Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the dog days of August really are the cat’s meow…
This is interesting. After now-former Valour FC captain Jordan Murrell pitched a fit in Halifax, putting hands on a game official and kicking over a scorer’s table, Mad Mike McIntyre hopped on his Drab Slab soap box and demanded a defrocking.
“Being a captain of a sports team is about a lot more than slapping a letter on your jersey and proudly puffing out your chest,” he pontificated in a 1,200-word scolding last week. “You are expected to lead. To inspire. To motivate. To be a brand ambassador for the franchise. To set a positive example for your peers. To remain calm, cool and collected in the face of adversity. To be a role model in the heat of battle, in the locker, and in the community. To face the music when required.”
Mad Mike went on to say Murrell “failed miserably in every aspect” and “must be stripped” of the captain’s armband by the Canadian Premier League soccer club.
Harsh. But I don’t disagree with any of it.
So surely Mad Mike will demand the same of Winnipeg Jets ownership/management.
I mean, unless I missed a memo, when the National Hockey League club commences training exercises next month, belligerent Blake Wheeler will be wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey. But shouldn’t we be talking about an impeachment before the lads assemble?
Wheeler, you’ll recall, didn’t appreciate the tone of Paul Friesen’s voice when the Winnipeg Sun opinionist posed a question after Winnipeg HC’s ouster from the Stanley Cup runoff last April, so the chronically grumpy man who’s expected to be a “role model” and “brand ambassador” stood behind his ‘C’ and told the longtime jock journo to “fuck off.”
This is setting a “positive example” for his peers? Great. Now those peers can tell Friesen, or any news snoop for that matter, to “fuck off” if the questions are too touchy for their delicate sensitivities. Just as long as they’re “calm, cool and collected” while doing it, of course.
Again, I’m totally on board with the call to action in the Murrell case, and Valour FC agreed when it reduced the former captain to the rank of regular foot soldier, but Mad Mike’s silence on Wheeler is a curious bit of business.
And don’t tell me this is an apples-and-oranges comparison.
What Murrell did was disgraceful. What Wheeler said was disgraceful. And, frankly, it wasn’t the first time that he’s engaged in a pissing contest with news snoops. It’s become abundantly evident that the surly Wheeler puts the quill-and-microphone crowd on the same evolutionary scale as pond scum, and I really don’t know why they put up with his BS.
There’s been post-season chatter of changes to the Jets leadership group, and that’s where I’d begin—stripping the ‘C’ from Wheeler’s jersey before the lads gather for their next crusade.
I like that Wheeler is a sourpuss on the ice, but propping up a grumpy pants, F-bombing captain in front of the rabble isn’t a good look, especially for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s True North fiefdom, which fancies itself as a goody-two-shoes operation.
Should True North not be held to the same high standard as Valour FC?
I think they should.
I wouldn’t expect Rink Rat Scheifele to do anything other than preach the party line whenever news snoops ask about a “fractured” Jets changing room. He’s an loyal, obedient worker who wouldn’t say crap if his mouth was full of a Mad Mike gossip column. So when Mike Zeisberger of nhl.com caught up with the Rink Rat at a ping pong tournament in the Republic of Tranna recently, the answer was predictable: “People can claim whatever, but I know we have a tight-knit team. We have great guys in our room. And there’s no question in my mind about the character we have in our room, the unity that we have. That other stuff, that’s the stuff as a team you block out. You know what’s going on in the room. Anything extra is a bunch of baloney.” You don’t have to believe the Rink Rat, but I’ve yet to hear or read a shred of evidence to support the notion that Winnipeg HC was a house divided. Mad Mike, who ignited that particular brush fire, hasn’t done it, nor has Elliotte Friedman, who fanned the flames.
Here’s Murat Ates’ latest take on the “ruffled feathers” file in The Athletic: “It’s my opinion that losing hockey teams *should be* pissed off and that the amount of airspace ‘the room’ has gotten is out of proportion. If I ever learn something I can cite and source which says otherwise, I’ll write that.” Hmmm. I believe that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Murat, by the way, has posted the second segment of his two-parter on the 1978-79 Jets, who won the final World Hockey Association championship. It’s good stuff and no doubt enlightening for those of you who weren’t along for the ride. I just wonder why we had to wait until the dog days of August for it to appear. I mean, the 40th anniversary celebration was June 1. Still, it’s worth the read and Murat has the good sense to stand back to let member of the Jets’ Houston Mafia—Scotty Campbell, Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich and Rich Preston—and Peter Sullivan tell the story.
Just wondering: I suppose it’s cool that Patrik Laine will appear on the cover of a video game in Finland, but why is that newsworthy there or here?
No surprise that the sticker price to watch the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raider later this month at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry has been slashed, from $164 plus taxes and fees to $92 all-in. So now instead of costing you and arm and a leg, you’ll only have to pay through the nose.
Folks who fork out for the discounted tickets for the faux four-down football will be sitting in what they’re calling the Miller Lite End Zone, as opposed to those who paid top dollar for the best seats in the house—the Miller Lite In The Wallet Section.
No danger of a sellout for the National Football League exhibition, but it will be embarrassing if the Packers-Raiders’ dress rehearsal lures more of the rabble to Football Follies Field than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have managed this summer. Winnipeg FC performed in front of 25,354 for last week’s first-place showdown with the Calgary Stampeders, and that’s the best head count of the Canadian Football League season at FFFIFG. The local lads in pads are averaging 25,057 customers through four home assignments, and I cringe at the thought of the Packers-Raiders topping that number.
