The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

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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About jocks jumping the MRI queue…those “coddled” millionaire Winnipeg Jets…a dude named Dart Guy…it isn’t The Forsberg…giving the Soviets the finger…Centre of the Universe snobbery…and Gomer Pyle sings the anthem

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

Okay, hands up anyone who is genuinely shocked that professional athletes pulling in great gobs of American greenbacks have been allowed to jump the MRI queue in Canada?

Seriously. If word that play-for-pay jocks receive “preferential treatment” is a revelation to you, then you’d probably be interested in knowing that a guy named Trudeau is prime minister in the True North but his first name isn’t Pierre. I mean, hellooooo. How long have you been napping?

Pro athletes and “preferential treatment” have been hand-in-glove since David threw down on Goliath. You think David ever had to buy his own pints and chow after scoring that upset?

But, hey, what’s happening in Manitoba isn’t about free bar or restaurant tabs, is it? It’s about health care and the deified, millionaire members of the Winnipeg Jets and the regular Joe-salaried workers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. According to the provincial auditor general, 59 jocks were allowed to jump the MRI queue for 149 scans in an eight-year period (2008-2016). Allow me to do the math: That averages to less than one athlete and 1.5 scans per month.

Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers are so low.

Look, I don’t blame anyone for being PO’d if they’ve been on a wait list for four months only to see Jacob Trouba or Matt Nichols limp in and go directly to the scanner. It isn’t fair. But in Winnipeg, that’s the way it has to be if you want a National Hockey League and Canadian Football League franchise.

In the interests of full disclosure, I had an MRI scan done on my brain slightly more than a year ago. The good news is, they found a brain. The bad news is, results showed soft tissue in my grey matter, the result of the combined nuisances of multiple concussions (10) and aging. Hopefully, that explains a lot of things, if not everything.

This whole MRI thing has really gotten up Paul Wiecek’s nose. His pallor surely must be as ashen as his hair, because the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has called out Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman for the Winnipeg Jets owner’s silence on the issue, and he describes the local hockey heroes as a “tiny cadre of coddled millionaires.” Coddled? Coddled? You want to talk about coddled? During my time in the media we received free beer, free food, free books, free music, free tickets, free clothing, free merchandise, free access to back-stage gatherings, free access to doors that were closed to the regular rabble, free everything. And, hey, some might even have been pushed to the front of the queue at the doctor’s office. I can’t say what, if anything, has changed, but it’s my guess that the media Gravy Train is still chugging along.

Unlike Wiecek, I’m not interested in what Puck Pontiff Chipman has to say about MRI scans. I’m more interested in what he thinks about his general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not being able to accomplish in six years what Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton McDavids and Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in two years.

Dart Guy

This spring’s Stanley Cup skirmishing has been strange. How strange? Well, let’s put it this way: The Chicago Blackhawks are out of the playoffs after only four games and Dart Guy is still in them.

I don’t know what to make of this Dart Guy dude. I mean, he has a Maple Leafs logo painted on his face, he sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips and he becomes some kind of cult figure in the Republic of Tranna? Sometimes I wish Andy Warhol hadn’t been right about those 15 minutes of fame.

Why do broadcasters and writers insist on describing a goal with a one-handed deke “the Forsberg?” I know for certain that I saw Alexei Zhamnov of the Jets perform that very move, more than once, before I ever saw Peter Forsberg do it. I also saw Kent Nilsson do it before Forsberg.

This from Don Cherry during one of his Coachless Corner segments on Hockey Night in Canada last week: “The last Coach’s Corner, I said to you kids, ‘Don’t taunt or laugh when you’re winning.’ I said, ‘Never do that, kids.’ Kids, it’s not the Canadian way. You never laugh or taunt your opponent.” Grapes is right. The Canadian way is to give them the middle-finger salute, like Alan Eagleson and Frosty Forristall did to the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. We don’t taunt them when we’re losing, either. We break their ankles (hello, Bobby Clarke).

