The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Jets secrecy in re-upping two guys without a playoff win…the Pope is on board…hockey discipline vs. tennis discipline…the ladies rock at the U.S. Open…the Vancouver Canucks odd youth movement…insults are Steve…and so long Steely Dan

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.

Well, Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman were correct and both Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice have been rewarded for chronic nonachievement, which begs this question: Why the secrecy?

I mean, Dreger tells us that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman gave the only general manager the Winnipeg Jets have known a hearty pat on the back in the form of a contract extension “months ago.” Perhaps the deal was done scant days after the locals failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby for the fifth time in six whirls under Chevy’s watch. Or maybe it was in May, June or July.

Whatever the case, the Secret Society known as True North Sports & Entertainment chose to keep that morsel of information on the QT until this very morning.

Same with Maurice, the potty-mouthed head coach destined to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history sometime during the 2017-18 crusade. Apparently, his endorsement of a job not well done arrived more recently, which could mean June, July or August, but, again, the Secret Society chose not to share that tidbit with the very people who fill the Little Hockey House On The Prairie 41 days/nights each year and purchase all that merchandise with the Royal Canadian Air Force logo.

In other words, screw the rabble.

Try as I might, I cannot scare up a single reason why the Secret Society adopted a mum’s-the-word posture vis-a-vis extensions for the GM and head coach, except that the Puck Pontiff likely didn’t fancy the bother of detailing the rationale behind re-upping two men accustomed to standing on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the real fun begins in April. They’re a pair of oh-fers: 0-for-the playoffs. Zero wins. In six seasons for Chevy and 3.5 for Coach Potty-Mo. Tough to justify a reward for never failing to fail.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

But, hey, maybe this is a Winnipeg thing. After all, the Blue Bombers handed their GM, Kyle Walters, and sideline steward, Mike O’Shea, a fresh set of downs even though they’d never won a Canadian Football League post-season match. Received three-year add-ons, they did.

Which leads me to believe that contract extensions are like skeeters in Pegtown: You’re gonna get ’em whether you deserve ’em or not.

Did the work of either Chevy or Maurice warrant renewals? Well, it’s a results-driven business, and booking tee times at St. Charles or Glendale while those about you are still playing hockey isn’t anyone’s idea of getting the job done.

Clearly, something is broken.

If, as has been suggested by numerous pundits, Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled an array of blue-chip talent, why no playoffs? Must be the coach. If it’s the coach, why the extension? And if not the coach, who? The players? Can’t be, because we’re told they’re blue-chippers. Unless they aren’t blue-chippers, in which case Chevy’s at fault.

Would I have gone all-in on either Chevy or Maurice? Or both? I’m iffy on the former, because it’s uncertain how much interference he receives from on high, but I’m definitely not sold on the latter.

Paul Maurice

I’d have allowed Coach Potty-Mo to enter the 2017-18 fray on his existing deal, which had a shelf life of 82 more games. This is a show-me season for Maurice. Show us you can coach without Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart getting in the way. Qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and you won’t have to change your postal code. Miss and we have some swell parting gifts for you.

Aha, you say. That would make him a lame-duck coach. Well, yes, it would. And your point is?

Delivering a contract extension to Maurice doesn’t make him a better coach. It doesn’t turn Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck into Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. It doesn’t improve the penalty kill. It doesn’t even buy Coach Potty-Mo more time. It’s on him either way. If the Jets aren’t part of the post-season fun next April, the Puck Pontiff will be paying Maurice not to coach.

I just hope they don’t keep it a secret when and if they let the guy go.

It’s about the Declaration of Principles that several hockey organizations, including the NHL, signed off on this week, with the endorsement of the real Puck Pontiff, Pope Francis of Vatican fame: I’ll believe in the vow of inclusiveness when NHL players (hello, Andrew Shaw and Ryan Getzlaf) cease using gay slurs as their go-to insults, and when I see women on NHL coaching, management and scouting staffs and openly gay men on NHL rosters. Women’s hockey at the highest level is inclusive, men’s hockey at the highest level not so much.

