their blend of smooth Swedes and good, ol’ bent-nosed Canadian boys, engaged the best of Mother Russia. None among the combatants arrived at the rink to make nice. This was a “friendly” like Donald S. Cherry was a member of the Politburo.

Few beyond the walls of the Jets’ changing quarters expected the WHA’s marquee team to topple the comrades. Even the most rabid of the rabble would have told you victory was less likely than Cherry taking a mail-order Russian bride.

I mean, this was the creme de la borscht of Soviet shinny. It was one thing to whup a club side from Mother Russia, like Wings or Dynamo or, yes, even the National team’s doppelganger, CKSA, more commonly known as the Central Red Army. A few WHA and NHL outfits already had been there and done that. But beat the communist colossus? Nyet.

To further underscore the enormity of the task, the Russkies already had given the Jets three wedgies in “friendlies” in Tokyo, Japan—7-5, 4-2, 5-1—prior to the comrades’ arrival on our shores (at which point Ivan promptly administered a 7-2 paddywhacking to the Edmonton Oilers).

So, yes, the Russian Bear was in full-throated growl.

The Jets, however, were not without bark and bite of their own.

Although appropriately respectful of a foe that collected World and Olympic championships like little boys collected bubble gum cards, the Jets delighted a gathering of 10,315 eye witnesses by laying waste to the Soviets early, building a 4-0 advantage on two goals each from Ulf Nilsson and Hull. Shortly thereafter, taskmaster Viktor Tikhonov removed Aleksandr Sidelnikov from the Soviets’ goal and replaced him with Tretiak.

As if on cue, the great Russian Bear stirred, making it 4-2 before the second period had expired, both goals coming off the stick of diminutive and unsmiling Boris Alexandrov. Vasily Pervukhin then supplied third-period drama, beating Jets goaltender Joe Daley two minutes and 43 seconds in. A collective murmur rumbled from the pews to the rafters in the old barn on Maroons Road. Fans feared the worst.

The Jets quelled the Russian uprising, though, guarding their one-goal advantage with Scrooge-like stinginess until Hull converted Dunn’s pass into his third score and the Jets’ fifth, eight seconds from time.

Never before had the Soviet National side been beaten by a club team.

***

Scant seconds after the fact, those of us with pens, notepads and microphones were granted access to the locals’ lair, where we discovered half the players still fully adorned in their Jets livery and the other half already baring well-sculpted chests, abs and arms. Some roamed to the four corners of their cramped quarters, smiling and slapping broad-shouldered backs and tousling the stringy, matted-down hair on sweat-soaked heads. A few sat in silent reflection, giving ponder to a job well done and nursing post-work refreshments.

Ulf Nilsson

Ulf Nilsson

They were properly pleased and proud, these Jets, also weary to the marrow.

They seemed in unspoken agreement that the early after-moments of their conquest of the CCCP was a time for softened celebration, rather than unrestrained revelry, and it is their muffled merriment and a quiet quote from Ulf Nilsson that I also remember about the goings-on of that magical night.

“The Russians are so hard to play against…I don’t think I ever beat them before tonight,” offered Nilsson, a native of Nynashamn who along with fellow Swede Hedberg and Hull combined to outscore the Soviets’ fabled forward troika of Mikhailov, Kharlamov and Petrov 10 points to zero. “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

That sentiment worked both ways, that night and so many others for the Jets and their flock.

(Footnote: To put the Jets’ victory in perspective, the Soviets went 5-0 against five other WHA outfits on that tour, beating the Oilers (7-2), Quebec Nordiques (6-3), Cincinnati Stingers (9-2), Indianapolis Racers (8-3) and New England Whalers (8-4) for a combined score of 38-14).

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.


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About Mike O’Shea still wearing short pants and getting the job done…Rodney Dangerfield…girl power in the NHL…running mates for Donald Trump…Jacob Trouba wanting out…and top-drawer sports writing

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Mike O'Shea: He's no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Mike O’Shea: He’s no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Well, who saw this coming? Mike O’Shea suddenly looking like the second coming of Mike Riley.