Let’s be clear about something: I have no problem with the CFL awarding the Saskatchewan Roughriders a victory over the Montreal Alouettes, even though they played less than 45 minutes of football on Friday. My issue is with the wait time. Why allow just an hour for the lightning and thunder to pass? What’s the rush? And what does it matter how many fans decide to trot off home rather than wait out the storm? I don’t know what the magic number is, but for a day game they should wait as long as necessary. At night, I’d say the wait should be two hours, at least.
What are we to make of these numbers from golf’s two major circuits?
PGA Tour wins by Americans 32, Rest of World 13.
LPGA Tour wins by Americans 3, Rest of World 21.
Yesterday I touched on the sometimes touchy subject of the Lou Marsh Trophy, which is awarded annually to our vast land’s top jock by a cartel of news snoops who mostly operate out of The ROT and mostly prefer to keep their identities secret. Right now, it appears to be a two-horse race, in this case a pair of talented fillies—golfer Brooke Henderson and tennis player Bianca Andreescu, both of whom have a pair of Ws on their scorecard. The last female golfer to be anointed athlete-of-the-year? Sandra Post, 1979. The last tennis player, woman or man? It’s never happened. Since this isn’t an Olympic year and our soccer women fell flat in France’s World Cup, it’s doubtful that an outrider will sneak in and steal the Marsh trinket from Brooke or Bianca. All bets are off, though. I mean, the news snoops certainly got it wrong last year when they snubbed Henderson for a moguls skier, and they got it wrong two years ago when they bypassed Rachel Homan for a baseball player. Homan’s 2017 was arguably the greatest year in curling history; Joey Votto’s 2017 was definitely not the greatest in baseball history. So, no, I don’t have confidence in the news snoops doing the right thing.
The likable Bianca Andreescu’s rise in women’s tennis has been mercurial, astonishing and uplifting. Her win on home soil in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday was full of the warm-and-fuzzies, even if her vanquished and wounded foe, Serena Williams, was brought to tears. But Bianca delivered her biggest win earlier in the year, at Indian Wells, a Premier Mandatory event on the WTA calendar. That is to say, it’s as close to a Grand Slam tournament as damn is to swearing. The Rogers Cup is a level lower. It just feels better when it’s on national TV and the champion wraps herself in the Maple Leaf at the end.
Fancy skater Scott Moir is engaged to be married to a woman not named Tessa Virtue. Who saw that coming? I suppose Jackie Mascarin did, because she’s the woman not named Tessa Virtue who’ll be walking down the aisle and become Moir’s bride.
And, finally, I’ll say this for the Winnipeg Sun, there’s very little local content in the sports section (aside from the pro teams), but they sure do put all that Republic of Tranna, Montreal and United States news in a pretty package. I just wish some of it told me what was happening in Good Ol’ Hometown.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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:
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.
The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.
Fergy hired Tom McVie.
The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.
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.
Another Sunday smorags-bored…and you are under no obligation to grow a beard during the Winnipeg Jets playoff run…
Apparently, the local hockey heroes have issues.
They might be Dr. Phil-level issues. They might be let’s-drag-Oprah’s-couch-out-of-storage-and-give-everyone-in-the-audience-a-gift issues. They might be order-another-pint-and-vent-to-a-bartender issues. Whatever the case, after a week of stick-shattering hissy fits, an airing of grievances behind closed doors, giving news snoops the cold shoulder, and canceled practices for the airing of additional grievances, we’re advised that the Winnipeg Jets are not right in the head.
It’s nothing specific, understand. No details. Just a strong suggestion from the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab that les Jets have come undone like a school kid’s shoelace.
And we all know what happens with kids and undone shoelaces, don’t we. That’s right. Face plants.
So I suppose Jets Nation should fear the worst as Winnipeg HC preps for its opening salvo of Beard Season vs. the St. Louis Blues. I mean, it can’t be very comforting for the rabble to learn that the behind-the-scenes situation with their favorite National Hockey League club is “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy” as they enter the Stanley Cup runoff.
That, at least, is the picture painted by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, and you can choose to believe him or pooh-pooh his take on the local lads. I mean, he ought to have some insider intel because he’s been dogging the local lads across North America since October, but, at the same time, Mad Mike fell short of providing anecdotal evidence of squabbling in the inner sanctum. Actually, he produced exactly zero evidence, which is shameful reporting. He merely referenced Multiple Sources who, along with Reliable Sources, is every reporter’s go-to informant when no one is willing to say what needs to be said out loud.
For the sake of discussion, though, let’s accept that he’s accurate and Winnipeg HC is a house divided. Does that mean les Jets best-of-seven playoff assignment vs. St. Louis beginning Wednesday at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is a no-hoper? Not at all.
Allow me to direct your attention to the Winnipeg Jets circa 1978-79.
Those of a certain vintage will recall the unique makeup of that outfit, in that it was actually two teams in one. On the heels of their second World Hockey Association title, les Jets were scuttled by a number of defections, most notably Ander Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to Gotham. To shore up a depleted roster, management purchased the nucleus of a Houston Aeros franchise that had gone belly up, with Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich and Scotty Campbell among the recruits.
It was a stroke of genius. Except for one thing: To say the Houston guys and the Winnipeg holdovers got along is to say hard-core Beatles fans were giddy when the dreaded Yoko Ono showed up on John’s arm one day. Some, myself included, still think of that as the day the music died, but I digress.