Guaranteed to happen in life: 1) Donald Trump will tweet; 2) Adam Sandler will make bad movies; 3) a Bruce Boudreau-coached team will be eliminated from the Stanley Cup tournament.

P.K. Subban is still playing hockey (suprise, surprise). Shea Weber isn’t. Does that mean the Nashville Predators got the better of the Montreal Canadiens in their exchange of all-world defenceman? No. It isn’t Weber’s fault the Habs’ forwards score less often than the Pope swears.

Postmedia scribe Steve Simmons, whose work often appears on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, has provided us with a tweet that serves as a shining example of the self-absorbed, Centre of the Universe mentality that exists in the Republic of Tranna: “An absolutely stacked Canadian Sports Hall of Fame class is introduced on the wrong day. Not their fault. Toronto is Leafs consumed today.” In other words, the rest of the country be damned. Stevie says any national news of significance must be put on hold whenever Auston Matthews and pals are playing a hockey game in the 416 area code. All you good people in Winnipeg, you can wait a day to learn that your speedskating golden girl, Cindy Klassen, is among the 2017 CSHofF inductees. Ditto for you fine folks in Hanna, Alta. We’ll fill you in on native son Lanny McDonald after Auston and pals have had their fun. I must say, for a guy who once called Calgary home and ought to know better, the ego-fuelled Simmons has developed into a first-class Tranna snob.

In the week’s social news, Serena Williams announced she’s preggers and Ronda Rousey announced she’s engaged. The nerve of those women. I mean, don’t they realize the Maple Leafs are still playing hockey? Nobody wants to hear about a mommy bump or a diamond ring unless Auston Matthews happens to be the father or fiance, right Stevie?

Barney, Andy and Luke Bryan.

Well, golleeee and shezam! I finally figured out who country guy Luke Bryan sounds like when he tries to sing—Gomer Pyle. I swear, when I heard Bryan perform the American anthem prior to a Nashville Predators-Blackhawks skirmish, the first thing I thought of was good, ol’ Gomer Pyle pumping gas and visiting Andy and Barney at the sheriff’s office in Mayberry. How Bryan became one of the giants of the country music industry is as much a mystery as how Donald Trump got the keys to the White House.

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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About Mike O’Shea’s shelf life…unnecessary roughness on a coach…Evander being a twit…and the new Sammy Semenko in Edmonton

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

Mike O’Shea

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Bombers lose! Bombers lose!

Of course you’ve heard it before. You’ve been hearing it since 1991. And it’s now 26 times that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been on the short end of the scoreboard since Mike O’Shea became sideline steward of the Canadian Football League outfit. Yup, 26 Ls against one dozen Ws his charges have scrounged up.

A .316 success rate means you’re doing boffo business if you’re the leadoff hitter in baseball. Not so much on a football field.

Those 26 losses? They put O’Shea on par with Jeff Reinebold. You do not want to be linked to that name. Reinebold is the gold standard for all that is wrong with a head coach. He was 6-26 before the Bombers much-maligned board of directors told him to turn off his Bob Marley tapes and hop on his Harley and haul his sorry butt out of Dodge.

Therefore, it perhaps strikes some as a minor mystery that the 12-26 O’Shea is still wearing the headset. There can only be one of two reasons: 1) Wade Miller, the CEO whose exhaustive search for a general manager was confined to a short walk down the hallway at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry to hire the man (Kyle Walters) who hired the man, still believes in O’Shea; or 2) the board no longer has an appetite for paying people not to coach.

If it’s the former, then Miller hasn’t been paying attention.

I mean, it’s one thing for the Calgary Stampeders to give the Blue and Gold a wedgie at McMahon Stadium, which they did Friday night, 36-22. That’s been happening seemingly since Peter Liske and Ham Hands Harrison were playing catch in Cowtown. But it’s the way the Bombers went about their business that’s so disturbing. They appeared disinterested. They didn’t warm to the task until all hope had faded, then put up staggeringly good garbage stats and garbage points in garbage time, when their foes were pulling pranks and kibitzing on the sidelines.