You want inclusiveness? Try big-time tennis. At the U.S. Open in Gotham, we’ve seen women sitting in the umpire’s chair during men’s matches. Sadly, one of those women, Louise Engzell of Switzerland, was called a “whore” and a “cocksucker” by Italian No. 1 Fabio Fognini. Although slow to respond to the verbal assault, tennis officialdom slapped Fognini with $24,000 in fines and instructed him to vacate the premises, even though he had advanced to the third round of doubles play. Soon, the other shoe shall drop. It’s possible that Fognini will be banned from future Grand Slam tournaments and fined upwards of $250,000. By way of comparison, when Disney Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf barked out the same C-slur during an NHL playoff game last spring, he was docked pocket change of $10,000 and permitted to play on.

Fognini’s mea culpa was priceless. “I have nothing against women,” he insisted. “I have been called sexist, which I am not. I am a family man, I have a wife, a mother, a sister. I have always loved women, I have always respected them.” Reminds me of the homophobes who defend their actions and use of anti-gay slurs by saying, “I have gay friends.”

Sloane Stephens

Three thoughts on the U.S. Open this morning: 1) The women’s draw has been much more compelling than the men’s, especially with the prospects and hopes of a Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer skirmish dashed by Juan Martin Del Petro. 2) I think it’s terrific that four American women have advanced to the semifinals of their national tournament. 3) Some of the women can really whack a tennis ball and get around the court (love Sloane Stephens), but how does Serena Williams ever lose?

This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad: Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden says his club’s “focus is on youth.” Right. Two-thirds of the Canucks’ No. 1 forward unit, the Sedin twins, are 37 years old. They just reeled in Thomas Vanek. He’s 33. The other two featured off-season recruits, Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto, are 28 and 27, respectively. Their big catch a year ago was Loui Eriksson, 32. If that’s putting the focus on youth, then Don Cherry is a spring chicken.

The question must be asked: Does Donovan Bennett of Sportsnet actually watch Canadian Football League games? I mean, the guy does weekly power rankings and he’s somehow determined that the Edmonton Eskimos are the No. 2 outfit. That would be the same Edmonton group that has been totally dismantled by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders in consecutive weeks. Bennett had the Eskimos ranked No. 3 a week ago, then they were blitzed by the Stampeders and he moved them into the No. 2 slot. I don’t know if Bennett is embarrassed, but he ought to be.

Todd Bertuzzi

Speaking of totally losing the plot, Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver announced it will feature Todd Bertuzzi, he of Steve Moore infamy, on its air every Tuesday on The Starting Lineup, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia used the occasion to totally trash West Coast media with a completely unfounded statement of non-fact. You know, much like his piece about Phil Kessel and hot dogs. “One of the truly dumb things about Vancouver,” he tweeted. “It never took the Steve Moore incident seriously. Never covered it. Never shouted about it.” He later referenced “Vancouver Twitter idiots.” Apparently ignoring facts and name-calling is what passes for a national sports columnist these days. The great Trent Frayne and Jim Coleman must be spinning in their graves.

Can’t even guess the number of hours I’ve spent listening to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. Brilliant stuff. Becker died last weekend and we’re left with the music. These are my five favorite Steely Dan tunes…
1. Bodhisattva
2. Deacon Blues
3. Peg
4. Hey Nineteen
5. Do It Again

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

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About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

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

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

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


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About what a hockey town looks like…NHL teams that actually make trades…old man Sudsy…Coach Potty-Mouth’s smugness…a steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver…and blaming it all on Canada’s sad-sack hockey fans

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

In the department of really, really, really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”

Edmonton Oilers fans perfected the jersey toss.

Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.

I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.

Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.

And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler would excel in playoff hockey.

I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?

Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.

Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.

I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.

While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.

To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.

Blame it on the fans.

Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?

An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.