Well, okay, we don’t want to get carried away. Riley coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a pair of Canadian Football League championships. I assume he still has the Grey Cup rings to prove it. O’Shea, on the other hand, has accomplished squat. But, hey, when the good times roll so does hyperbole.

What kind of a roll are the local football heroes on? Let’s just say the fact we’re mentioning O’Shea and Riley in the same sentence—rather than O’Shea and Jeff Reinebold—ought to be your first clue.

Your second clue would be that no one is talking or writing about O’Shea’s short pants anymore.

It wasn’t so long ago, remember, that the Bombers were a Sad Sackian 1-4 outfit and O’Shea was being fitted for a neck-tie party. A funny thing happened on the way to the gallows, though. He changed quarterbacks (or someone did it for him), a whack of starters sustained owies that put them on the shelf, and the guys filling in have done something the prime-timers couldn’t do—win.

So what am I saying? That it’s necessity, not design, that is at the root of the Bombers’ rise to respectability? Yes. And no.

Only those who share the inner sanctum—and, perhaps, a few flies on the wall at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry—know the true story behind the QB switch. To that point, the head coach had displayed either a shocking quarterback blindness or a peculiar infatuation with his do-nothing starter, Drew Willy. Thus it’s my guess that O’Shea was prodded, if not instructed, to take the ball from Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols. His hand was further forced due to the injuries on the offensive line, at receiver and among the defensive dozen.

But here’s where O’Shea got it right: He’s plugged the proper people into the appropriate places (hello, Taylor Loffler). The result: four games, four Ws and a 5-4 record at the halfway juncture of their 2016 crusade.

Now let’s see if he has the smarts to get it right once the original starters are back from sick bay.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn't get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bombers are playing the Rodney Dangerfield card. “We feel like we’re not respected,” linebacker Mo Leggett said scant seconds after Friday night’s brawl in Montreal, with the Winnipegs on the favorable end of a 32-18 score against the Alouettes. “We feel like we’re still underrated by everyone, so we’re just going to keep going making plays and we’re going to stay hungry.” This, of course, is a common rallying cry from players on outfits that go from punching bag to pick-of-the-litter seemingly overnight. But whatever works, right?

It occurred to me while watching the Bombers and Alouettes grab grass and growl that the jury remains out on Duron Carter, who received a one-game sentence for bowling over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell yet has not missed a beat. We still await an arbitrator’s ruling. Good grief. The O.J. Trial didn’t take this long.

John Bowman of the Larks had a legit gripe with officiating when one of the zebras flagged him for roughing late in the fourth quarter and the result very much in the balance. Bombers O-lineman Travis Bond shoved Bowman post-whistle. Bowman shoved back. Bond, a 6-feet-6, 329-lb. behemoth, went all soccer player, abruptly leaning back and his arms flailing as if the victim of a terrorist attack. Out came the hanky. That cost the Als 15 yards. Lip service from Bowman cost him another 10 yards. Brutal. If Bowman’s shove was worth 15 yards, Bond’s embellishment should have been worth 15 yards.

Speaking of embellishment, I’m sorry but Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays doesn’t have to leave his feet to catch a ball quite as often as he does. No doubt he’s among the premier glovesmiths in Major League baseball, but the Jays centrefielder made a play on an Albert Pujols drive the other night that had mustard dripping all over it. Yes, he ran a long way to make the catch, but, no, he didn’t have to launch himself into the Superman routine. It was pure hot-dogging.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

The arrival of Dawn Braid as full-time skating coach with the Arizona Coyotes was met with much ballyhoo, because she’s a she. Except neither Braid nor the Desert Dogs is breaking new ground here. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had former figure skating champion Barbara Underhill on payroll as skating coach since 2012. Previously, she had worked for the Disney Ducks, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lighting. The Hockey News once named her among the 100 most influential people in the game. Figure skating females have, in fact, been coaching in the National Hockey League since the 1970s, when Laura Stamm worked with Bob Nystrom of the New York Islanders. Underhill, Cathy Andrade, Barb Aidelbaum and Braid have followed her lead. Girl power has long been in the NHL…it’s just that a lot of people never noticed until the Braid hire.