Disinterest is down to coaching. Or Walters has recruited the wrong players. Take your pick.

I remember when Mike O’Shea stepped forward as head coach of the Bombers. It was to the hard-diving beat of the Bachman Turner Overdrive classic You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet.

Here’s something that you’re never gonna forget. B-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet.”

Well, b-b-b-baby, some of us have seen all we n-n-need to see.

Coach LaPo needs his playbook from TSN.

Coach LaPo needs his playbook from TSN.

Apparently, the Bombers’ regurgitated offensive co-ordinator, Paul LaPolice, left his playbook behind in the TSN studio. Might be an idea to put a call in to Milt, Matt, Jock and Schultzie, LaPo. Maybe have one of them run it over to you. Sad Sack offence notwithstanding, coach LaPo isn’t going anywhere. He’s the fall-to guy. If and when O’Shea is given his parting gifts, LaPolice gets the headset.

If Duran Carter scored a touchdown against the Bombers, do you think he’d have the balls to walk over to the Winnipeg bench area and try to do to O’Shea what he did to Rick Campbell, head coach of the Ottawa RedBlacks? Not bloody likely. Second question: Why was Campbell on the field when the Montreal Alouettes receiver knocked him on his fanny? If Campbell is where he’s supposed to be, which is to say on the sidelines, nothing happens. Thus, if Carter is suspended, Campbell ought to be fined.

Moving on to the National Hockey League, I note with interest that Evander Kane is in trouble with the law. Again. And it involves women. Again. Tim Murray, who has already suspended his left winger once, is unamused. “It’s not something I like getting up in the morning and reading about, that’s for sure,” the Buffalo Sabres GM says. What part of “bad apple” did Murray not understand when he acquired Kane from the Winnipeg Jets? I don’t know if Kane finds trouble or trouble finds him, but I didn’t think his act would wear thin so soon in Buffalo.

Just wondering: When Milan Lucic says he plans to give the Edmonton McDavids some “swagger,” is he threatening to kill his foes or will he just bust their knee caps if they mess around with Connor McDavid, the NHL’s new ‘it’ guy?

Sammy Semenko

Sammy Semenko

The addition of the hulking Looch to the Edmonton lineup has Wayne Gretzky and Dave (Sammy) Semenko written all over it, right down to sweater No. 27, no doubt still blood-stained from the days when Sammy’s bare knuckles would bust open a few heads. Put Jesse Puljujarvi on the right wing and you’ve got Semenko-Gretzky-Jari Kurri revisited.

If, as many have suggested since they swapped sweaters this week, P.K. Subban is a better defenceman than Shea Weber, why is it that Weber was a big minutes defender on two teams that won Olympic gold for Canada and will be given a similar role in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, while Subban isn’t invited to participate?

Interesting troop movements in the toy department at the Winnipeg Free Press. Out is one of my favorite scribes, Melissa Martin, and in is longtime cops-and-robbers guy Mike McIntyre. The Freep sports section really misses the Ed Tait vibe.

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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About P.K. Snub-ban…wife-beating Russians…playoff beards…John McEnroe…and Mike O’Shea has to watch another film

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

P.K. Subban didn't get the call.

P.K. Subban didn’t get the call.

Snub-a-dubba-do.

Corey Perry was snubbed. P.K. Subban was snubbed. Taylor Hall was snubbed. Phil Kessel was snubbed. Kris Letang was snubbed. Tyler Johnson was snubbed. Ilya Kovalchuk was snubbed. Nikolaj Ehlers was snubbed. Mikael Backlund was snubbed. Here a snub, there a snub, everywhere a snub-snub.

And you expected something different?

I mean, do the math. There are only 23 sweaters to fill per team for the World Cup of Hockey gala next September in the Republic of Tranna. It’s a given, therefore, that high-end skill will fail to make the final roll call, especially in a country with a talent-glut. Like Canada.