The Aeros-Jets had been fierce rivals on the freeze, and the residue of bitterly contested battles won and lost still existed when they began to share a changing room. Larry Hillman, the head coach of the day, could do nothing to achieve détente, in part because the Houston portion of the amalgamated roster was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.
“You don’t think the rest of the players in this league don’t know that?” Robbie Ftorek said one night after he and the Cincinnati Stingers had laid a licking on les Jets.
It wasn’t until Tom McVie arrived in River City, bull whip in hand behind the bench, that the boys clued in and began working in concert, a collaboration that resulted in an unlikely third WHA championship.
“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich told me the night the Jets put away the Edmonton Gretzkys to gain permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy. “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 confirmed.
So, when they drop the puck for the Jets and Blues skirmish, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the “rotten to the core” home side. Even squabbling outfits can get the job done.
Mind you, it would help if these Jets had Ruskowski, Lukowich, Preston and Campbell on board.
You can dismiss McIntyre’s essay as nothing more than click-bait sensationalism, if you like, and my main issue with him is this snippet: “I’m not about to start feeding the rumor mill…” Good gawd, man, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Use the terms “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy”—especially without supporting quotes and/or facts—and you’ve got rumor and innuendo running faster than a scalded dog. Are the players PO’d because Patrik Laine spends more time playing Fortnite than backchecking? Has coach Potty Mouth lost the dressing room? Whose track suit is Dustin Byfuglien dunking in the ice tub? Gossip, gossip, gossip. And if les Jets don’t get past the Blues, it’ll really crank up.
Craig Button of TSN had this to say about les Jets in advance of the Stanley Cup tournament: “They’re a weak team giving up a lot of goals. They’re the weakest (Western Conference) team going into the playoffs.” Ouch. That’s “anything but rosy.”
After all the pomp, the praise, the worship, the Sportsnet headlines, the tributes, the mattress commercials, and the blah, blah, blah about John Tavares, he finished with three fewer points than Blake Wheeler’s 91. Now, I don’t buy the pre-fab bunk that players in Good Ol’ Hometown fly under the radar, because people around the league know what Wheeler has done. But I will submit that les Jets captain gets ignored. But, then, so do other elite performers with Canadian-based outfits. Five of them—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner and Wheeler—outscored Tavares this season, yet all but McDavid received less than half the ink devoted to the Tranna Maple Leafs centre by national media. Just saying.
If you’re keeping score at home, another of the over-ballyhooed Leafs, Auston Matthews, scored at a clip of 1.07 points per game. Twenty players were as good or better. Again, just saying.
Just wondering: Can Dave Poulin of TSN talk without holding a pen in his hand?
I keep hearing pundits say this was a successful season for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow. I mean, the Habs will be on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the playoff fun commences this week. When did parting gifts replace championship banners as a suitable reward for the most storied franchise in NHL history? It’s like Tom Hanks being happy about losing an Oscar to Adam Sandler. I swear, ol’ Sammy Pollock must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.
Really strange headline No. 1: “Jets’ Patrik Laine evolves from sublime scorer to all-around player.” Ya, Puck Finn is an all-around player like a box of Timbits is a seven-course meal.
Really strange headline No. 2: “Even Oilers not stupid enough to trade Connor McDavid.” No, the Edmonton Oilers would never be so dumb as to deal away Connor McDavid. You know, just like they would never be so dumb as to trade away Wayne Gretzky.
I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith. A truly gifted writer. It’s just that sometimes he totally loses the plot. Like his take on the rise of Canadian tennis teens Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov: “Our tennis was becoming like everything else this country does on the international stage—a strong second.” Right. We’re always the bridesmaid in sports like hockey and curling. As if. And Brooke Henderson, Penny Oleksiak, Clara Hughes, Donovan Bailey, Mike Weir, Virtue and Moir, Mikael Kingsbury, Percy Williams, Daniel Nestor, Lennox Lewis, Barbara Ann Scott, Nancy Greene, the Crazy Canucks, Cindy Klassen, Susan Nattrass, Jim Elder, Northern Dancer, Steve Nash, Larry Walker, Jacques Villeneuve, etc….I guess they all finished second best, too. Come on, man, give your head a shake.
So nice of mainstream media to finally notice women’s hockey in a non-Olympics year. Too bad it took the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to grab their attention. I think their newly discovered interest in Ponytail Puck was best summed up in a tweet from Diana Matheson, a member of our women’s national soccer side: “Speaks volumes to the problem that my initial response to a discussion about women’s hockey on the radio, is to be surprised they are talking about it.” Now we’ll see if the MSM attention span lasts long enough to actually cover whatever teams emerge from the ashes of the CWHL.
And, finally, scientists say Canada is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. In other weather news, women golfed at Augusta National this weekend, so hell just froze over.
Every now and then, a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna gets distracted or lost and mistakenly wanders into the colonies, whereupon he feels obliged to remind the locals that they suck.
Damien Cox is one such news snoop.
Apparently, Cox took a wrong turn on the way to another Auston Matthews revival meeting last week, and he found himself in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets commencing the home-ice portion of their National Hockey League crusade.