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 Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets…The King of Golf, Arnold Palmer…Fish fry ’em…Torts and Tebow…and a few 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…

Jacob Trouba

Jacob Trouba

Jacob Trouba wants more money. He wants more ice time. He wants to play on the right side as part of a first or second defence pairing. He wants out of Winnipeg. Want, want, want. Gimme, gimme, gimme.

So go ahead and cast him in the role of self-serving, petulant villain in the latest Winnipeg Jets soap opera, if you like, but I won’t go there.

Is Trouba’s reluctance to play the left side on defence any different than Dustin Byfuglien’s hesitancy to play forward? Isn’t his desire for more ice time a positive rather than a negative? I mean, show me a National Hockey League worker who’s satisfied with his on-ice allotment and I’ll show you someone I’d rather not have on my team.

It could be, of course, that Trouba is blowing smoke and there’s something more sinister at play in his request for a new postal/zip code. Perhaps he’s a malcontent of the Evander Kane ilk and River City just isn’t his kind of town. If so, that makes him a liar. So what. Everyone in hockey lives on Planet Pinocchio. If, however, Trouba is being truthful and the trade request he made in May and his agent made public on the weekend is strictly about the game and the manner in which he’s been deployed, I understand his argument.

Trouba is stuck behind Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the right side of the Jets defence. That isn’t about to change. The club has told him as much, or so he claims. Thus, his only way out is to get out of Dodge.

I suspect Trouba will get his wish, although it’ll be on Kevin Cheveldayoff’s timetable and, as we are aware, most glaciers move at a more lickety-split clip than the man who generally manages the Jets.

What does this tell us about the Jets, though?

Trouba, after all, is the second neophyte to request a trade, the first being the aforementioned Kane, who wanted to see Winnipeg in the rear-view mirror the moment he skipped out on his first bar tab.

Cheveldayoff won’t cave here. As was the case with Kane, he’ll have a sticker price for Trouba, and he likely won’t have much appetite for dickering. He’ll hold out until he gets what he considers fair market value. In the final reckoning, though, there’ll be two very talented, young skaters who wanted out of Pegtown and got out.

Young guns looking for an escape route isn’t the sort of thing you want to become a trend when your business model is built on a draft-and-develop concept.

Goodbye to The King of Golf, Arnold Palmer.

Goodbye to The King of Golf, Arnold Palmer.

There have been better golfers than Arnold Palmer in my lifetime. Jack Nicklaus is the first that comes to mind. Tiger Woods. Perhaps Gary Player. There was, however, no one better for the game of golf than Arnie, who died on the weekend at age 87. I remember watching the King on our black-and-white TV screen when I was a wee sprig. I loved him. I loved his charm, his charisma, his swashbuckling style and a quirky swing that he always punctuated with a lean to the left or right as he attempted to influence the flight of his ball with body language. I loved how he would attack a golf course, not merely play it. I loved the mobs—Arnie’s Army—that followed him from hole-to-hole and transformed golf into a TV sport. I loved how he related to the people. I loved everything about Arnold Palmer.

Patrik Laine went 0-for-WCH (World Cup of Hockey). Should the Jets be concerned about their first-round draft choice’s performance? Not at all. If, on the other hand, he goes 0-for-October or 0-for-November, we’ll have to revisit the topic.

How about those Winnipeg Goldeyes. They claimed their second American Association baseball title this century. In Winnipeg, two championships in the same century is now considered binge winning. It’s a shame they had to knock off the Wingnuts in Wichita, though, because Lawrence Dumont Stadium looked near empty, with only 1,113 people in the pews. Had Game 5 of the championship series been played in the Ballyard By The Forks, the place would have been packed.

It’s official: Bill Belichick could put a scarecrow behind centre and the New England Patriots still would win National Football League games. The name of his quarterback on Thursday night already escapes me, but he beat the Houston Texans, 27-0, which means the Pats will be no worse than 3-1 by the time Tom Brady is allowed to deflate footballs again. Belichick is a genius or a mad scientist. Take your pick.

