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About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

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Winnipeg Jets: A personal ‘best of this and best of that’

I’m not fond of all-time greatest lists because they’re too often compiled by people who are not all-seeing.

Take, for example, the recent anointing of Dave Keon as creme de la Toronto Maple Leafs. As someone who witnessed the wonder that was Keon, initially on the family’s black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and then live and in living color with the New England/Hartford Whalers, I offer no quarrel with the salute to the diminutive, balletic centre-ice man. More to the point, I endorse it. Fully.

ducky3I wonder, though: How many among the 30 “experts” and 300,000 fans who gave voice to the Keon coronation actually saw him perform? How many can say they watched Syl Apps or Teeder Kennedy, who finished second and third, respectively, in balloting to select the greatest of the greats who have worn Maple Leafs linen in the past 100 years?

Syl Apps retired in 1948, two years before I was born. Teeder Kennedy hung ’em up in ’57. I don’t have the vaguest memory of him.

Time passed is the flaw in the all-time-greatest ointment, and it explains how a thug like Tie Domi can find himself on the same list as Dave Keon. I mean, seriously? Tie Domi belongs in the same company as Dave Keon? Ya, like I belong in the same ballet as Sophia Lee.

All of which brings me to the Winnipeg Jets. (Yes, I agree, the mention of Domi and ballet in the same breath serves as a rather odd, if not odious, segue to a discussion about the local hockey heroes, but work with me, kids.)

The creaky, old boys and the not-so-creaky Teemu Selanne will be back in town this week to participate in True North Sports & Entertainment’s genuflection to the Jets’ gloried past in the World Hockey Association and its limited achievements during the first go-round in the National Hockey League. Many of them, no doubt, shall arrive in River City greater of girth and with hairlines in rapid retreat, but hopefully old habits kick in when they take time away from the mirth and merriment of their reunion to play some pond hockey with the creaky, old Edmonton Oilers.

Slow-motion cameras won’t be a requirement, of course, because the actual-time speed is apt to be in super slo-mo—save for Selanne—but I’m guessing the Alumni Game on Saturday has as much appeal power as the Heritage Classic featuring the present-day Jets and Oilers on Sunday. (For those of you inclined to place a friendly wager on Team Hawerchuk in the old boys’ skirmish, be certain you get favorable odds because Team Gretzky has them out-Hall of Famed, 5-1, with one inductee-in-waiting.)

Anyway, this gathering of the clan puts me in mind of the best of the best, Jets version.

Many of my vintage can say we’ve seen them all, from the original Jet, Norm Beaudin, to today’s current flavor of the month, Patrik Laine, and some of us can say we saw more than most because we had the good fortune of an insider’s view home and away. That doesn’t make me an expert. It simply means I saw the Jets from a different vantage point.

It’s with that in mind that I submit some personal “best of” Jets lists…

peter-sullivan2My Favorites to Watch

1. Kent Nilsson: Pure magic. The most-talented player to wear a Jets jersey. Bar none.
2. Peter Sullivan: Silky smooth. I don’t care if he was defensively deficient. He was dazzling with the puck on his stick.
3. Anders Hedberg: The Swedish Express. His acceleration off the right wing was unparalleled.
4. Teemu Selanne: Ditto what I said about Hedberg.
5. Alexei Zhamnov: Spectacularly subtle. Perhaps that’s a contradiction in terms, but he was supremely skilled without a shred of flamboyance.

Most Grit

1. Ulf Nilsson: The punishment he absorbed and endured in the WHA was barbaric and criminal.
1a. Anders Hedberg: See above.
1b. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: See above.
1c. Ted Green: How he played so well in so much head pain is a mystery. I used to cringe watching the Seed hobbling on and off buses and airplanes, knowing he was in crippling pain.
3. Terry Ruskowski: He finished the 1979 WHA final with one arm.