This, be advised, is known in his trade as “slumming it,” because no one from The ROT considers a trip to the frozen tundra a plum assignment, even if the tundra has not yet frozen over. So the Sportsnet scribe/gab guy must have lost a bet or wet the bed in order to draw such an odious chore. In either case, he made a whistlestop in River City, no doubt holding his nose while going about the business of informing the nation that Peggers have been root, root, rooting for a batch of Sad Sack athletic outfits lo these many years.
“There’s a thirst for a championship here,” he advised his vast audience.
That simply isn’t true. How can Winnipeg “thirst” for anything when it’s the Slurpee Capital of the World? Nineteen years running, no less! That, my friends, is literally the ultimate in thirst-quenching titles.
Alas, like so many before him, Cox ignored our 19-year world domination in sucking up sugary slush, focusing instead on how our football and hockey heroes suck. He noted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have come up empty every year since their Grey Cup-winning crusade of 1990, while les Jets are oh-fer-the NHL.
“It’s been a while since they held a parade in these parts,” he added.
Well, excuuuuuuse us all to hell just because we don’t bust out the floats and marching bands every time one of our jocks or teams brings a title home. If we did that, we’d have no time to shovel the sidewalks or swat mosquitoes.
But Cox wants championships? I’ll give him championships:
Olympic curling: 2
World curling: 5
Canadian curling: 13
Olympic speed skating: 2
World speed skating: 6
CIS football: 1
CIS basketball: 5
CIS hockey: 1
Professional baseball: 4
Slurpee Capital of the World: Nine-freaking-teen!
All that since the Bombers last ruled the Canadian Football League.
But, hey, no parades. And if a championship isn’t parade-worthy apparently it’s like that tree falling in the forest—it doesn’t really happen if no one is there to suck down a Slurpee at the same time.
Having outriders come to town and point out flaws is bad enough, but they really get up my nose when they don’t do their homework. For example, Cox included this in the first of two dispatches from Winnipeg: “Not since the Avco Cup days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson have the Jets been as serious a contender for a championship as they are now.” Totally wrong. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull weren’t in the vicinity when les Jets won their third, and final, World Hockey Association title in 1979. The Swedes were in Gotham and Hull had retreated to a cattle ranch. Thus, les Jets haven’t been a “serious contender” since the Avco World Trophy days of Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Sullivan, Scott Campbell, Suitcase Smith et al.
Cox also suggests that June 2019 would be the “perfect time” to hold the next championship parade in River City. Wrong again. Late next month would be the perfect time. That would mean the Bombers have won la Coupe Grey. A Stanley Cup parade in June would be the cherry on the sundae.
Loved the Hometown Hockey feature on No. 4 Bobby Orr on Sunday night. You can have Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe, but I’ll start my team with Bobby Orr every time. I still get goosebumps watching film of that man skate and sift through foes like they’re pylons.
Fashion note: My goodness but that Jets third jersey is a dreadful garment. Winnipeg HC broke out the new threads vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, and they actually look worse than I had imagined. Seriously, is it too late for a do-over?
What exactly does Puck Finn of les Jets do when he doesn’t have the puck? Not a whole lot, it would appear. What does Twig Ehlers do when he has the puck? Again, a whole lot of nada. And these guys play on the same line?
If goaltender equipment is supposedly getting smaller, why does Laurent Brossoit of les Jets look like he has a sofa bed stuffed under his uniform?
If you listen to Greg Millen long enough, you’ll become convinced that everything that happens in a hockey game is “unbelievable!” It’s kind of “unbelievable” that he’s still on the air.
Yes, the hype machine in the Republic of Tranna is operating at peak volume now that the Maple Leafs are playing hockey like it’s the 1980s.
Auston Matthews has scored 10 goals in the first two weeks of the NHL season, so surely he’s better than Connor McDavid. And, hey, while we’re at it let’s mention him in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky (yikes!). Then there’s defenceman Morgan Rielly, mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Orr (double yikes!) because he has 13 points half a dozen games in.
I agree, the east media’s rush-to-greatness for the Leafs and their star performers is a tad over the top.
If nothing else, though, the silliness spawned a giggle-worthy, east-west Twitter to-and-fro between two longtime shinny scribes—the aforementioned Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star and Jim Matheson of Postmedia E-Town.
Matheson: “Typical Toronto bias that anybody would think Matthews is as good as McDavid. Did I miss the two scoring titles that Matthews has won? Can we just put a halt on the hysteria surrounding Matthews and Rielly here, besting Gretzky and Orr feats. We’ve played two weeks of the schedule folks. If Matthews gets 216 pts in a season call me. If Rielly gets 47 goals in a season call me.”
Cox (being smarmy, of course): “Now if they played for Edmonton, hysteria would be understandable and sensible.”
Debating the best in shinny is nothing new. When I was a kid, the argument centred on Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. It became a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux discussion for the next generation. Then Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Some pundits still believe that Denis Potvin was better than Orr (as if).
Best lip service of the week was delivered by Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, who had this take on les Leafs. “We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” he told the Washington Post following a loss to Tranna. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I would think.”
Bravo to Bob Irving of CJOB. The broadcasting legend called his 800th Bombers game on Saturday when the local lads gave the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 31-zip wedgie. I don’t think I’ve done anything 800 times, except maybe go for pints.
This week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (12-3): Cracks beginning to show.
