About the Winnipeg Jets dominating the Edmonton Oilers…Wayne Gretzky stinking for not stinking…a lady in red…Queen Liz…Suitcase Smith…what big ears you have Kris King…and fine writing

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

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Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs.

Okay, as Howie Meeker was given to squawk when he was a Hockey Night in Canada blabber mouth, “Stop it right there! Back it up!”

I’ve heard quite enough blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda about how often the Edmonton Oilers repeatedly put a good and proper paddywhacking on the Winnipeg Jets back in the day. I mean, I get it already. The Copper and Blue beat the Jets like a rented mule. In the National Hockey League. In the 1980s.

But what? The World Hockey Association never happened? Whose mule was being mauled then?

Let the record show that the Jets made a habit of stealing the Oilers’ lunch money in the WHA, holding a substantial 41-31-3 advantage in regular-season skirmishing and twice ousting them en route to two of their three successful Avco World Trophy crusades. The Jets whupped the Oilers 4-zip in a 1976 quarterfinal argument, and 4-2 in the ’79 WHA championship series. Final WHA score: Jets 49, Oilers 33.

Oh, and let’s not forget the WHA title tally: Jets 3 (five finals), Oilers nil (one final).

So there.

A vintage Wayne Gretzky, with Andrew McBain in slow pursuit.
A vintage Wayne Gretzky, with Andrew McBain in slow pursuit.

Yo! Wayne Gretzky! You’re right. You stink, man. But you don’t stink because you went without a point in Saturday’s slo-mo Alumni Game between your vintage Oilers and the vintage Jets, who ruled the day, 6-5. You stink because you didn’t stink like that 30 years ago.

Someone who didn’t stink back in the day and still doesn’t stink is Jennifer Hanson, noted singer of O Canada and wearer of skimpy, red dresses. That was a nice touch to bring Jennifer in to deliver a rousing rendition of the national anthem for the 31,317 folks who attended the Geritol Generation Game.

Okay, the vintage game wasn’t a sellout. Big deal. I don’t want to hear anyone say approximately 1,700 unoccupied seats at the Facility Formerly Known As Football Follies Field in Fort Garry makes River City a second-rate hockey town. It’s a great hockey town. One of the best in Canada or anywhere else that people skate on frozen ponds.

queen-liz2Seeing that ginormous portrait of Queen Liz displayed on the outside wall of The Pint pub last week brought to mind a vintage quote from vintage Jet winger Morris Lukowich. “Terry Ruskowski was on our team,” Luke once told now-departed Ottawa Sun scribe Earl McRae. “He married a former Miss America. She and my wife were together in the stands for a game. She looked up at the big picture of the Queen and said to my wife, ‘That lady, does she own the Arena?’ ”

Lukowich and Ruskowski, of course, were significant contributors on my favorite Jets outfit, the 1979 champions who toppled Gretzky and the Oilers to claim the final WHA title. Also central to that success was nomadic netminder Gary (Suitcase) Smith, whose late-season arrival coincided with the return of captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg from the repair shop. “(Smith) came walking into the locker room,” Ruskowski recalled a few years back. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Ax Smith because I’ve been on around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals-against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you…I’m not that good.”

What would Little Red Riding Hood say to vintage Jet Kris King? “My, what big ears you have.” Apparently, it isn’t just King’s ears that have grown. The former grinder also has developed a nose for the net, scoring twice in the Geritol Generation Game. Skating alongside Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk helps, of course. I do believe those two could turn Jimmy Mann into a goal scorer. On second thought, probably not.

Some good scribbling from local scribes in advance of the old coots game. Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press served up two terrific pieces, one about Bobby Hull attempting to woo Gretzky to the Jets, and the other revisiting the night Dave Ellett’s double-OT goal slayed the Oilers in Game 4 of their 1990 Stanley Cup playoff series. The staying power of the Ellett goal mystifies me, though. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it was meaningless. The Oilers won the ensuing three games, the series and the Stanley Cup.

Apparently, Bobby Hull missed quite a party by not attending this week’s Heritage Classic hijinx in good, ol’ Hometown. But did the party miss the Golden Jet? Apparently not. Too bad, so sad.

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.

 

Winnipeg, the last two-paper town in the West…how Shakey Johnson got his name…promotion for Kirk Penton…and a long overdue induction for Dave Komosky

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

Once we get past the handwringing, the gnashing of the teeth and the anger/bitterness of journos across the land in the aftermath this week’s Postmedia print purge, what are readers of newspapers left with? This: Winnipeg is the sole two-paper town west of the Republic of Tranna.

Oh, sure, Postmedia continues to print both a broadsheet and a tabloid in Vancouver (Sun and Province), Edmonton (Sun and Journal) and Calgary (Sun and Herald), but this is a classic case of a one being dressed up as a two. If the deep-thinkers in one newsroom determine what is to occupy the space between the display ads of both dailies in those three bergs, it is one newspaper, no matter how it is packaged.

peg papersThink of this as beer. If you pour half a bottle of Molson Canadian into a mug and the other half into a tall, thin glass, you’re still drinking the same beer. Tastes the same, just looks different.

So it shall be in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Rather than two competing journalists chasing the same story and, hopefully, delivering different slants, you now shall have one reporter with no urgency to get the scoop and no fear of being beaten by the opposition. There is no opposition. No alternative voice.

Which makes Pegtown a unique market in the western flank of the nation.

The puppeteers at Postmedia pull the strings for the Winnipeg Sun, while FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership bows to its own master in publishing the Winnipeg Free Press. Unlike others in the Postmedia collective, the two Pegtown sheets are not Siamese twins, joined at the head. They are in competition, which serves the greater need, even though the end result each day might not always satiate the appetite of readers.

What I am left to wonder is how much Winnipeg will remain in the Sun.