Oh woe is the man tasked with the chore of assembling a shinny side comprised of the ‘best’ Canada has available. He leaves himself exposed to second, third, fourth and fifth guessing from armchair general managers from sea to sea to sea, many of whom don’t know a puck from pasta. And it isn’t always a numbers game at play. Sometimes it’s in-house politicking. Other times, it’s just plain dumb.

Bob Clarke, for example, became a certified nutbar in 1998 when, in assembling our Olympic outfit, he insisted on making room for the legendary Rob Zamuner rather than grant a roster spot to Mark Messier. D’oh! At the 1991 Canada Cup, Steve Yzerman was out and Dirk Graham was in. Go figure.

Flash all the way back to the 1972 Summit Series between the Great White North and the Red Menace from the Soviet Union. Can you say Bobby Hull, Dave Keon, J.C. Tremblay, Gordie Howe and Gerry Cheevers, kids? All were all-stars. All were Stanley Cup champions. And all were on the outside looking in because they had the bad manners (according to the National Hockey League) to defect to the World Hockey Association or, in Howe’s case, had the bad manners to retire.

Here’s what Phil Esposito said about the selection process in ’72:

There were some guys that got there because they were (Alan) Eagleson’s clients, no doubt about it. I never thought that lineup was unbeatable at all. I felt that if we had Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr (injured) in that lineup, they wouldn’t have beat us one iota. I was disappointed by some selections.”

Now lend an ear to Peter Mahovlich, also a member of the ’72 side:

This wasn’t all of Team Canada. This was team NHL. Right off the bat, that excluded Bobby Hull, Dave Keon and Gerry Cheevers in net. If we had Bobby and Dave, I don’t see myself making the roster.”

So, P.K. Subban and others being snubbed? Nothing to see here, kids. Let’s move on.

Just wondering: If Team Canada bench boss Mike Babcock had coached Bobby Orr in his prime, would he have ordered him to play left defence because he shot left? Or would he have left the greatest player in the history of the game alone?

Interesting that Russia included wife-beating defenceman Slava Voynov on its WCH final roster. I’d say there’s about as much chance of Voynov joining the comrades in the Republic of Tranna as their is of Donald Trump choosing me as his presidential running mate.

Brad Marchand: We get to cheer for the rat for a month.

Brad Marchand: We get to cheer for the rat for a month.

Here’s the beauty of the Word Cup of Hockey: We all get to cheer for that little rat Brad Marchand while he’s wearing the Maple Leaf on his chest, then we resume regularly scheduled dissing once he’s adorned in Boston Bruins linen again.

Is it unCanadian of me if I really don’t care to talk about the World Cup of Hockey again until September? I don’t believe so. If, on the other hand, I still don’t wish to talk about it once the frost is on the pumpkin, feel free to take away my maple syrup, my back bacon and my Don Cherry voodoo doll.

Midway through this current NHL crusade, I sat in my local watering hold and advised the Lord of the Beer Pit that the Eastern Conference champs would win the Stanley Cup. I assumed that team would be the Washington Capitals. Instead, we have the Pittsburgh Penguins. I say Pitt in seven.

Joe Thornton: That beard is thicker than rough at the U.S. Open.

Joe Thornton: That beard is thicker than rough at the U.S. Open.

Once the Stanley Cup tournament is a matter for hockey historians to discuss and either the Penguins or San Jose Sharks are hailed as rulers of all they survey, players shall reach for their razor blades and perform some serious spring pruning of facial foliage. There is no truth to the rumor, however, that Professional Golf Association Tour officials will collect Brent Burns’s and Joe Thornton’s beards and use them for rough at the U.S. Open.

If you’re keeping score at home, it took Mike O’Shea exactly one practice to deliver his first “I’ll have to watch the film” sound bite of the Canadian Football League season. After observing his troops on Sunday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach said, “They flew around pretty well. I’ll have to watch the film and count the number of errors, but I thought it was a very clean practice…” Las Vegas bookies have listed the over/under on O’Shea’s “film” quotes this season at 3,492.