2. Winnipeg (9-7): From the dregs to the playoffs?
3. Saskatchewan (10-6): Have to do it on D or won’t get it done.
4. Edmonton (8-8): Finally righted the ship.
5. B.C. (8-7): Hard to believe they’re still alive.
6. Hamilton (8-7): Team to beat in the East.
7. Ottawa (8-7): Still can’t get a handle on them.
8. Toronto (3-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-12): Worst starting QB in the league.
And, finally, pot becomes legal in Canada this week. Might try some of that whacky tobbacky to dull the noise the next time TSN broadcasts a Johnny Manziel game. Actually, no. Didn’t do weed in the 1960s, not going to go there now.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Initially, a great many folks didn’t think Daniel and Henrik Sedin could pull it off.
They were too soft. Too timid. Too unsure. Too Swedish, which, for the less enlightened—like the xenophobic gasbag who occupies the bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada—was North American shinny code for cowardly.
Indeed, after Braydon Coburn declined an opportunity to exchange knuckles with a rag-dolling Brandon Prust during a Tampa Bay Lightning-Montreal Canadiens 2015 playoff match, Don Cherry used his Coachless Corner soapbox to align the Swedes’ name with cowardice, saying, “I will never, ever, want one of my players acting like Coburn here. This is Sedin stuff.”
Well, okay, now that the twins have left the building, let’s try to define “Sedin stuff.”
Admittedly, I only observed them from a distance, but certainly the National Hockey League was better for having Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who took their final bow on Saturday night in Edmonton. They played the game as it’s meant to be played, the same way Jean Beliveau and Wayne Gretzky did. The same way Connor McDavid does, with an emphasis on finesse and flash over fists and felony. That’s “Sedin stuff.” Those who know them best, including news snoops tracking their every mirrored move through 18 years and 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, tell us they were better people than hockey players. Tall praise, given that the Sedins are Art Ross, Hart, Ted Lindsay and King Clancy Trophy recipients. That, too, is “Sedin stuff.”
What really should be celebrated is their strength, a commodity that is not one-size-fits all. Different athletes show it in different ways, some through brawn, others with their brain.
The two mentally toughest players I ever met and covered were the Winnipeg Jets most-celebrated Swedes, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. They arrived together in the mid-1970s to join les Jets when the World Hockey Association was, on a certain level, a lawless frontier. Animosity born of xenophobia ruled the day and mayhem ensued on the ice. Hedberg and Nilsson were bludgeoned fore and aft by the heavy, wooden weapons wielded by envious, ill-mannered foes with an unreasonable dislike for foreigners. Their battered bodies featured every color of the rainbow, but the bruising wasn’t rainbow pretty. Through it all, Hedberg and Nilsson, both a class act, said nothing of the savagery, at least not on public account. They soldiered on, unwilling to acquiesce to the bullies and thugs and the BS. These were no “chicken Swedes.” They championed a cause and became champions.
Similarly, the Sedin twins have had to put up with a lot of crap, although from a different pile.
The masculinity of Daniel and Henrik often has been brought into question by rivals whose level of humor is on par with schoolyard adolescents, broadcasters who ought to know better, and fans who no doubt are devotees of Adam Sandler’s buffoonish movies.
Dave Bolland, then of the Chicago Blackhawks, called them “sisters” who “probably sleep in a bunk bed” in a radio interview. Not to be outdone, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars took to the airwaves and suggested the Sedins’ relationship was incestuous. Former New York Islanders general manager and TV talking head Mike Milbury called them “Thelma and Louise.” Denis Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenceman working in the Florida Panthers tower of babble-on, labelled Daniel a “lowlife.” During one post-match dustup, Potvin said, “The Sedins are pointing fingers now. Normally they only use those fingers to lick the peanut butter off their bread.” (What the hell does that even mean?) Fans would arrive at the rink wearing t-shirts that read: SEDIN SISTERS 2 GIRLS NO CUP. A Finnish media outlet, Ilta-Sanomat, ran a tasteless piece that featured Sedin Sisters paper doll cutout figures with dresses and high heels. Etcetera, etcetera.
And how did the Sedins respond? By playing hockey. By beating foes the honest way. The Hedberg-Nilsson way. It’s the Swedish way. And that is “Sedin stuff.”
From the department of He Doesn’t Have A Freaking Clue, I give you Frank Seravalli. In an ode to the Sedins, the TSN senior hockey reporter describes the Swedes as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Good grief. Quick, someone give the man a copy of Western Canada for Dummies. I mean, there is no known word to describe that level of ignorance. It’s as daft as saying Don Cherry is the voice of Russian hockey. Yes, that dumb. As far as I can tell, (from the experience of living 99.9 per cent of my 67-plus years in Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria) there’s just one commonality between the rabble on the B.C. coast and the Prairie provinces—a healthy distrust of, and dislike toward, the Republic of Tranna. Otherwise, what happens in Vancouver stays in Vancouver, because few Prairie folk gave a rat’s patoot about the Sedins before they declared their intention to retire last week. They gave them a warm sendoff Saturday night in Edmonton, because that’s the way Prairie folk are, but make no mistake: The Sedins never were the face of the Oilers, Flames or Jets, and last time I looked each of those outfits is based in Western Canada.
If you’re wondering how a TSN reporter could make such a “D’oh!” statement, be advised Seravalli is not of us. He’s an American, born in Bucks County, Pa., just north of Philadelphia, and he was schooled there and in other eastern U.S. outposts. Clearly, he didn’t major in Canadiana. Still, that’s no excuse. I mean, the City of Brotherly Love remains his home base, and I’m guessing no Philly guy, including him, would be so dense as to suggest Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins are the faces of northeastern U.S. hockey. Seravalli’s been to Western Canada. He knows the good people of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton identify with their own players, not two guys on the La La side of the Rocky Mountains. Get with the program, man.
