Troubles before Triumph: An Ode to the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets on the 40th anniversary of their final WHA championship

Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.

***

It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.

Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.

“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”

I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.

So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)

The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.

***

To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.

Morris Lukowich

This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.

The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.

There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.

Kim Clackson

Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.

“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”

It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.

“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”

Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.

“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”

“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”

Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.

“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”

That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.

***

Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.

The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.

It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.

Larry Hillman

It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.

It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.

It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.

Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.

It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.

“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).

“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”

Sudsy Sutherland

Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.

“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”

Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.

“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”

Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”

***

There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.

Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.

Fergy

Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.

“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”

Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.

“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”

***

It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.

More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.

I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.

“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”

I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.

“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”

***

There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.

Suitcase Smitty

By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.

He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.

“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”

Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.

***

Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.

We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”

Tom McVie

Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.

Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.

Examples…

On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”

Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”

After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”

Tom McVie in the champions’ changing room.

More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.

The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.

Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.

“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”

***

It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.

Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.

The Shoe

The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.

“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”

“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”

“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.

Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.

***

This was a WHA title that almost never happened.

The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.

There was a money dispute, you see.

The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.

So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?

“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”

The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.

“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”

The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.

As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.

***

Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.

Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.

Jacques Demers

“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”

Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”

Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.

“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”

That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.

***

Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.

If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.

“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”

Roscoe and Clacker

After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.

Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.

“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”

***

I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.

Bill (Magic Fingers) Bozak and four of the boys—Scotty Campbell, the Shoe, Luke and Roland Eriksson.

Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.

They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.

“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”

No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.

“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”

***

Michael Gobuty

Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:

  1. Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.

  2. The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.

  3. Fergy hired Tom McVie.

  4. The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

  5. Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.

The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.

Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.

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About bah-humbugish people and things that have gotten up my nose…

A different kind of Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve got a bad case of the bah-humbugs today because the PC Police are ruining Christmas songs for me. Seriously, Baby It’s Cold Outside is a banned song? What next, they haul Rudolph and his red nose off the air because he was bullied by the other reindeer and he drinks too much? Anyway, Robert Mueller is up Donald Trump’s nose (still) and here are some people and things that have crawled up my nose:

  • Brooke Henderson

    News snoops who vote on the Lou Marsh Trophy get up my nose, because they don’t have a clue about curling and curlers. Their snub of Rachel Homan last year was ghastly, so you can be sure that our girl Jennifer Jones won’t get a whiff of consideration this week when the girls and boys on the beat(s) put their little heads together to declare Canada’s top jock for 2018. I’m not saying Jones deserves the honor. Brooke Henderson does. But it would be nice if the world champion curler is at least in the conversation. Trouble is, few jock journos in the east know a hogline from Hog Town. Some of them still consider curling a social activity rather than a sport. (True story: When I joined the Toronto Sun sports staff, I was dispatched to London, Ont., for the 1981 world curling championships because, as sports editor George Gross informed me, “You’re from Western Canada, so you must know curling. No one else on our staff knows anything about it.”)

  • The national sports media (Sportsnet, TSN, Globe and Mail, National Post) are up my nose for their groupie-like gushing over the Tranna Maple Leafs. The Auston Matthews adulation is painfully over the top, and the Willy Boy Nylander contract saga received more coverage than the JFK assassination. Daily updates on Willy Boy’s whereabouts and activity while he played hooky instead of hockey included everything from the brushing of his teeth to the clipping of his toenails. There were 15—count ’em, 15!—breathless articles/videos about him on the Sportsnet website last Monday morning. The second coming of Christ won’t get that much play. Unless, of course, Jesus signs with the Maple Leafs and plays on a line with Matthews.

  • Connor McDavid

    The Edmonton Oilers are up my nose because, their current run of decent play notwithstanding, they’ve been a mess of steaming, hot hooey for too long. Normally I wouldn’t care, except they have this kid named Connor McDavid who deserves so much more than a supporting cast full of invalids. McDavid was too ill to play last Monday. Little wonder. The Oilers make me sick, too.