Most Fun

Tom McVie: He’d always spice his interviews with comments like, “I’ve been fired more times than Al Capone’s machine gun” or “If life made sense, it would be men who rode sidesaddle. Think about it.”
Willy Lindstrom: The great prankster. He always made a pit stop at a joke store on our visits to Quebec City, then would toss stink bombs and sprinkle sneezing powder on our flight out of town.
Gary (Suitcase) Smith: Smitty seemed to take life with a wink and a nod.

jimmy-mann2Moments of Madness

1: Mike Smith: Comrade Mikhail, as I called the Jets GM, sold Kris Draper to the Detroit Red Wings for $1 (U.S. currency, one presumes) and used nine of his 12 selections at the 1992 NHL entry draft to claim Russians, the first of whom was the legendary Sergei Bautin. Smith’s make-work-for-Russians project fell flat. Little wonder Dale Hawerchuk got out of Dodge a couple years earlier.
2. Jimmy Mann: The sucker punch that shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw was every bit as bad as Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore.
3. Tom McVie: Taking his teeth out and trying to fight coach Al MacNeil of the Atlanta Flames was comedy gold.
4. John Ferguson: Punching a hole in the wall of his bunker at Winnipeg Arena? Check. Dumping a bucket of ice on to the Buffalo Sabres bench? Check. Kicking a hole in a dressing room door? Check.

Most Frustrating

1. Andrew McBain: We called him “Fergy’s son” or “Fergy’s kid” because we couldn’t think of any reason he was on the team, except that he must have been GM John Ferguson’s illigitimate kid. Beaner fooled us, though, with 32- and 37-goal seasons before leaving the Jets.
2. Scott Campbell: Asthma did poor Scotty in. His was never able to tap his full potential.
3. Ray Neufeld: Not because he underachieved, but because I silently cheered for him to succeed more than any other Jet. He became a fan whipping boy due to the Dave Babych trade, and I wanted Neuf to be a star. Never happened.

Best Quote

1. Dave Babych: Always gave thoughtful answers.
2. Terry Ruskowski: Honest, emotional, passionate.
3. Dale Hawerchuk: Ducky was the face of the franchise for so many years and he always delivered the goods.
4. Andrew McBain: No matter how hard the media rode him, Beaner didn’t balk on interviews.
5. Eddie Olczyk: I didn’t talk to Eddie O a great deal, but I could tell he had a future in talking.
5b. Barry Melrose: Friar Nicolson and I called him Kelvington after his home town in Saskatchewan. He loved talking into a microphone or tape recorder.

He’s Got Gonads

1. Tom McVie: Anyone who would bench Bobby Hull, one of the team owners, for arriving at the rink late has size XXXL gonads.
2. Morris Lukowich: A bantam rooster with a tiger in his tank. Luke never picked on anyone his own size, because they were all bigger than him.
3. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Built like Barney Rubble, the Little General shied away from no man, not even Bad News Bilodeau and the rest of the cement heads who would run him through the boards in the WHA.

laurie-boschman2Good Guys

1. Laurie Boschman: So belligerent on the ice, so soft-spoken and genuinely nice off it.
2. Dave Babych: A big, friendly bear of a man.
3. Terry Ruskowski: A good Canadian Prairie boy.
4. Barry Melrose: Fun guy, always joking with Friar and I.
5. Jude Drouin/Pierre Hamel: They took care of me after I collapsed on a flight home from Toronto.

Curmudgeons Before Their Time

1. Randy Carlyle: Mostly it was an act (I think), but Kitty played the role of the two old farts on The Muppets.
2. Mario Marois: Forever bitching about the heat on the bus.

Most Underrated

1. Teppo Numminen: I think he was only appreciated in Winnipeg. Had he played in Toronto or Montreal, they’d still be talking about him.
2. Ron Wilson: Dawg: Subtly efficient.

What Were They Thinking?
(When they Drafted this Guy)

1. Sergei Bautin: Still hard to believe that comrade Mikhail Smith squandered a first-round pick on this pylon.
2. Jimmy Mann: Strike one against Fergy.
3. Hannu Jarvenpaa: Scored four goals in an exhibition game. Scored 11 the rest of his career.
4. Evgeny Davydov: Mikhail was kidding, right?
5. Ryan Stewart: Three games, one goal. Say no more.