I realize that John Tortorella has coached a Stanley Cup-winning club, so he’s got some cred. But, really, why would anyone want to play for that man? He’s so objectionable. I acknowledge that a hockey team isn’t a democracy, but it seems to me that hockey could use one less dictator.

Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel

Oh, boo hoo to the many people, including Tortorella, upset with Phil Kessel because he posted a tweet tweeking the noses of USA Hockey officialdom after the tire fire that was their World Cup of Hockey experience? They snubbed the Pittsburgh Penguins forward, he didn’t like it, so he gave management/coaching staff a tongue-in-cheek jab. Yes, it was cheeky. Big deal. A guy can’t have a bit of fun anymore?

Tell me again that this Tim Tebow-baseball-New York Mets thing isn’t a publicity stunt. When the Amazins are peddling jerseys for $119.99 and T-shirts for $29.99 for a guy who will never play Major League Baseball—and they’re flying off the shelves—that is spelled g-i-m-m-i-c-k.

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 hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…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…

No. 4, Bobby Orr

No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

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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When is a gay football player not a gay football player? When Steve Simmons says so

This just in: Michael Sam isn’t gay. He never happened.

No, really. That guy who played rush end for the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 7? The guy with the name Sam stitched on the back of his No. 94 jersey? Not gay. Not real.

As much as we believed we were eye witnesses to an historic moment that hot August night in Ottawa, there’s never been an openly gay performer in the Canadian Football League. We know this because Little Stevie Blunder says so.

“In reality,” Steve Simmons scribbles in his weekly serving of three-dot alphabet soup for the Toronto Sun and its sister sheets in Sun Media, “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.”

I see. We are to ignore the reality that Sam actually joined the fray for 12 plays against the homestanding RedBlacks this month. Expunge it from the official record, kids. According to the Steve-O-Meter, apparently it takes more than one game and one dozen snaps of a football to qualify you as a gay man playing professional football.

As for the reality that Sam was a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams and participated in preseason play? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was on the Dallas Cowboys practice roster? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that an ESPN reporter, Josina Anderson, filed a live report about Sam’s showering habits while with the Rams? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was engaged to be married to another man? Not gay, didn’t happen.

But wait.

In one sentence, Little Stevie tells us that “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” but in another he tells us “Michael Sam was openly gay.”

Now I’m confused.

How can a man be openly gay at home, at church, at the market, at the theatre, on Dancing With The Stars, in the locker room…but not when he’s in full (albeit futile) frolic on a football field?

I think this is what Little Stevie is actually trying to tell us in his awkward way: Your gayness only counts if you’re a good football player. If you show some staying power. If, on the other hand, you are some shmuck who plays a mere 12 downs and records zero quarterback sacks and zero tackles, your gayness scores a big, fat zero on the Steve-O-Meter. You don’t exist and neither does your gayness.

What a wheeze bag.

In reality, Michael Sam is the first, and only, openly gay man to compete in a CFL game. That’s how he shall be remembered, even if only as a footnote, although Little Stevie Blunder is having none of that, either.

Asked by Bryan Hayes on TSN’s The Reporters on Sunday morning how people will reflect upon the Sam saga now that he has walked out on the Alouettes, thus likely signaling the end to his football journey, Little Stevie had this to say:

“I don’t think it will be remembered.”

I think it might be wise of Simmons if he were to steer his scribblings and comments clear of social issues.

I mean, this is a man who staked claim to the moral high ground when he pooh-poohed Roger Goodell for the NFL commish’s horrid handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, yet his credibility in that area took a serious drubbing when he posted a happy birthday tweet to Floyd Mayweather, a convicted and serial hitter of women. Simmons repeatedly has referred to John Farrell as “Benedict” Farrell because the Red Sox skipper bolted the Toronto Blue Jays for Boston. Yet, in the 1980s, Little Stevie signed on with the Calgary Herald while still drawing pay from the Calgary Sun. Pot, meet kettle.

Now he’s reduced the arrival of Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to play professional football, to nothingness.

Stick to what you know best, Little Stevie—stalking Phil Kessel and his hot dog stands.

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.