This is rich. In the breezy Say What?! banter between Winnipeg Free Press sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, the former accuses Hockey Night in Canada gab guys Jim Hughson and Scott Simpson of being “homers” and waving blue-and-white Maple Leafs pom-poms when les Jets visited the Republic of Tranna last weekend. “Come on guys, try to refrain from cheering in the press box will ya?” Lyons scribbles. Yet his own guy, Wiecek, has become guilty of shameless pom-pom waving. He writes this of the Jets as they prepare to embark on the Stanley Cup crusade: “Yeah, we want the Cup. More than most, I’d venture. But what we need first is a playoff win. And then another. And another.” He’d like the Jets’ playoff run to last “hopefully weeks.” And “for once it feels like the sporting gods are working in favor of the locals instead of against us.” Us? Us? That isn’t a good look for a sports columnist. Nor for a sports editor who condemns others for cheering in the press box even as his writer does that very thing in print.
Look, I get it. Sports writers are human. Honest, some of them are. They have their favorites and it’s a more enjoyable gig when the locals are successful. I confess now that I wanted the Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a terrific bunch of guys. But the “we” and “us” and “hopefully” stuff has to be left to the rabble and blogs like Arctic Ice Hockey. Or even this blog. Mainstream scribes covering the team, on the other hand, are expected to operate from a platform of objectivity. Well aren’t they?
Speaking of the WHA’s last act, in which the Jets delivered a championship to River City, this is what sometimes happens when people who weren’t there write history: Mike McIntyre of the Freep scribbled a lengthy piece about past Jets’ post-season activity and mentioned they received “contributions from the likes of Willy Lindstrom, Morris Lukowich and Peter Sullivan” in beating the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Gretzkys in the spring of 1979. While true, no review of the Jets’ third WHA title can have the ring of credibility without the mention of Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston. They were the driving forces. Ruskowski, who basically played the final vs. the Gretzkys with one arm, was an emotional force and led the team with a dozen assists, while Preston, a penalty-killing demon, provided 13 points and was saluted as playoff most valuable player. McIntyre’s failure to acknowledge them is a glaring omission on what went down that spring.
I’m still liking Jets captain Blake Wheeler and his 91 points to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. I have, mind you, slightly revised my personal top five: Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Blake Wheeler, Taylor Hall and Sidney Crosby.
Really enjoyed a fun Twitter exchange between Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet and Randy Turner of the Freep.
Turner: “Personally, I’m rooting for a #NHLJets-Leafs Stanley Cup final just so Toronto fans can finally get some much-needed publicity for their hockey team.”
Cox: “Plus it’ll give Winnipeggers a chance to see what the Grey Cup looks like if they come to town for the series.”
Total burn for Cox. Brilliant. Love it, and I’m from Pegtown.
Dumbest headline and article of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “Thinking about past, and future, Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parades.” The piece is written by former Leafs general manager and Sportsnet chin-wagger Gord Stellick, a great guy who never should have been GM of the Leafs and never should have written that article.
The best from Sportsnet came in the form of a lovely Hometown Hockey feature on same-sex couple Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, and their baby Liv. I’d say we’re making progress when a national sports network doesn’t shy away from talking about married lesbian hockey players/coaches. It was a beautiful bit of work that dampened my eyes.
On the subject of getting teary-eyed, I thought bean counter Scott Foster playing 14 minutes of goal for the Chicago Blackhawks and shutting out the Winnipeg Jets would be the feel-good sports story of the year, but G.T. Nicklaus’s ace on No. 9 in the Masters par-3 tournament has moved to the front of my scorecard. Caddy G.T.’s ace brought grandpa Jack Nicklaus to tears. It was a magic moment.
Apparently, fighting fool Conor McGregordid something really stupid this week. In other news, dog bites man.
And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: In a Twitter exchange with Heather Marginet re the NHL Hart Trophy, Simmons displayed a shocking lack of knowledge for a national sports columnist.
Marginet: “The 79-80 Oilers finished with 69 points. Significantly worse than this (current) Oilers squad. Gretzky was the Hart.”
Simmons (being sarcastic and dismissive): “They were so bad they played 13 playoff games that year—basically announcing their arrival as a team to reckon with.”
As numerous people eagerly pointed out, Simmons was totally out to lunch. The Oilers, in fact, played just three playoff games that year, not 13. All were losses to the Philadelphia Flyers.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are gathered here today to pay final respects to a dear friend, one who warmed our hearts on many a frigid winter night even as our car batteries froze and rendered our vehicles blocks of ice: The Winnipeg Jets 1.0 are dead. Officially.
Cause of death: Retirement, Shane Doan. Time of death: Wednesday, Aug. 30. Place of death: Phoenix, Arizona.
Jets 1.0 will be remembered for many things and when Doan, the final remnant of that storied but not gloried National Hockey League franchise, excused himself from active duty last week in a letter to an Arizona newspaper, his surrender to Father Time at age 40 stirred submerged recollections and raised them to the surface.
Doan was the last on-ice link to Jets 1.0, but I remember those who were there at the beginning, a motley, rag-tag assortment of earnest but overmatched men who conspired to win just 20 of 80 skirmishes in 1979-80, the first of the franchise’s 17 crusades in River City before fleeing like carpetbaggers to the southern United States, specifically the Arizona desert, where the Jets morphed into the Phoenix Coyotes and Doan played another 20 seasons.