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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Sports scribes are every bit as disloyal as football coaches

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

It’s Thursday morning…do you know where your football coach is?

sportswritersI mean, it’s difficult keeping track of the Canadian Football League sidelines stewards these days, what with Chris Jones going here, Jason Maas going there, John Hufnagel moving upstairs, Wally Buono moving downstairs, Paul LaPolice returning to the scene of the crime, Noel Thorpe neither here nor there, and Mike O’Shea still watching film.

I swear, you’ll see less traffic flow at the Syrian border.

In the case of Jones, he didn’t fly solo in his first-to-worst defection from the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos to the Sad Sack Saskatchewan Roughriders. Apparently, his traveling party included eight assistant coaches, seven slick free agents, six large O-lineman, five cleaning ladies…and a punter in a pear tree. We haven’t seen this large an exodus since Moses did his thing at the Red Sea. Or at least since the Berlin Wall came a tumblin’ down.

Little wonder that CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has built his own metaphorical Berlin Wall. Stop. Do not pass go. Do not collect another team’s playbook. There shall be no more coach’s crossings until such time as the commish de-dizzies his head. So there.

All of which moved Ed Tait to ask this in the Winnipeg Free Press: “What about loyalty, or the disappearance of it, when it comes to coaches packing up their playbooks to move on to a league rival?”

Loyalty? Loyalty? A jock journalist talking loyalty? It is to laugh.

Look across the sportswriting landscape in the True North and it’s littered with defectors. Examples:

Ed Tait: Winnipeg Sun-Saskatoon StarPhoenix-Winnipeg Sun-Winnipeg Free Press.
Paul Friesen: CJOB-Winnipeg Sun.
Gary Lawless: Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal-Winnipeg Free Press-TSN.
Cam Cole: Edmonton Journal-National Post-Vancouver Sun.
Ed Willes: Medicine Hat News-Regina Leader-Post-Winnipeg Sun-freelance-Vancouver Province.
Terry Jones: Edmonton Journal-Edmonton Sun.
George Johnson: Winnipeg Tribune-Edmonton Sun-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald.
Steve Simmons: Calgary Herald-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald-Toronto Sun.
Bruce Arthur: National Post-Toronto Star.
Cathal Kelly: Toronto Star-Globe and Mail.

Most of them are, or have been, sleeping with the enemy, but there’s no wrong-doing there. Not unless you have some moral hangups about negotiating with the opposition while still drawing pay from your current employer. Sportswriters trade places like kids trade bubble gum cards and, basically, it’s just a bunch of guys looking out for No. 1.

You know, just like Chris Jones and Jason Maas and Noel Thorpe and others are looking out for No. 1.

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

What part of the Winnipeg Jets’ draft-and-develop strategy do I not understand? Oh, that’s right, it’s this part: Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff brings Joel Armia up to the NHL club and plops him in the press box, there to munch on popcorn for three weeks. This is a most curious method of developing young talent. I cannot see how this was a benefit to the player. Or the club, for that matter. Unless, of course, Armia was there solely to file a report on whether the pressbox popcorn has too much salt and not enough butter.

So, what are we to make of the reported contract asks of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Jacob Trouba? I believe I can sum it up with these five words: Not a hope in hell. I mean, giving Byfuglien a lifetime contract? Essentially, that’s what his reps are asking of the Jets, because he’ll be 31 at the end of this NHL crusade, making him 39 at the tail end of an eight-year deal. His usefullness will have been exhausted long before then. I imagine there might be an NHL outfit willing to sign him for eight seasons, but it won’t be the Jets. At least it better not be.

These salary demands, exposed by Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press, place Grand Master Chevy in a bit of a pickle. The Jets general manager cannot allow Ladd and Byfuglien to skate away in free agency next summer, as he did in receiving bupkus for Michael Frolik, but dealing them might be more difficult now that the sticker price and term are public knowledge. I mean, would you be anxious to exchange assets for a defenceman who’ll likely balloon to 300 pounds by the third year an eight-year deal?