Although not included in this week’s carnage, which involved the merging of newsrooms at eight dailies (the Ottawa Sun and Citizen being the others) and the kicking to the curb of 90 journalists, the after shocks were felt in River City.

Ted Wyman remains sports editor at the Sun. Sort of. He keeps the job title, but some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.?

My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.

Take curling as an e.g. It is the third biggest beat at the two River City dailies, behind only the Jets and Bombers. But will there be a Winnipeg Sun presence at next month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta.? Not likely. Thus, no local angle, even though there shall be two Toba teams in the event. The Brier, meanwhile, is in Ottawa. Will we be reading Manitoba-centric dispatches from Paul Friesen, Ken Wiebe or the aforementioned Wyman, or generic puff from a Bytown scribe?

I fear the worst, and all this because Postmedia bit off more than it could chew when it purchased Sun Media’s English-language properties last spring.

As mentioned, Wyman is not out of work. He becomes part of the Sun’s bare-bones stable of scribes, replacing Kirk Penton, an elite reporter who has been anointed the Postmedia chain’s national writer for all things Canadian Football League. Coverage of the Bombers shouldn’t suffer in terms of quantity, but quality will take a hit because Penton is the best in the business.

After scribbling a piece about George (Shakey) Johnson the other day, it occurred to me that most folks don’t know the story behind the deposed Calgary Herald sports columnist’s nickname. We don’t call him Shakey because he’s a nervous Nellie with constant jitters. It’s due to his golf game. Back in the 1970s, you see, a few of us from the Winnipeg Tribune sports department would gather for a round of golf on occasion. The cast would rotate, but it generally involved Caveman Dutton, Greaser Drinnan, Swampdog Rauw, Davey Boy Komosky, Shakey and myself. Shakey played a neat-and-tidy game of golf. He struck the ball straight and true, although not far, and we actually witnessed a hole-in-one from him one day at Tuxedo. But he could not sink a putt inside three feet to save his life. He had the yips on the green. After one astonishing display of unparalleled hopelessness with the blade, we retreated to the pub, whereby Caveman Dutton and I commenced to calling him Shakey. The name stuck.

Big night for my longtime friend and colleague Dave Komosky, who joins the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour at their 60th annual awards dinner at the Delta Hotel. As I scribbled a few weeks ago, it’s a long overdue honor. I only wish I could be there to hear his acceptance speech. I have a feeling Davey Boy is going to put some people on the BBQ.

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 to her 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.

It’s -30- on Shakey Johnson’s sports writing career…say it ain’t so, Postmedia

Scant years after the 20th century had arrived at its midway mark, author Truman Capote appeared on the television show Open End, whereupon he lashed out at the Beat Generation of American writers who delivered notable works in the 1950s.

“None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Jack Kerouac,” he told host David Susskind. “It isn’t writing at all. It’s typing.”

Whether his was an accurate appraisal of the scribblings of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke and others among the Beat wordsmiths is, of course, open to interpretation, but the core of Capote’s critique is unassailable: Some people write, others just type.

I am reminded of the In Cold Blood author’s quote due to the blood-letting that has taken place this week on the sinking ships we know as daily newspapers in Canada.

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George (Shakey) Johnson

Included in the Postmedia carnage that killed competition in four major cities and left approximately 90 people out of work was George (Shakey) Johnson, whose poetic way with words has graced sports sheets across the nation ever since he walked out of a Red River Community College classroom and into the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom in the 1970s.

Shakey Johnson doesn’t type. He writes.

Which makes the Postmedia resolve to deep-six him not simply callous and cold-hearted but mystifying in the extreme.

I mean, it’s one thing to merge the two newsrooms of supposedly competing papers in each of four bergs in the True North, which Postmedia has done in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, but surely the fallout from fiscal folly ought not to include your best and brightest people.

Shakey Johnson is among the best. And brightest. Still.

Shakey is unlike any sports scribe I have known, something I recognized early, when we were both novices learning our trade at the knee of Jack Matheson at the Trib. He would prattle on about his fave jocks like Ali and Jack Nicklaus, with the odd genuflection toward Davey Keon and Italian fitba, but he really got off on the theatre and movies. He was as apt to work Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton or Judy Garland and Streisand into a lede as Wayne Gretzky or Lanny McDonald. And don’t even think about getting him started on Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes was, is and always will be his main man.

That’s what makes Shakey special, at least to my way of thinking. It isn’t all about pucks and pigskins and point guards. He comes at sports writing from a different angle. He’s both high-end and high-brow. And he does it with such elequence and knock-’em-dead dry wit.

It’s why, as sports editor at the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s, I lured him away from our sister paper in Edmonton and installed him as our National Hockey League beat writer, his main focus being the Flames. I knew Shakey would deliver the same sterling stuff I’d read in the Trib and Winnipeg Sun, where he was among the plucky rogues and rebels who brought a newspaper to life out of the Tribune ashes.

That Postmedia cannot see this same talent is mind-boggling.

Sure, go ahead and merge the Calgary Herald and Sun newsrooms. Kill the competition. But do not kill the quality.

Shakey Johnson has been a chronicler of Calgary sports for more than three decades, first at the Sun then the Herald, and he’s done it with unparalleled polish. His choice of wording is as his choice of wardrobe—impeccable. Thus, it is most discouraging and disheartening to think he’s arrived at the end of the ride because some suit doesn’t know a noun from a nincompoop. Shakey still has so much more to share. Surely we haven’t seen the last of Sinatra, Streisand or Sir Laurence in the lede of a sports story.

If it is over for Shakey, I offer another Truman Capote quote: “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

I don’t know what inner music Shakey hears when he writes, but what I’ve always heard in reading his words is a beautiful symphony.

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 to her 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.