There will be no attempt here to romanticize Winnipeg’s first whirl in the NHL, because each year the hope of autumn was trumped by the disappointment of spring and, of course, the day of the long faces arrived in 1996 when the moving vans pulled up to the loading docks at the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
That, however, is not to say we were without events (Tuxedo Night) and moments (Dave Ellett’s overtime goal) to remember. And people. Especially people.
None cast a longer shadow than John Bowie Ferguson, the cigar-chomping, heart-on-his-sleeve, Jets-tattoo-on-his-butt general manager who stoked unbridled passion in players and patrons. Fergy, crusty on the outside but a cream puff inside, brought the Jets into the NHL and delivered at least one outfit (1984-85) of genuine Stanley Cup mettle. Alas, Dale Hawerchuk’s shattered ribs (a pox on your house, Jamie Macoun) and the Edmonton Oilers stood in their way.
We tend to posit that the Oilers forever stood in Jets 1.0’s way, but that isn’t accurate.
At the outset, for example, the NHL conspired to ransack the roster that had captured the final World Hockey Association title in the spring of ’79. Repatriated by their original NHL clubs were Kent Nilsson, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Barry Long and Kim Clackson, among others. Left behind was no-hope.
Still, I harbor a healthy fondness for that outfit, led by jocular head coach Tom McVie and Lars-Erik Sjoberg, the original team captain with the Barney Rubble body and the Zen-like calm on the blueline.
The Shoe is gone now, as are Fergy, assistant head coach Sudsy Sutherland and, with the retirement of Shane Doan, the Jets 1.0. What remains, materially, is a paper trail of franchise records, an all-time roster and a couple of banners that hang in the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., where they don’t belong (that’s a discussion for another day).
So the book on Jets 1.0 is closed. It’s not a great book (it needed a Stanley Cup for that), but it’s a good book. Having been there and known a lot of the characters, it’s one of my favorite books.
On the subject of preferred reading material, here are my top-five all-time fave sports books…
1. The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
2. Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris
3. The Game, Ken Dryden
4. Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer
5. Paper Lion, George Plimpton
I’d never be so presumptuous as to suggest I know more about tennis than Mats Wilander, but I’m thinking the multi-Grand Slam-champion Swede might want to put the brakes on his gushing about our guy Denis Shapovalov. “It’s like watching a combination of (Rafael) Nadal and (Roger) Federer at 18 years old,” Wilander says. “He has the fire of Nadal and the speed around the court of Nadal and he has the grace of Federer. It’s unbelievable.” Geez, why stop there, Mats? Surely Super Shapo is also faster than a speeding bullet, can leap tall buildings in a single bound and changes into his tennis togs in a phone booth. Sorry, but comparing Shapovalov to Nadal and Federer is a tad premature and likely the kind of hype the Canadian kid can do without.
Is it just me, or does anyone else notice something eerily and strikingly similar between Shapovalov and tennis legend Martina Navratilova? I know they weren’t separated a birth, but it’s almost as if Shapo is channeling the great champion. The athleticism, the left-handed power, the one-handed backhands, the muscles, the oversized left forearms, the animation, the hair, the look. It’s as if they’re mother and son.
Globe and Mail headline this week: “How much should Canada expect of Denis Shapovalov?” Well, we don’t have the right to expect anything of him at the current U.S. Open, where he bowed out in the round of 16 on Sunday, or at any of his globe-trotting ports of call. All we can do is root, root, root for our home boy and hope he doesn’t pitch an on-court fit and whack another match umpire in the eye with a tennis ball.
I’m not sure what was worse, Alexander Zverev wearing a pair of ghastly knee-high socks in his one-and-done match at the U.S. Open, or that the high school cheerleader things cost $35 a pair. I’m thinking that the German whiz kid’s outfit is something that would have earned the nerdy Frasier and Niles Crane a series of wedgies while at prep school.
TSN’s excellent reporter Dave Naylor has promoted the notion of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pursuing bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, while Steve Simmons of Postmedia has floated the idea of a Manziel-Toronto Argonauts union. I have a better idea: The Canadian Football League just says “no” to any players or coaches with a history of domestic violence.
Still can’t wrap my head around the sports media reacting with such ferocity over the Ticats hiring of contaminated coach Art Briles, who apparently looked the other way while his players at Baylor University were sexually assaulting and raping women, yet they spent a week in Las Vegas glorifying a man who spent two months in jail for beating up a woman. How can they possibly rationalize their position that Briles should not be allowed to work but serial woman-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. should be?
New York Yankees hurler CC Sabathia was in a high-class snit last week because the Boston Red Sox had the bad manners to bunt on him. Yo! CC! Next time you see McDonald’s golden arches, skip the Big Macs and large fries and it might not be so hard to bend down and pick up a baseball.
The good news is, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League will pay players anywhere from a floor of $2,000 to a ceiling of $10,000 in the upcoming season. The bad news is, $2,000-$10,000 probably works out to about .20 cents-to-$1 a shift. Kidding aside, there is no bad news. It’s a good place to start. And it doesn’t matter that each club’s salary cap ($100,000) is less than CC Sabathia’s monthly grocery bill.