What’s the over/under on Bruce Boudreau remaining behind the Disney Ducks’ bench? I say Boxing Day, because the current four-game junket to the East Coast surely will determine the fate of the head coach of an Anaheim team pegged as a Stanley Cup favorite before skirmishing commenced this season. If the Ducks are still bottom feeders in the NHL Western Conference by the time Santa has unloaded his loot, say goodbye to Brucie and, perhaps, hello to old friend Randy Carlyle.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

 


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Randy Carlyle: Standing tall during the worst of times

Here’s all you need to know about Randy Carlyle: Less than 48 hours after being relieved of his duties as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his brother-in-law passing away from ALS, he welcomed an uninvited sports scribe into his home.

A good man was down. Deeply, heartbreakingly down. Forget the hockey element. Other National Hockey League jobs, after all, are sure to come Kitty Carlyle’s way. His wife’s brother, John, on the other hand…he had just died, damnit! He won’t be coming back.

So there was Carlyle, opening the door of his Etobicoke home to discover Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun standing on the stoop, notebook in hand in the hope that the oft-curmudgeonly coach would share some bons mots about the dire dealings of death, dismissal and disappointment.

Some might think it callous of Buffery to have imposed himself on Carlyle at such a time. Give the man some space. Let him grieve. Let him filter and flush. Surely the story can wait.

Who could possibly condemn Carlyle had he torn a page from the Phil Kessel book of media relations and barked “Get away from me!” at Buffery?

That isn’t how Randy rolls, though.

As much as the former Winnipeg Jets defenceman and Manitoba Moose coach/GM can come across as Crusty the Carlyle—and seemingly, at times, take delight in that masquerade—the much-maligned man is, as the late and legendary Jets’ play-by-play voice Friar Nicolson was wont to say, “good people. Kitty’s good people.”

So, he didn’t deliver a brush-off. He took Buffery in. The two men sat at a kitchen table and engaged in a 25-minute chin-wag, in which Carlyle spilled. About his brother-in-law’s death. About his firing. About failing to restore any level of lustre to the Maple Leafs brand. About resisting any urge to diss the Toronto players who betrayed him with half-baked efforts and the pungent odour of entitlement.

This was Randy Carlyle unplugged. Honest. Poignant. Sincere. Humorous (when asked about his relationship with the Toronto media, he jokingly said, “I didn’t kick you out of my house.”).

He easily could have done that very thing. The fact he didn’t speaks to not only Carlyle’s character and his professionalism, but also to a respect factor between sportsman and scribe, something that is too often absent.

There is no shortage of examples underscoring the adversarial hue of the jock-journalist relationship, the latest offering being the nasty, distasteful to-and-fro served up by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star and the aforementioned Kessel earlier this week. If you missed it, Feschuk approached the Leafs’ embattled forward with this question scant seconds after Carlyle had been defrocked:

“There’s a suggestion that you’re a difficult guy to coach. Is there anything to that?”

It was leading, accusatory, inflammatory and designed to incite. There was no good way for Kessel to answer, other than to provide a non-answer. Which he didn’t, because he isn’t media savvy. He doesn’t have the acumen to recognize the hook inside the worm. So he takes the bait. Every time. He adopted a defensive posture, resorted to name-calling, then Feschuk played the part of the stooge by chasing Kessel about the room. It was slapstick. Awkward, unfortunate slapstick.

Many in the mainstream sports media have applauded Feschuk for asking the “tough” question, because that’s what they do. They circle the wagons. But Feschuk’s “tough” question was based on a “suggestion” from an unidentified source. He went on to say, “It’s not me saying this stuff.” So, who has suggested Kessel is uncoachable? When did they make this suggestion? Does Kessel not have the right to know the identity of his accusor(s) before the question is posed.

Feschuk might as well have told Kessel there’s a “suggestion” he’s gay. Anything to that?

What has ensued is a witchhunt of epic proportions, with members of the MSM in the Republic of Tranna tripping over one another in an unmasked quest to have Kessel ridden out of town.

This is why I found the Carlyle-Buffery scenario so refreshing. As much as it was a sportsman-reporter exchange, it was more an interaction between two people. Imagine that, a jock and a journalsist seeing each other as people.