  • The National Hockey League is up my nose because it continues to snub Québec City, my favorite burg in North America. Okay, it didn’t work first time around for Ville de Québec, but the same must also be said for Winnipeg. And just look at what’s happening in River City now.
  • A portion of the rabble in River City are up my nose for the constant whinging about a perceived anti-Jets bias among NHL referees. As conspiracy theories go, it ranks right up there with the moon landing and whatever boogymen Donald Trump is spooked by these days. Nobody wearing arm bands is out to get the locals. Missed calls happen. Bad calls happen. That’s because some NHL refs are lousy. So there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt is up my nose because he’s apologized to everyone for shoving and kicking a woman except the woman he shoved and kicked while she was on the ground.

  • The Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press is up my nose for providing retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek with a platform to spew scandalous gossip about elite curlers being a bunch of “swingers” who spend their weekends cheating on their spouses with other curlers who are cheating on their spouses. Infidelity is newsworthy if an athlete’s name is Tiger Woods, but the everyday Janes and Joes who curl don’t deserve to be branded as adulterous sexaholics by a former jock journo with too much free time on his hands. The sexual hijinx of curlers is nobody’s business. It’s the sort of careless gossip you tell the boys at the bar, but a responsible newspaper wouldn’t print such trash. It serves no purpose other than to titillate and cast the “cheater” cloud of suspicion over everyone.

  • Postmedia is up my nose because of the way it has destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports pages. I don’t recognize it as a Winnipeg newspaper anymore.

  • Jeff Blair of Sportsnet is up my nose for writing that no general manager in the Republic of Tranna has “won anything of significance for years, going back to 1992-93.” Figures. Let’s ignore the Argonauts. Typical Tranna, where the Canadian Football League is less significant than Drake’s bowel movements. The Boatmen have brought the Grey Cup home five times since 1993. Apparently Blair considers those meh moments. So only the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors matter in The ROT. Sounds about right. And that’s a shame.

  • Mike Benevides

    The CFL is up my nose for its football operations salary cap. It’s the dumbest cap since someone put that pointy thing on the Pope’s head. Do we really care if the Saskatchewan Roughriders have 15 coaches and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers only 10? Or how much or how little they’re paid? The Montreal Alouettes just fired a mittful of coaches/scouts because of this new cap. And did Mike Benevides and the Edmonton Eskimos part ways because of the new cap? Losing quality coaches and scouts makes the on-field product better how?

  • Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is up my nose for his sanctimonious scribblings re Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. Citing Rule 5 of qualifications for induction to Cooperstown, he focuses on “integrity, sportsmanship and character” in explaining his steadfast refusal to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez or any other ballplayer who stuck a needle in their butt. But this holier-than-thou Simmons is the same guy who glorifies woman-beater Floyd Mayweather, writing about his “dignity,” and he also expresses how much “fun” it is to have woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the CFL. Can you say fake piety, kids?

  • Tyson Fury

    Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is up my nose for his pungent description of heavyweight boxer and oinker Tyson Fury. The British pug is a “delightful and often tortured oddball,” according to Kelly. Well, yes, he’s tortured. He’s battled the bottle, drugs, depression and suicide ideation. He also spews sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic venom. A woman’s place is “in the kitchen and on her back” would be one of his tamer comments. He once said he would hang his sister were he to discover she’d been promiscuous. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia. Jews and Zionists own all the banks, newspapers and TV stations and have us all “brainwashed.” This is Kelly’s idea of a delightful human being?

  • I’ve probably gotten up some noses with this series of bah-humbugish mini-rants, but I’m sure the spirit of the season shall fa-la-la-la-la all over me once again on the morrow. Unless, of course, I find out about more Christmas carols that the PC Police won’t let me listen to.

About a tone deaf NHL and Kid Rock…Birchard curling with royalty…the CFL QB carousel…Aaron Rodgers’ new main squeeze…the XFL part II…an unfunny Farrell…Freddy calling ’em out in Tranna…media coaching the Maple Leafs…a “brazenly” gay figure skater…so long Red…and a few other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Kid Rock

Kid Rock isn’t feeling the love.