Apparently, the great “mystery” has been solved: Canada’s fancy skating team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will perform their free skate at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea to music from Moulin Rouge. I don’t know about you, but I’m soooo relieved to know that. I mean, I was convinced they’d be skating to something cheesey by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Nickelback. I’ll sleep so much better now. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)
In the Department of WTF, it appears that video of men getting whacked in the testicles by baseballs, cricket balls and tennis balls is what now passes for high humor on TSN’s Sports Centre. I say that because two of the station’s stable of gab girls, Kate Beirness and Jennifer Hedger, devoted a segment of their late-night show on Thursday to dudes getting drilled in the knackers, or, as Hedger described the male genitalia, “pills.” Was it just me, or did anyone else find it awkwardly inappropriate that two women would be having great sport with men taking one to the junk? I mean, I suppose it’s giggle-worthy in a Three Stooges kind of way, but c’mon, girls don’t dig the Three Stooges. Leave the nyuk-nyuks and noogies to Jay and Dan.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.
I cannot think of Atlanta without recalling the night the lights—and Tom McVie’s teeth—went out in Georgia.
Yes, it was theatre of the absurd in early November 1979 when a ransacked Winnipeg Jets’ roster skated south of the Mason-Dixon Line to do their thing at the Omni Coliseum, a facility that most of the local citizenry avoided whenever the playing surface had been converted from hardwood to ice.
Atlantans embraced hockey like they did Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who liked to play with matches and took a torch to the town during the American Civil War, leaving it a smouldering mess of burning buildings, dying embers and ashes.
Which, come to think of it, is pretty much what the National Hockey League had done to the Jets.
These Jets who skated into Atlanta were the skeletal remains of an outfit that, only six months earlier, had concluded the final World Hockey Association crusade with a third title. Gone were Kent Nilsson, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Barry Long, Kim Clackson and Paul MacKinnon, all but Preston the reclaimed spoils of a seven-year conflict between the NHL and WHA.
In their stead were willing and dogged, albeit less-impactful, skaters who, through determination and the demands of their taskmaster coach, McVie, were on a roll, unbeaten in five matches as they arrived in Atlanta.
Although not ruffians of the Broad Street Bullies ilk, the Flames, while suitably skilled, were a big and bothersome bunch who didn’t require a great deal of prodding before releasing the inner beast. And, after asserting themselves on the scoreboard with an 8-0 advantage, that puck pugnacity went on full display less than nine minutes from time, much to the enjoyment of a sparse gathering that surely numbered less than 10,000 but included a rather striking, blonde lass who sat directly behind the Winnipeg goal during the pregame exercises.
“The boys seem a bit distracted,” I joked with Reyn Davis of the Winnipeg Free Press.
“I wonder why?” he replied.
I’m not here to suggest that the fair maiden’s presence influenced the Jets’ performance that night, but she most assuredly served as a distraction because this southern belle seemingly believed that clothing was optional and she was not at all shy about displaying her ample assets.
At any rate, the Flames continued to give the Jets a different kind of dressing down on the ice and mayhem ruled the night. Phil Russell threw down on Dave Hoyda (twice), Willi Plett and Jimmy Mann went bare knuckles, Brad Marsh rag-dolled a much smaller Morris Lukowich, and two Flames tag-teamed a helpless pacifist, Mike Amodeo. Jets forward Jude Drouin thought that a bit much, thus he vacated the bench in an attempt to rescue his overwhelmed teammate. In scant seconds, the ice was a frozen sea of uncivil activity, with only McVie and his counterpart, Al MacNeil, tethered to the bench area.
If the scoreboard wasn’t enough to send McVie off his nut, the uneven brawl served as the trigger, and what ensued was something straight out of the Vince McMahon, WWE playbook. McVie began barking at MacNeil, like a yappy, little dog with his necked bowed. He got louder, his face turned redder and he stepped closer to the glass partition that separated the two coaches. Then he stopped. Calmly, McVie took off his sports coat. He took off his neck tie. He took off his wrist watch. He unbuttoned his shirt. He then—wait for it—took out his teeth! He tucked his tusks into a coat pocket. He now was ready to duke it out.
I turned to Reyn in our press box perch. His jaw had dropped.
“Did you see what I think I just saw?” I asked him.
“If you mean you saw Tommy take his teeth out, you did,” he confirmed.
MacNeil, meanwhile, had been barking back at McVie and, seeing the Jets coach disrobe, he also stripped off his neck tie.
McVie attempted to scale the barrier between the benches, but his tiny feet kept sliding on the glass. He gave it another go. And another. Eventually, Drouin returned to the Jets’ bench and re-engaged McVie with his better senses.
Once the dust had settled, eight players and McVie were given the remainder of the night off.
Reyn and I later found McVie near the Jets changing room. He was subdued, but not full of contrition, noting the disparity in the dimensions of two of the combatants, Brad Marsh of the Flames and the Jets’ feisty but pocket-sized Morris Lukowich.
“I can’t have my smaller players getting beaten up,” he said.
Over on the other side, MacNeil was more inclined to play the victim and make light of the ruckus.
“I told him if he wanted to come over, come over,” MacNeil said with a mischievous, impish grin. “He took off his tie and took out his teeth and started shouting obscenities. He was very irrational. I hope they do something about him. You can’t be letting people make threats like that, especially when he takes his teeth out.”
The NHL flashed a different set of sharp teeth, suspending McVie for three games and docking him $500 in pay.
After leaving Atlanta, the Jets went into a nose dive, winning just three of their next 12 assignments. But, hey, there was a sunny side to all of this: McVie managed to keep his chicklets in his head the remainder of the season.
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.