What a concept.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.


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Hockey Night in Canada: A hip, new host, a ‘Swinn,’ a ‘Fede’ and the Fuddy and Duddy Show

Musings scribbled on a cocktail napkin while contemplating the birth of a shinny season and the birth of Rogers Media’s $5.2 billion multi-headed TV monster…

It might have been the dawning of a new era for Hockey Night in Canada, but it was the same old Don on Saturday night.

Donald S. Cherry sat in his Coach’s Corner bully pulpit alongside Ron MacLean, who plays Waldorf to the star’s Statler, and the old, grey grumps began their five-minute bitch bit by pouting about being “phased out” of HNIC, at the same time squabbling over a musical toy (Chippy) that Grapes had brought to the set. MacLean attempted to take Chippy hostage because he was “loud” and “irritating,” but Donald S. was having none of that.

The Lord of Loud then launched into his sermon, which sounded very much like a cut from his Hits of the 1980s soundtrack—the Toronto Maple Leafs are morons because they draft “U.S. college guys and a Swinn and a Fede” instead of good, old boys from Tranna and other outposts in Ontario.

I assume the U.S. college guys come from our neighbor to the south, but I’m not sure about the “Swin and Fede” that the Leafs drafted Sounds Scandinavian to me. Must be a couple of those dreaded “foreigners,” perhaps out of Gimli, just north of Winnipeg.

That aside, by the time Fuddy and Duddy were finished, it was painfully evident that one of them has nothing new to say and the other is tired of listening to nothing new. 

Rogers might want to “toy” with the idea of pulling the plug on the Fuddy and Duddy Show. Chippy can stay, though. Ditto the Swinn and the Fede.

EAR YE, EAR YE: My ears need a rest. Already. I mean, hockey goliath Rogers came at us with so many gab guys in its first four nights as the grand looking glass on Planet Puckhead that I’m not sure who said what to whom or who said what about whom on opening night Wednesday.

I know Glenn Healy said a lot of things about a lot of things that don’t matter, because whatever he says doesn’t matter. He also punctuated his blather with harsh hand gestures and a jutting jaw that suggest he’s angry about something, although he has nothing to be angry about. After all, most of us don’t get paid to annoy people, whereas Heals (that’s what his hockey buddies call him) receives a handsome stipend just for being the most annoying man on Canadian TV.

Surely the mute button was invented with Heals in mind.

SPELL CHECK: I have one main aim during the next seven months of a National Hockey League season that’s still wet behind the ears—learn how to spell Strombolopolopolopolopolopolous.

Hell, never mind learning how to spell it. I can’t even say George Strombolopolopolopolopolopolous in 25 words or less. I haven’t had this much trouble with a name since Winnipeg Jets defender-turned-forward Dustin Byfuglien arrived in River City with the Atlanta caravan in 2011. I still don’t know why it’s pronounced Buff-lin rather than By-foo-glee-en.

Anyway, I’ll just call the new face of Hockey Night in Canada and Rogers’ toy boy Strombo. Easy to say, easier to spell.

NUMBERS GAME: Rogers’ trumpet-tooters made a big whoop-dee-do about an average of 2.01 million puckheads tuning in for Strombo’s debut on the Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs telecast Wednesday on Sportsnet. Apparently, the other 33 million Canadians had something better to do than check to see if the boy toy would be wearing ear rings that night.

HNIC GOES GOTH: Okay, HNIC has a hip, new host in Strombo, who looks like he’s either on his way to, or just returning from, a goth gig (loved the skull ring he flashed during his chin-wag with Stephen Harper, noted politician and hoarder of hockey memorabilia in his man cave at 24 Sussex Dr. in Bytown). I’m on side with the new boy toy.

Still, there’s a bit of a cringe-worthy, “I’m a little kid who just got locked in the candy store” element to Strombo’s schtick. Like, he was having far too much fun during his little exhibition of foot hockey with Nick Kypreos, and does he really have to shake hands with Mark Messier before and after a two-minute tete-a-tete? I mean, it was the second intermission. It’s not like the Moose had just arrived on the mega-million-dollar set with all the new-fangled gadgetry. He’d been there from the top of the show.