John McEnroe: Waaa, waaa, waaa, waaa.

John McEnroe: Waaa, waaa, waaa, waaa.

Wonderful start to the Milos Raonic-John McEnroe partnership. McEnroe is hired as a grass-courts consultant for Raonic, he shows up for one practice session, and the Canadian is promptly ousted from the French Open by 55th-ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain the very next day. Clearly, McEnroe has yet to work his magic with Raonic. Not to worry, though, the Mouth that Roared guarantees us that Raonic will have perfected the fine art of the tennis temper tantrum by the time they arrive at Wimbledon.

 

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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About conspiracy theories…calling out Paul Maurice…Evander being Evander…and other things on my mind

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

Let’s suppose the conspiracy theorists on Planet Paranoia are correct when they posit that National Hockey League gendarmes are overly zealous in meting out punishment to the Winnipeg Jets.

I mean, we’ve witnessed Dustin Byfuglien being banished to the sin bin simply for being big, have we not? Meanwhile, the skunk shirts look the other way when Anton Stralman of the Tampa Bay Lightning derails smurf-like Nikolaj Ehlers with a knee-on-knee hit and, scant seconds later, he renders a vulnerable Bryan Little loopy with a wallop to the head.

Dirty, rotten refs have it in for the Jets, right?

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

But let’s back it up for a moment. If it’s true that the Jets are getting the short end of the judicial staff, they have only themselves and their head coach, Paul Maurice, to blame.

I direct your attention to remarks made by coach PoMo and the aforementioned Little last season, at a time when the Jets were rapidly developing a reputation as an in-your-face band of ruffians and spending more time in stir than any other outfit in the NHL.

You play an aggressive, tight-gap game, you have more confrontations on the ice,” an unapologetic Maurice told news scavengers. “The concern is when you get the reputation of being the highest-penalized team, you lose the benefit of the doubt. It’s, ‘It must be a penalty, it’s Winnipeg.’ We talk about it…I don’t want to lose any of that other piece…if the byproduct being we’re taking more penalties, then we have to do that, because playing a different game won’t be to our strength.”

Here’s centre Little providing the backup vocals:

We like to play on the edge a bit. We like to make things hard on the other team. We’ve got some big guys, some fast guys that play physical. Sometimes that’s going to happen, we’re going to take penalties playing that way.”

Thus, you call the penalty parade a conspiracy, I call it the cost of doing business the Jets way. And when you cannot kill penalties, the Jets way doesn’t work.

I realize that referee Francois St. Laurent has become Public Enemy No. 1 in Jets Nation, first for turning a blind eye to Stralman’s misdeeds the other night in Winnipeg’s 6-5 loss to the Lightning in Tampa and, second, for giving Maurice the heave-ho after two periods. Let’s keep one thing in mind, though: There were two men wearing arm bands that night, the other being Dan O’Rourke. He could have ticketed Stralman for either the hit on Ehlers or Little.

Much has been made of St. Laurent being caught on camera laughing after he’d dismissed Maurice. It surely was, from a league standpoint, not a good optic. But, hey, watching a grown man lose his mind can be humorous.

After Maurice came completely unglued and was given the night off by St. Laurent, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press called out the Jets coach. In non-subtle language, Wiecek suggested that Maurice is very much a part of the problem in his club’s current crusade, which has turned into a total tire fire. For this, the Freep scribe has been tarred and feathered. It’s as if he has attacked motherhood. Well, I applaud Wiecek for having the gonads to take an unpopular position. Why should Maurice be a sacred cow? It’s not like he’s the second coming of Scotty Bowman. He’s been coaching in the NHL for 18 years. His clubs have made the playoffs five times in those 18 seasons. Whatever he’s been selling, not many have been buying.