Except, of course, from Jeremy Roenick, whose unfiltered voice and scatter-gun twaddle have increased in volume and mockability, if not temperament, since the end of his days as a National Hockey League worker who once informed disgruntled fans that they can “kiss my ass.”

Kid Rock,” says Roenick, “is the most talented musician, I think ever, on the planet.”

He didn’t say which planet, but one could posit that, as a music critic, Roenick makes a swell hockey analyst, although the latter would be a matter of viewer appetite.

The point is, amidst the hurried and harsh pooh-poohing of the NHL for its hiring of rapper/rocker/rockabilly/country guy Kid Rock for the intermission gig at the Jan. 28 all-star frolic in Tampa, Roenick’s is the voice of a lone wolf howling amidst the din of dissent.

I’m a huge Kid Rock fan. I love his music,” confessed the NBC gab guy. “It’s a great get.”

Perhaps not such a “great get” if it’s about more than the music, which, based on the intense social and mainstream media screeching that his appointment has inspired, it seems to be with Robert/Bob/Bobby Ritchie.

Here’s what I know about Kid Rock:

Kid Rock and Pam Anderson

He’s filthy rich (about $80 million worth); he fancies himself as a beer-swilling, crap-kicking, womanizing American badass who’s been known to wrap himself in a Confederate flag; he likes to play with guns; he tosses out F-bombs like confetti at a wedding; he wears hats and sunglasses and is street chic scruffy; if there existed a period when he held relevance as a musician it surely ended about 10 years ago, basically the same time he and his ex-bride, Pamela Anderson, established some sort of record by exchanging wedding vows three times in one summer and filing for divorce 122 days later; he professes to have no problem with same-sex marriage but there’s a history of anti-gay/transgender diatribe that includes this nugget he once delivered to The New Yorker: “I don’t love anybody who acts like a fuckin’ faggot.” (The New York Times is “a little bit gay,” Twitter is “gay” and rap-rock is “pretty gay.”)

Much of which flies in the face of the NHL’s alliance with the You Can Play Project and the league’s Declaration of Principles, baring them both as so much window dressing.

Most of the time, our acts are passionate hockey fans,” says Steve Mayer, an NHL suit who must carry considerable corporate heft since he has an 11-word job title. “It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover.”

That is, as many have submitted, so very tone deaf on the NHL’s part. But, hey, isn’t that what you have to be to enjoy Kid Rock’s music? Tone deaf?

Shannon Birchard

Talk about winning the lottery. Shannon Birchard didn’t even have to buy a ticket and she hit the jackpot when Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba champions sent out an SOS asking the young curler to sub for third Kaitlyn Lawes at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which slides from the hack next weekend in Penticton. We’re talking curling royalty here. Jones, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen are Canadian, world and Olympic champions. It’s like being asked to sing with Adele, Pink and Lady Gaga. Tough gig. Nerve-inducing gig. May Shannon’s butterflies flutter in perfect formation.

Darian Durant

I note that the Canadian Football League quarterbacks carousel is in full spin. For those of you keeping score at home, James Franklin has gone from Edmonton to Toronto; Zach Collaros wore out his welcome in Hamilton and made tracks for Regina; Kevin Glenn loaded up the U-haul in Regina and pointed it in the direction of Edmonton, his ninth CFL outfit; Josh Freeman, who hasn’t taken a snap since January 2016, hauled his hide off the unemployment line and skedaddled to Montreal; Darian Durant replaced Freeman on the unemployment line, then found his way to Winnipeg; and, of course, Johnny Manziel will be heading to a courtroom or rehab facility to be named later.

Let’s face it, no Winnipeg Blue Bombers loyalist wants to see Durant behind centre, because that means starter Matt Nichols is in the repair shop. Alas, few QBs get through a complete season in one piece, thus Nichols will be felled by an owie and we’ll be seeing Durant. If he can actually throw a pass to his receivers without the football bouncing two or three times, it’ll be a useful signing. Just don’t count on it.

Danica Patrick: Always in someone’s face.