I don’t know if there was a budding bromance at play or if Strombo just likes to slap skin.

AT THE BUZZER: So, Rogers shelled out $5.2 billion to put a fresh face on all things NHL in the Great White North, but they can’t afford a wardrobe consultant for P.J. Stock?…As is his norm, HNIC tongue-flapper Stock surfaced to give logic a lashing. During a rant suggesting the time had arrived for the Edmonton Oilers to give their roster a major makeover, he said, “I’m blaming the players, but I can’t blame them.”…Best bit on Saturday night featured Elliotte Friedman (no surprise there) and Damien Cox (big surprise). Their news, rumors and updates during the intermission was solid. Also on his game, as usual, was Scott Oake…After watching Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh pals dismantle the Maple Leafs, I’m wondering what the over/under is on Randy Carlyle’s gig behind the Toronto bench. I’m not sure he’ll last the month…Don’t normally take in the late-night games on Saturday, but felt obliged to check out the Jets and Sharks in San Jose. What a treat it was to see Dustin Byfuglien lose his mind…Was it just me, or did anyone else want to see Mark Messier shove his hockey stick up Nick Kypreos’s nose when the two former teammates gave a demonstration on positioning for a faceoff? It would have made for terrific TV.

AFTER THE BUZZER: The 30th anniversary of the Oilers’ first Stanley Cup crusade was a not-so-subtle reminder that of the World Hockey Association survivors—Edmonton, Winnipeg/Arizona, Quebec/Colorado, Hartford/Carolina—only the Jets/Coyotes have yet to hoist hockey’s holy grail. They couldn’t win on the frozen tundra, they can’t win in the desert, so we can’t blame the weather. Let’s blame Barry Shenkarow.

LAST SHOUT OUT: Sportsnet talking head John Shannon waxed glowingly of the Oilers outfits that won the Stanley Cup five times, saying they “changed the way the game was played for a decade.”

Whoa, Nellie.

It was the WHA Winnipeg Jets of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Kent Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg et al who changed the way the game was played. The Oilers were copycats.

Glen Sather, first a player then coach with the WHA Oilers and, later, coach/GM of the NHL Oilers during the 1980s, took note of the Jets’ free-flowing, criss-crossing, ad libbing style of play and said, “I think I’ll try me some of that.” Thus, he used the Jets as a blueprint once he started collecting future Hockey Hall of Fame players like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and others in Edmonton.

He built our team around watching Ulf Nilsson and Kent Nilsson and Bobby Hull, and he wanted that from day one,” Gretzky told Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal during the 1984 team reunion last week.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.


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Winnipeg Jets: From Big Buff to boffo biffies, these two ladies have the scoop

what if lady answer lady2

It’s a Triple H day because we have two Hens in the Hockey House—The What If Lady and The Answer Lady. 

Naturally, our favorite go-to girls have their pulse on all that matters in Jets Nation, including the uber significant issue of shorter beer lines and more potties at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Oh, yes, if there’s a point of discussion involving your Winnipeg Jets, the two ladies are—pardon the bad pun—flush with information about the National Hockey League outfit.

 

Take it away, ladies…

What If Lady: There are reports that Ondrej Pavelec showed up at training camp with a new body. What if his new body is as bad as his old body?

Answer Lady: Can you say Connor McDavid?

What If Lady: What if the Jets traded Pavelec to the Toronto Maple Leafs for James Reimer, even up?

Answer Lady: Toronto GM Dave Nonis would be out of a job, head coach Randy Carlyle would be out of a job and the Leafs would be drafting Connor McDavid next summer.

What If Lady: I really liked what I saw of that Nikolaj Ehlers kid at the rookie tournament in Penticton. He’s so fast. So skilled. He’s the Great Dane! What if he plays that well in the main camp?

Answer Lady: There’s only one thing preventing Ehlers from starting this season with the Jets—food. I mean, the kid’s a twig. Fear not, though. He’s a keeper. Not this year, but most likely next October after a year of mom’s home cooking has kicked in.