As I have written, it’s the Tao of Freddy Shero that makes Paul Maurice and, by extension, his players do some of the things they do. I think of this every time I see coach PoMo dispatch Anthony Peluso over the boards, at times in tandem with the regretable Chris Thorburn. There are only two reasons why Peluso is a member of the Jets: His left fist and his right fist. Actually, there’s a third reason: The head coach believes his is a better club with the first two reasons on the roster. That, of course, is horribly misguided thinking, but it’s the Jets way.

Why do so many people assume that NHL officials aren’t disciplined for shoddy work? I harbor little doubt that someone in the league hiearchy will have a fireside chat with Francois St. Laurent. We just won’t hear about it, that’s all.

Steve Yzerman

Steve Yzerman

Is it just moi, or do others find it interesting that Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman ended rampant speculation about Steven Stamkos by advising the world that he would not be dealing his captain prior to the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline? Speculation ceased. Similarly, GM Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens publicly squashed any notion that he’s about to move P.K. Subban. Yet in River City, mum’s the word from GM Mark Chipman and his puppet Kevin Cheveldayoff. They continue to let captain Andrew Ladd twist in the wind. It’s the Jets way, I guess.

Jennifer Jones is skipping a Manitoba team wearing Canada’s colors at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta. Kerri Einarson and her gal pals from the East St. Paul Curling Club are wearing the Manitoba buffalo on their backs. Manitoba-bred Chelsea Carey is skipping the rep from the host Wild Rose Country. All this made-in-Manitoba flavor and the Winnipeg Sun does not have a scribe on the scene. Shame, that. Blame it on the madness that prevails at Postmedia.

Buffalo, meet the real Evander Kane. Yup, he’s a wild and crazy guy who marches to his own drummer, and if that means swanning off to the Republic of Tranna for the National Basketball Asssociation all-star hijinks and missing practice, then that’s what he’ll do. Damn the consequences, which, in this case, was a one-game sit-down. Get used to it, Buffalo. There’s more to follow.

Pro boxers are a swell bunch, aren’t they? The heavyweight champion of all the world’s fist-fighters, Tyson Fury, is an admitted mysoginist and homophobe. Multi-division champion and now-retired (supposedly) champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a serial woman-beater who has spent time behind bars for whacking his children’s mother about the head. And now we have Manny Pacquiao going off on an anti-gay rant. If you missed it, Manny asks, “Do you see animals mating with the same sex?” (Actually, Manny, same-sex behaviour is quite common in the animal world.) He adds, “Animals are better because they can distingush male from female. If men mate with men and women mate with women, they are worse than animals.” Yo! Manny! Bite me.

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.


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There’s something special about these Bombers…McDavid was McOrdinary…a tweet from a twit…and other things

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

Mike O’Shea

Gadzooks! Bombers win! With some dashing and daring!

It’s a good thing head coach Mike O’Shea didn’t listen to me and fire special teams coach Mike O’Shea last month after the Winnipegs soiled the sheets in Montreal, because he didn’t just dial up one fake punt in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 29-26 defeat of the B.C. Lions on Saturday night in Vancouver. He did it twice. Just to confirm the first one wasn’t an accident, I suppose.

Winnipeg’s special teamsters also blocked a punt, which resulted in an Ian Wild touchdown. And they blocked an extra point attempt. And they forced a fumble.

Then there was Sergio Castillo, whose right leg replaced that of defrocked place-kicker Lirim Hajrulla-oops. All Castillo did was hoof two PATs and five field goals in five attempts, the last of which sealed the deal and was his first game-deciding three-pointer since high school.

Special teams always has been O’Shea’s specialty. It’s finally paid off for the Bombers.

If I’m Wally Buono, general manager of the B.C. Lions, I’m having a fireside chat with Andrew Harris. Not due to anything Harris has or hasn’t done on the field, understand. It’s about the B.C. running back running off at the mouth. Although still drawing a paycheque from the Leos, Harris is already openly discussing a new area code once his current contract expires at the conclusion of this Canadian Football League season. And, given that his daughter, Hazel, and other family reside in his hometown Winnipeg, Harris makes no secret that area code 204 would be favorable. I admire his frankness. It’s refreshing. But if I’m Buono, I don’t want to be signing cheques for an employee who’s already talking like the door has already hit him in the butt.