On the subject of quarterbacks, an interesting social note: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is no longer dating actor Olivia Munn. His main squeeze now is GoDaddy’s in-your-face girl Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s departing, hot-headed diva who never knew a fender-bender that she couldn’t blame on someone else. Patrick never came close to taking a checkered flag in NASCAR, but she got into more scrapes than any of her fenders. Heaven help Rodgers if he accidentally puts a ding in the family SUV.

So, there are whispers that grappling guru Vince McMahon is toying with the idea of an XFL redux. How much fun would that be? Not much, if it’s as woeful and as blatantly sexist as the original go-round. Among other things, XFL Uno featured:

  • All eight teams were co-owned by McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (nee Federation) fame and NBC.

  • They each dropped $35 million in the first and only season.

  • Former WWF fake fighter Jesse (The Body) Ventura was part of the broadcast crew. He also had a day job at the time—governor of Minnesota.

  • Play-by-play dude Matt Vasgersian was demoted from the main crew (after the first game) by McMahon for his reluctance to say something suggestive and sexist about cheerleaders’ outfits.

  • Another broadcast team consisted of WWF announcers Jim Ross and Jerry (The King) Lawler, who advised his partner during one game that “You’re here for the football, J.R., I’m here for the cheerleaders. Whoa! Check ’em out!”

  • McMahon once ordered a camerman to invade the Orlando Rage cheerleaders dressing room at halftime to “capture the essence of whatever it is they do” in there.

  • There was no coin toss to determine the opening kickoff. Instead, two players scrambled for the football.

  • Players received flat, per-game pay: Quarterbacks $5,000; running backs $4,500; kickers $3,500.

  • TV Guide listed the XFL as the third worst television show in history, behind only The Jerry Springer Show and My Mother the Car.

The unfunny Will Ferrell and the great Roger Federer.

Speaking of lame humor, actor Will Ferrell continues to be hopelessly unfunny. He hijacked a John McEnroe-Roger Federer courtside interview at the Australian Open tennis tournament last week, asking the following questions of the great Swiss champion:

Would you describe your game as a silky gazelle?”
“Are you a witch or a vampire?”
“There’s a rumor in the men’s locker room that you love coming to play in Melbourne and your secret to fitness is that you only eat wombat meat. Is that true?”
“I know how much this crowd means to you, they’re an amazing crowd, but does it get annoying when they just scream ‘C’mon Roger’ over and over again?”

For his part, Federer played along and provided some witty answers, but it was embarrassing.

Frederik Andersen

There was mixed reaction when Tranna Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen called out some of his mates last week, saying, “We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team.”

Among those tsk-tsking the under-siege goaltender was the O Dog, Jeff O’Neill of TSN.

“I wouldn’t be happy with it,” he said. “We all know who he’s talking about…he’s talking about Jake Gardiner, William Nylander or Mitch Marner because he screwed up two games in a row. So if you have a problem with one of those two (sic) guys, clear it, clear the air in the dressing room after the game instead of going to the media when nobody’s around. If you remember, when Frederik Andersen got here last year, he stunk the joint out in October. This year he was terrible in October and not one person, not Mike Babcock said, ‘You know, it’d be nice if our goaltender gave us a save once in a while.’ They always said the same thing. They protected him. They said, ‘Frederik Anderson is our guy, we believe in him.’ And now there’s a target.”

But wait. Here’s Don Cherry:

“He said what had to be said,” maintained Hockey Night in Canada’s resident blowhard. “If nobody else was saying it, he said it and I don’t blame him. I’ve been waiting for somebody to say something like that. Call them out, get the guys out there. I don’t blame Andersen at all.”

I’m on Cherry’s side of the discussion. This world needs more athletes delivering juicy lip service.

Mike Babcock

Does Leafs bench maestro Mike Babcock appreciate all the coaching help he’s been getting from media in the Republic of Tranna? I swear, reading and hearing all the coaching expertise in print  and on air makes me wonder how Babs ever won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a world title, a world Junior title, a World Cup title and a college title without tapping into all that shinny brain power sitting in the press box at the Air Canada Centre.