Is it too late for Donald Trump to recruit either Hope Solo or Ryan Lochte as a running mate in the U.S. presidential election race? Nobody, other than the Donald, has offended more Americans than the soccer goalie and the swimmer, so I figure one of them is a perfect fit.

Bill Watters, former player agent, former NHL executive, current radio gab-and-gossip guy, says Jacob Trouba wants out of Winnipeg. He offers no insider info to support his theory that the Jets’ young defenceman wishes to fly the coop. He uses only the deductive reasoning of a man who has spent a lifetime in the game at many different levels. You know something? I’m inclined to believe Watters.

My three stars at the Rio Olympics, print division, were Bruce Arthur (Toronto Star), Cam Cole and Ed Willes (Team Postmedia), with an honorable mention to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail for his wrapup piece. Each wrote a column that has stayed with me. More than one, actually. Some other scribes’ work stayed with me as well. Like a batch of bad chili. But we don’t want to go there.

If there’s a top-drawer sports columnist in the True North with better social awareness than Arthur, I haven’t read him or her. His piece from the Olympics on American skeet shooter Kim Rhode and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, like Rhode, contributed a bronze medal to the U.S. collection, is a prime example. It’s about hijabs, blue hair, the Second Amendment and the beauty of social acceptance. It’s worth a read.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.


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Caster Semenya: Why are so many hung up on her looks?

Be honest. It isn’t Caster Semenya’s ridiculously high testosterone levels that bother you. It’s her physical appearance. Also her voice. That’s the rub.

Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya

If Semenya looked and sounded like, say, Lynsey Sharp or Melissa Bishop, the volume on the rhetoric re her perceived (or real) “unfair advantage” in female foot racing would be turned down. Sharply. It would seem less of a witch hunt and more of a reasoned conversation that grants equal consideration to both pro and con.

But Semenya doesn’t look like Sharp or Bishop, does she?

Ignore, if you can, the hue of their skin. The British and the American runners are lean and lithe, blonde-haired and blue/green-eyed. A photo shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is more likely than someone in a lab coat knocking on their doors and demanding they piddle into a bottle and lift their skirts to confirm they are not boys. Semenya, meanwhile, is ripped and rawbone, her raven-black hair styled in tight corn rows and her eyes threatening and as dark as midnight. SI photogs won’t be quick to ask her to slip into something skimpy. The boys in the lab coats, meanwhile, already have stood on her doorstep and have the samples.

That’s why many of the people who watch Semenya run don’t see her run. All they see is someone different. Someone who doesn’t belong. Someone who doesn’t fit into the pigeon holes of their cisgender template.

Lynsey Sharp and Melissa Bishop

Lynsey Sharp and Melissa Bishop

The jury in the court of public opinion seemingly has found Semenya guilty. But of what? She isn’t cheating, not by any measure. Her ability to arrive first at the finish line of an 800-metre race isn’t the product of a pill in a bottle or the point of a needle poked into her butt cheeks. Nor is her strength. She has naturally elevated testosterone levels for a female, and her training regimen is of a rigidity befitting an athlete of Olympic-champion loft. So, she’s guilty of? Looks. Or, based on societal stereotyping, lack thereof.

Society doesn’t demand that its female champions be pretty, but it is more accepting if they are. Think Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Anyone ever question Sharapova’s femininity? As if. She’s long, lean, lithe and cover girl gorgeous. What about Williams? Accusations of manism began to dog her not long after she and sister Venus arrived on the tennis scene as teenagers with beaded hair. As recently as two years ago, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpishchev, referred to Serena and Venus as “the Williams brothers.” He added it was “frightening when you look at them.”

The focus always seemed to be on Serena’s physical package—the hands, the forearms, the biceps, the shoulders, the back, the neck, the jaw, the forehead…all too big, too masculine. The fits of pique, anger and aggression? The threatening gestures? That’s the way male athletes behave, not women. Better check that Williams girl’s testosterone levels. Must be too high.