What If Lady: It sounds like Teemu Selanne really wanted to play another season. He said in his biography that he even considered signing with the Jets a year ago. What if Teemu had played for the Jets last season?

Answer Lady: He’d be Poh’d at Claude Noel and Paul Maurice instead of Bruce Boudreau, because they would have given all Teemu’s minutes to Chris Thorburn.

What If Lady: ESPN The Magazine ranks the Jets No. 97 out of the 122 major pro sports franchises in North America for fan experience. I think that really sucks. I doubt it if anyone from ESPN has ever been to a game in Winnipeg? What if someone from ESPN actually attended a game at the MTS Centre? Would our ranking go up?

Answer Lady: No, it would plummet to the bottom because the battery in the poor guy’s rental car would freeze during the game and he’d he’d get mugged by one of our charming citizen’s of no-fixed address while waiting for a tow truck.

What If Lady: Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba had really good rookie seasons. I don’t believe in a so-called Sophomore Jinx, but what if one or both of them regresses?

Answer Lady: I have spoken with my personal analytics department and the propeller heads assure me that there are Corsi reasons and Fenwick reasons why this will never happen. After crunching numbers, they say the % of probability is approximately = to the ratio of TOI divided by ESG + a certain % of salary cap against the balance of $ owed. It’s all Greek to me, but I believe the probability of both Scheifele and Trouba going into the tank is remote, but the possibility of one hitting the skids is high.

What If Lady: A lot of NHL teams created an analytics department or hired fancy-stats people this past summer. I didn’t hear anything about it from the Jets, though. What if they’ve missed the boat in this growing and increasingly important area of the business?

Answer Lady: I’m told Craig Heisinger is analyzing the analytics and Zinger will present his analysis of analytics to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff as soon as he wakes up from his summer nap.

What If Lady: There’s been so much talk about the young players at camp this year. Guys like Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, Nik Ehlers and Adam Lowry would give the Jets a whole new look if they make the big club. But what if youth isn’t served?

Answer Lady: Youth shall be served. His name is Adam Lowry. He’s a Western Conference forward—big and skilled. Get used to seeing him. You’ll like him.

What If Lady: Five teams from the Central Division made the playoffs last season—Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota. I can’t see the Jets overhauling any of those clubs, so it looks like another non-playoff year in River City. What if they’re out of contention by the trade deadline?

Answer Lady: Say adios to Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd or Toby Enstrom. Take your pick.

What If Lady: Evander Kane sure seems to get in a lot of hot water over saying and doing the silliest, little things and he always seems to be the subject of trade rumors because of it. I have a personal theory that he does it just to provoke the media. So what if the media wise up to his shenanigans and stop writing and talking about the goofy stuff? What if they write and talk about his on-ice efforts only?

Answer Lady: Environment Canada will issue an emergency weather warning—hell has frozen over.

What If Lady: Evander has been bragging about scoring 50 goals in a season. I’m a big Kane fan, so I think that would be brilliant. But what if he only scores 19 again?

Answer Lady: Can you say Jack Eichel?

What If Lady: True North spent $6 million this summer for renovations to the MTS Centre, and that included a whack of new toilets. I hear they’re boffo biffies, but what a waste (pardon the bad pun). What if they had spent that money on another player or two instead?

Answer Lady: You want to talk about spending money on crap? Try $19.5 million on crappy goaltending. Try $3.6 million on a crappy fourth-line forward who belongs in the AHL. What’s another $6 million for a bunch of biffies when you’ve already tossed more than $20 million down the crapper on two players?

What If Lady: That’s kind of harsh. True but harsh.

Answer Lady: Okay, our work is done here for today. Let’s go check out those new toilets on the 300 Level. I’ve got some beer to get rid of.

What If Lady: Me too. Those shorter beer queues are simply marvy.

 

fish wrap

 

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled cheekiness to bring you this important weather alert: Hell hath frozen over.

That’s right, kids, at least one local news scavenger has discovered what some of us have known for quite some time—Evander Kane likes to yank the media’s chain.