Does anybody really believe the Ottawa Senators will move out Erik Karlsson? The Swede was the best hockey player in the world during last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, but I wouldn’t rule out a trade, not with Scrooge McDuck (owner Eugene Melnyk) in charge of the purse strings. If Melnyk does deal Karlsson, he can fold the franchise and ship it to Quebec City.

The Seattle Kraken?

Apparently, there are 13 possible names for a Seattle NHL franchise: Totems, Seals, Cougars, Evergreens, Emeralds, Rainiers, Kraken, Sea Lions, Sockeyes, Whales, Eagles, Firebirds and Renegades. (I Googled Kraken and discovered it’s a giant, multi-armed sea monster.) I like Sockeye, as in salmon, even though it isn’t among the registered trademark names.

Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon is off to South Korea with the U.S. Olympic team next month, which inspired this headline on the Kaplan Herald website: “Adam Rippon is U.S.’s first brazenly homosexual man to qualify for Winter Olympics.” Hmmm. One of Canada’s pairs skater, Eric Radford, is openly gay and he’ll also be in PyeongChang. No word on whether he plans to be “brazenly” gay while there or just gay.

Red Fisher

I’ve admired a number of scribes from what I like to call the golden group of Canadian sports writers, foremost among them being the great wordsmith Trent Frayne, with whom I had the privilege of working in 1980-81. Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes, Jack Matheson, Scott Young and John Robertson were other giants when the NHL was still a six-team outfit. As was Red Fisher, longtime detailer of all things les Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette. Red was a bit quirky (he refused to interview rookies) and a grump, but no scribe did hockey so well for so long as Fisher, who began working the Habs beat in 1955 and didn’t leave the building until 2012. He died at age 91 on Friday and Michael Farber delivered a terrific tribute to him in the Gazette.

This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Milos Raonic out in first round of Aussie Open. Lost in four sets to somebody named Lukas Lacko.” Sigh. Instead of looking up Lack’s form chart on the Association of Tennis Professionals website and advise readers that Raonic was beaten by a Slovak ranked 86th in the world, Simmons chooses to insult him. I swear, the more I read Grandpa Simmons the more I’m convinced that someone dropped him on his head when he was a kid.

About the Heritage Classic and Tom McVie…classic Winnipeg Jets uniforms…wearing the ‘C’…$465,000 lost in bike spokes…Queen Liz… and whinging from Rambling Rosie

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

Tommy McVie and one of his ugly sports jackets, congratulating Terry Ruskowski after the Jets won their third WHA title.
Tommy McVie and one of his ugly sports jackets, congratulating Terry Ruskowski after the Jets won their third WHA title.

Love the unis. Love the rosters. Most of all, I love the fact that Tom McVie will be coaching the Winnipeg Jets in the Heritage Classic fossil frolic with the Edmonton Oilers at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

There’s nothing not to like about the Heritage Classic, except perhaps the reality that some of our dearly departed—Ben Hatskin and John Bowie Ferguson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg and old friend Friar Nicolson et al—won’t be around to participate in the hijinks and shenanigans.

I truly hope the Jets squeeze in a tribute to Hatskin during the Oct. 22-23 soiree, because there would be no National Hockey League franchise in Winnipeg had it not been for Benny (yes, I know, I’m repeating myself here, but it bears repeating until something is done about it) and his foresight that helped create the Jets and the World Hockey Association in 1972.

That aside, it’s brilliant that McVie will be on board to provide the laugh track for the weekend. He might be the funniest man in hockey.

Tommy is also the last man to coach a championship outfit in River City. You’ll have to ask your grandparents about this, kids, but once upon a time the Jets actually qualified for the playoffs. And won championships. Three of them in four years, in fact.

Yuk-a-minute Tommy and his real ugly sports jackets had arrived in River City toward the tail end of the 1978-79 WHA crusade to guide the Jets to their third and final World Avco Trophy triumph. On one pit stop in Quebec City during the playoffs, I checked into my room at Le Chateau Frontenac and was alarmed at its size. I mean, you could squeeze more circus clowns into a phone booth than this cubbyhole.

“Tommy,” I said when we met in the lobby, “I’ve never stayed in such a small room. I can barely get my suitcase into the room.”