Only in the past 20 months, as her Grand Slam championship total rose to near-unparalleled achievement, has Serena gained wide-spread acceptance and admiration. There now is more discussion about her loft in tennis and sporting lore than her looks.

I fear a similar happily-ever-after ending is unlikely for Semenya.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

I suppose had the 25-year-old South African finished well up the track and not struck gold in the women’s 800-metre final at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last weekend—leaving a flock of frustrated and, yes, embittered “real” females in her wake—the temperature of the conversation would be lower. But as long as Semenya is ruled eligible to compete in female foot races, we’ll hear considerable braying about a “man running against women” and an “unfair advantage.” (As if those flippers that swimmer Michael Phelps calls feet aren’t unfair and an advantage.)

In Semenya’s case, I don’t think it’s about what’s fair or unfair. It’s about insisting that females fit into society’s one-size-fits-all schematic. She doesn’t look the part, therefore she shouldn’t be allowed to play the part.

That, of course, is a ridiculously shallow interpretation of a definition.

As was the case with Serena Williams, much of the slander directed toward Semenya’s appearance is cruel, mean spirited and ignorant. It also means that the South African shall forever be running with an asterisk. There always will be a “ya, but” placed behind any mention of her accomplishments.

Apparently, it’s okay for a female to run, leap, swim, throw, kick and punch “like a man,” just as long as she doesn’t “look like a man” while doing it.

Sigh.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


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Rio Olympics: The Media Squawk-O-Meter was on high alert

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Now that the Five-Ring Circus has pulled out of Rio de Janeiro and environs, we can take a final reading of the Media Squawk-O-Meter as the boys and girls of the Fourth Estate navigate their way home.

Squawking, you realize, is a large part of every Olympic Games. It is, in fact, the sworn duty of news scavengers to alert readers back home to their special brand of misery. It’s not that we care about their hardships. We don’t. And they know we don’t care. But they cannot resist the urge to whinge about their food, traffic delays, lodgings, creature comforts, toilet paper, air quality, insects, blah, blah, blah. Apparently, it’s part of an unwritten code: When assigned to cover the Olympics, one must find something about the locals or the locale to squawk about and insert said inconvenience into one’s copy, otherwise no one will believe you actually have gone hither. Or yon.

It is permissible for the media to squawk about shattered glass in a bus window as the result of gunfire.

It is permissible for the media to squawk about shattered glass in a bus window as the result of gunfire.

There exists at least one other clause in the unwritten code by which the sports scribe is governed: Mention the number of Olympics you have attended as early and as often as possible, in the likely event that it failed to register with the reader the first dozen times.

Games covered, of course, impresses exactly zero people. I mean, a tree with 1,500 rings? That’s impressive. A jock journo with 15 Five-Ring Circuses on his or her resume? That just tells me he or she can count without using all fingers and toes and has discovered more to bitch about than most.

The point is, sportswriter squawking is as germane to the Olympics as Usain Bolt’s lickety-split, Michael Phelps’s wing span, or a boxing judge with one eye on the fight and the other on his take. And, with 28,000 accredited media for the Rio Olympics, that’s one serious group gripe.

They all do it. It’s just that some are louder than others, that’s all. There are also those, like Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, who can pull it off with humor or wit or satire, rather than a sledge hammer. And, in fairness, I should also like to emphasize that it isn’t always about minor inconveniences. I rather think that were I riding a media bus en route to a sporting venue and bullets shattered the window beside me, that would qualify as more than a petty annoyance.