Chris Thorburn

Chris Thorburn

A Friday morning headline should have read: Blind Squirrel Finds Acorn. The squirrel in this instance would be Chris Thorburn, who actually scored a goal the other night when the Winnipeg Jets beat the Bruins, 3-1, in Beantown. Well, he sort of scored. Upon further review, which is to say evidence provided by super slow-mo replay, David Krejci of the Bruins, not the much-maligned Thorbs, flipped the puck past Boston goaler Tuukka Rask. Doesn’t matter. A goal is a goal is a goal. Atta boy, Thorbs.

In his National Hockey League baptism against the St. Louis Blues, Connor McDavid was McOrdinary, yet there were four pics of the Edmonton Oilers rookie on the Sportsnet website front page the following morning, while this was a headline on the TSN website: McDavid shows flashes of brilliance in debut. How many pics will we see and what will the headlines say when he actually does something other than skate fast? Make no mistake, McDavid is going to be a dynamic player, but I believe we need to turn down the volume on the McHype and McRhetoric. Just let the kid play.

So, now that TSN talking head Aaron Ward is spending the weekend behind bars on domestic misdemenour charges, will the media eat their own, meaning will they skewer the former NHL defenceman the way they did Ray Rice, Slava Voynov, Greg Hardy and other sports figures who’ve roughed up women? Just asking.

Pariah Pete Rose

Pariah Pete Rose

Baseball pariah Pete Rose thinks Josh Donaldson is a wuss. A real wimp. The way Pariah Pete sees it, the Toronto Blue Jays third sacker displayed extremely bad manners when he let a silly little thing like a rattled brain remove him from Game 1 of the Jays American League Division Series vs. the Texas Rangers. “I just don’t understand,” Rose harrumphed in his miscast role as analyst on Fox Sports. “I got a little light-headed how many times in my career? I still went out there and played.” What’s the problem, Pete? Lose your over/under wager with Donaldson out? Take a nap, man.

It’s agreed. Officiating in Game 2 of the Rangers-Jays joust was atrocious. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza, for example, had a strike zone that was, at times, larger than Pete Rose’s ego, and, at other times, smaller than Pete Rose’s credibility. But Carapazza and the other boys in blue didn’t silence Blue Jays’ bats. Texas pitching did that. Blaming the umps for a loss in a baseball game is a copout 99 times out of 100.

Anyone for some genuine sour Grapes? Well, look no further than Donald S. Cherry’s bully pulpit on Hockey Night In Canada. There’s no surprise, of course, that the conspiracy theorists are in full-throated voice these days, what with the Blue Jays trailing the Rangers 0-2 in their best-of-five engagement. But I didn’t expect to see and hear Cherry use his Curmudgeon’s Corner platform to suggest there’s a sinister figure lurking behind the grassy knoll. “We’re getting stiffed,” the Lord of Loud laments. “You know why we’re getting stiffed? Because they do not want a Canadian team in the final.” I, for one, refuse to believe that. At least until I see them fly the Canadian flag upside down.

bow wow bungalowTwit of the week is Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun columnist who tweeted: “Under the department of dumb: Booing PK Subban. Great player. Local guy. Charitable. You should all applaud.” Hoo boy. Tsk-tsking Maple Leafs loyalists for giving P.K. Subban the Bronx cheer when he and the hated Montreal Canadiens were in the Republic of Tranna last week is some special kind of stupid. Even dumber is Little Stevie Blunder telling Leafs Nation to shower Subban with hossanas. For sure, Stevie. That’s what they should do. And while they’re at it, they can also root, root, root for an autumn snow storm and the second coming of Rob Ford. I’m not certain if Simmons writes this sort of stuff to get a rise out of the rabble of if he truly believes it, but for his twit tweet he earns a stay in the Bow Wow Bungalow.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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.