“You think your room is small?” he countered. “My room is so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window inside!”

The following autumn, I was sitting with Tommy during a pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in off the left wing and snapped a laser-like wrist shot into the top corner, glove side.

“Watching that,” McVie said, “is better than having sex.”

“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”

“Maybe not, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.

“I never had as much fun working a beat during my 30 years in mainstream jock journalism as I did while Tommy and his ugly sports jackets were behind the Jets’ bench.

This is what you call a classic uniform.
This is what you call a classic uniform.

What’s the official sound of the NHL Heritage Classic? Ka-ching!!!!!!!! Oh, yes, the Heritage Classic is also the Heritage Cash Grab, with True North quickly shifting into Black Friday/Boxing Day sales-like mode by offering the pre-purchase of one-off jerseys, t-shirts, hoodies and pennants. You can get your Heritage Premier jersey for $139.99, or your Heritage Premier Plus jersey for $164.99, or you Heritage Authentic Pro Jersey for $349.99. The ladies haven’t been ignored. We can purchase a Heritage Premier Women’s Jersey for $114.99. Why, by the time the shelves and display racks are empty (and they will be empty in short order), the Jets will be able to afford Jacob Trouba’s asking price.

I’ll say this for the Jets Heritage Classic uniforms: They truly underscore how butt ugly the Jets’ current logo is. I’ve never made any secret that the Jets 2.0 logo leaves me cold. I think it’s a regrettable bit of business. Set your eyes on Mark Scheifele in his Heritage Classic linen—that’s a classic uni and logo.

Why do people think Scheifele is too young to be captain of the Jets? He’s 23. Gabriel Landeskog wore the C in Colorado at age 19. Ditto Sidney Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, respectively. Jonathan Toews captained the Chicago Blackhawks at age 20, while Dale Hawerchuk, Steve Yzerman, Trevor Linden and Eric Lindros were C-men at age 21. I say if a guy’s old enough to grow a playoff beard, he’s old enough to wear the C. And, last time I looked, those were whiskers on Scheifele’s chin, not soup stains.

The skies lit up, then the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lit it up, and now everything is hunky dory in Bomberville. Well, okay, not really. The local football heroes remain on the south side of .500 on their 2016 Canadian Football League crusade, but, hey, they’ve won two games in succession. For the Bombers, that’s totally pigging out. I mean, they hadn’t gone back for second helpings in two years. And they’re in a playoff position, because the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders keep cooperating by losing games. What can possibly go wrong now? Other than head coach Mike O’Shea changing quarterbacks, that is.

I note that a Wayne Gretzky rookie card sold at auction for $465,000. How many kids didn’t realize that that little hunk of cardboard they stuck in the spokes of their bike tires was worth a small fortune? Do they realize what $465,000 can get them today? A down payment on a one room condo in Vancouver, that’s what.

Queen Liz
Queen Liz

Just in time for that hard-to-shop-for monarchist on your Christmas list: A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. This isn’t just any portrait of Queen Liz, mind you. You’re going to need high ceilings. Like 16 feet worth of high. It’s the painting of Her Royal Highness that once adorned the rafters and north wall of the old Winnipeg Arena. The monstrosity is 16 feet high, 14 feet wide and weighs twice as much as any member of the Blue Bombers O-line. It’s available on Kijiji. There’s no asking price, but I’m guessing it won’t fetch as much as a Gretzky rookie card. It won’t fit in bike spokes, either.

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star doesn’t think much of surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing joining the Summer Olympics menu “four years yon” in Tokyo. Apparently men’s baseball and women’s softball are okay because they’re “definitely sports,” and Rambling Rosie gives karate her blessing, as well, if only because it will make the host Japanese happy. But skateboarding? “Good grief. What your kamikaze kid does on the sidewalk.” That’s right, you tell ’em, Rosie. No sport that a kid can play on the sidewalk, street or driveway belongs in the Olympics. You know, like hockey, which our kamikaze kids play on the road (“Car!”) spring, summer, winter and autumn. Get a grip, girl.

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.