At any rate, the Media Squawk-O-Meter was operating at a dizzying rate in Rio. Here are some of the gripes…

One of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism (and a personal favorite), Cam Cole of Postmedia, struck first with a tweet about there being just “one ATM to service a population of several thousand in Main Press Centre. Good job, good effort.” He then followed with “worst organization of a Games in my 16, hands down.” This was a brilliant bit of bitching. It showed veteran savvy and moxie. Only a seasoned scribe could have trashed the organizers and established his career Five-Ring Circus count before the Games began. Pure genius.

rio3Steve Politi of NJ.com was also quick off the starting blocks, with an essay about poluted Guanabara Bay. “When I put down the camera and finally look down at the water, I see the trash. It isn’t the piles of it you may have seen in photographs that have moved from here in recent weeks, but it is all around the boat. Plastic bags. Restaurant cups. Soda bottles. A sanitary napkin. The water is covered with a noticeable film, in all directions, making it look like a thick, green stew. But the biggest concern is what I cannot see. The bacteria. The viruses. The human excrement.” And you’re telling us what, Nick? That there’s no garbage in New Jersey?

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star didn’t bitch so much about the peculiarities of Rio as she did a nervy media back home who, from their sofas, had the bad manners to critique the work of news scavengers in Brazil. At the same time, Ramblin’ Rosie dumped a load of hooey on ill-mannered scribes and/or talking heads on site: “A bewildered shout-down also to media mooks in Rio loudly rooting for their country’s athletes along press tribune row. One simple rule: No cheering in the pressbox.” Yo! Rosie! The Chinese, Japanese, Turks, Brits, South Africans, Dutch, Brazilians or whomever you’re bitching about don’t have to play by your rules. Perhaps cheering in the pressbox is acceptable behaviour where they pin their press badges.

News scavengers’ preoccupation with food is fascinating. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star lamented the absence of golden arches at the journos’ feeding trough. “One thing missing: McDonald’s in the media centre. It’s a staple, an old friend waiting to greet you at the end of a long day and the decision to pull out of Rio might have made sense from a business sense but it’s screwing up tons of media types who miss it dearly.” Smith also bemoaned hanky-panky with pricing at an eatery near his hotel: “The nice menu that was printed in English was quite helpful the first two nights but it was somewhat of a surprise to me when I got there last night to see the prices scratched out by marker and raised a couple of Reals or so for each item. Yeah, a 20R fish dinner became a 22R fish dinner, the 4R appetizer is 6R now and the folks who run it sure know how to make a buck. Still gonna go because it’s so handy but we’ll be looking for somewhere else now more often, a place where the owners aren’t quite as blatant in their gouging.” Geez, Doug, you’re on expenses. Live a little.

They lined up for their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders in Rio, but not at the Media Centre.

They lined up for their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders in Rio, but not at the Media Centre.

King of the complainers had to be Steve Simmons of Postmedia, though. If there was anything about Rio he enjoyed, other than the competition (excluding dressage which, apparently, should be axed), I missed it. Some of his gems: “Green water. Polluted ocean. Wonky buses. Athletes held at gunpoint. So many robberies. I don’t need a second week.” Let’s see…he never had to dive into the green water, he never had to take a dip in the ocean, nobody put a gun to his head, and he wasn’t robbed. Only disruption in transportation impacted on his work. Yet he still wanted to bail. Hmmm. Oh, yes, there was also the weather: “No matter where you’re at it’s either too hot or too cold. A lot of us looking for just right.” Then there were the lineups: “These are the lineup Olympics. Lineup for food. Lineup for drinks. Lineup to pay. Lineup to get in to venue. Lineup to leave venue. Lineup to go to washroom. Lineup for just about everything.” Even when there weren’t lineups, he whinged: “This isn’t complaining. This is just how it is. You pay for a cold drink at concessions. You don’t get a drink. You get a receipt. You then move down the line. Even if there is no line. The four people behind the counter, near the drinks, do nothing until you get to the end of the counter. Then one of them may ask you what you want, or ignore you. Depends on the moment, and this is without a lineup.” Some advice for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Stevo—stay home.

Smith of the Star wrote it best about media squawking re the numerous glitches during the Rio Olympics: “These weren’t the best Games I’ve been at—Barcelona and London and Sydney still top the list—but they weren’t the worst, either. That’s still Atlanta by a mile and it always will be. But enough of that, really; it’s tiring.” Amen to that, Doug. Amen.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.