Gary (La La) Lawless, who oft serves up heaping helpings of Kane-imosity, recently offered a fresh take on the Winnipeg Jets polorizing left winger, and he has decided to play nice. For now.

Kane spends the working portion of his life in Winnipeg,” girthsome Gary writes in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “When he’s here, he visits hospitals and donates time and money to helping others less fortunate than he. What else do we want from him? A signed affidavit he likes it here? Enough already.

Early on, Kane’s act caught some of us off guard and rubbed the wrong way at times. Over time, it’s become apparent that Kane is comfortable in the spotlight and not afraid to stir the pot with his well-followed Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The kid is cheeky. Give me his looks, youth, talent and money and the resulting sideshow would make Evander look like a wallflower.

Some of us, this writer included, need to offer up a bit of a mea culpa.

Kane is no villain, even if he sometimes likes to play one. And if you think he doesn’t know what he’s up to and isn’t aware of the reaction he’s about to produce, you haven’t been paying close attention. Kane is smart and calculating.”

As far as mea culpas go, I’d say that’s a good start. Well done, La La.

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.


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Toronto Maple Leafs: Legends Row and more appropriate statues

rooftop riting biz card back sideWhen I heard there was big news about the Toronto Maple Leafs and a statue, my first thought was that perhaps they’d traded Dion Phaneuf.

My second thought? I sure hope he isn’t coming to Winnipeg to join the Jets.

Silly me. We all know that Jets general manager Kevin the Possum doesn’t make trades, so no worries about adding another pigeon perch to the Jets blueline corps.

As it turns out, the deep thinkers in the Leafs’ ivory tower (now there’s a contradiction in terms) plan to honor the giants of a National Hockey League franchise that long ago lost its luster. The idea is to plop a Legends Row statue outside the Air Canada Centre in the Big Smoke, and we know for certain that former Leafs’ captain Teeder Kennedy will be among the players honored. The others remain shrouded in secrecy.

Little wonder.

I mean, they’re dealing with a 30-foot slab of granite in the form of a players bench. It would take at least 10 players to fill it. A dozen at the most. How in the name of Humpty Harold Ballard are they going to come up with that many Leafs legends? They tell us Teeder and two others will be unveiled in early September. So they’re stuck at three.

That’s going to be a short bench. Sort of what current head coach Randy Carlyle has to deal with.

Cracking wise aside, there are many legends in the Leafs’ closet. Honest. There are. It’s just that all of them played before the invention of color TV. So the difficulty isn’t in compiling a list of Leafs legends—it’s finding enough hockey people in Toronto who can reflect that far back to make informed choices.

I could assist them. I’m so old I remember Tim Horton before he became a pot of coffee and a box of Timbits. I recall watching the Leafs on our family’s rabbit-eared, black-and-white boob tube during their glory years of the 1960s. I still know the players and their jersey numbers: The Chief, George Armstrong, No. 10; the Big M, Frank Mahovlich, No. 27; Davey Keon, No. 14; Bobby Baun, No. 21; Johnny Bower, No. 1; Allan Stanley, No. 26; clear the track here comes (Eddie) Shack, No. 23; Bob Pulford, No. 20; Dickie Duff, No. 9; Carl Brewer, No. 2; Red Kelly, No. 4; Tim Horton, No. 7; Billy Harris, No. 15.

No doubt some of those guys will find a spot on the bench. It would be fitting if Eddie Shack made the final cut, because the bench is usually where Punch Imlach planted him.

At any rate, by the time sculptor Erik Blome puts down his hammer and chisel, there’ll be a bench full of legends for the Leafs’ legions to gawk at and pigeons to poop on whenever they’re in the vicinity of 40 Bay St. in Tranna.

It’s a nice touch. Classy. So unLeaf-like.

I should point out that there are reports (unconfirmed) that the Leafs don’t want their younger generations of fans to feel left out, so they plan to erect a statue near the old Maple Leaf Gardens to symbolize what the franchise has been all about since the last Stanley Cup parade in 1967.

Here are some candidates:

leaf statues