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You’re never going to have unanimity on the gay issue in the NHL or anywhere else

Brian Burke is disappointed.

This, of course, is not uncommon. Burke’s smile is often turned upside-down. After all, he once generally managed the Toronto Maple Leafs, a tragic, ghastly hockey outfit that has perfected the art of disappointing its ownership, management, coaches and a fan base whose reach stretches far beyond parochial boundaries.

Not once since the spring of 1967 have les Leafs participated in a Stanley Cup parade, a stretch of annual faceplants that, while not equal in numbers to the Chicago Cubs’ century-plus death march, feels very Cub-ian. Burke can only be held personally responsible for a handful of the Leafs’ springtime melts, but some things tend to cling, and not even fleeing the Republic of Tranna and hiding out in Saudi Alberta can shake off the residue of ruin a man experiences in the Centre of the Shinny Universe.

It isn’t les Leafs who are up Burke’s nose these days, though. It’s a hockey player. A homophobic hockey player.

At least we assume him to be homophobic, because when USA TODAY unsealed the findings of a survey it conducted during a National Hockey League/NHL Players Association media meet-and-greet earlier this month in Toronto, one of 35 skaters turned thumbs down to the notion of welcoming an openly gay teammate into the lair. Guy’s gotta be a gay-hater, right?

“I’m disappointed by the one player,” said Burke, now Grand Poobah of all things Calgary Flames.

Well, sure he’s disappointed. Burke, after all, is among the founding fathers of the You Can Play Project, one of the leading entities in the crusade for inclusiveness in sports, professional and amateur. And already I have heard yelps of “Name him and shame him!” from the rabble. But let there be no witch hunt here. No McCarthyism, whereby we feret out the scoundrel who clings tightly to the notion that gay is wrong, gay is weak, gay is the devil’s own handiwork.

Let’s face it, this is life, which never has been, nor shall it ever be, one-size-fits-all. The crouching tiger of bigotry/racism/misogyny is always at the door.

P.K. Subban, for example, is to be admired universally and unanimously for his commitment to funnel $10 million to charity over the next seven years, yet I harbor no doubt that there are those walking among us who see not the Montreal Canadiens defenceman’s generosity but, rather, only the hue of his skin. To them, he’s just an uppity black man who shouldn’t be making that kind of money.

So finding one rogue hockey player in a group of 35? Not at all alarming.

Seriously, if you were to ask 35 anonymous NHL players if they believe women are nothing more than sex objects to be used for their pleasure, you’re apt to find at least one thick enough to give you an enthusiastic “Hell ya!”

Same thing with Europeans. Still. I mean, xenophobia ran rampant during the 1970s, first when those dreaded Ivans and Igors from Mother Russia tried to steal our game during the ’72 Summit Series, then when a tidal wave of Europeans washed ashore to take jobs from good Canadian boys mid-decade. I would venture to submit that there are still those who would prefer not to sit beside a Russian in the changing room. Some might not be too fond of Swedes. But the xenophobe ranks, I would suggest, have thinned considerably over time.

Ditto the homophobes. I doubt very much that USA TODAY would have received a whopping 97.1 per cent approval rate on its gay question 30-40 years ago. Oh, hell, they probably wouldn’t have gotten it 10 years ago.

So, this is a good-news story, and the fact that at least one player confesses to discomfort with a gay teammate is also positive, in a bass-ackwards way. If, for example, there had been 35-of-35 unanimity, the fallout would have been not only sharp cynicism but flat-out disbelief. Like, tell me Don Cherry is defecting to Moscow and I might buy it. But 100 per cent of NHL players being okay with a gay teammate? Sorry, no sale. That reeks of galloping political correctness.

As it is, we have been given a subtle reminder that educating is yet to be done, and the question now becomes: Is this survey, with its small sample size, enough to convince a gay player to come out?

If nothing else, it is encouraging and I, for one, don’t need to know the identity of the solitary homophobe who took part in the USA TODAY survey. I just assume he plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because they always disappoint.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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.