Winnipeg Jets: No more excuses for head coach Paul Maurice

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

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Well, now that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and once-inert general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have addressed two of the Winnipeg Jets’ specific wants and needs, guess where the focus shifts? That’s right, Mr. .500 standing behind the bench. It’s squarely on you.

Paul Maurice

You know that annoying laundry list of excuses that you made a habit of trotting out during the Jets’ latest crusade that ended, once again, without a playoff whisker sprouting from your players’ chinny, chin-chins? Sorry, but whinging about the schedule, injuries, youth and the price of petrol won’t cut it anymore. Probably not even with mainstream news snoops, a number of whom actually bought your bunk.

Time to deliver the goods, Coach Potty Mouth.

You’ve got your goaltender and, even though I don’t expect Steve Mason to be the second coming of Terry Sawchuk, I’m guessing (hoping?) that he and the work in progress known as Connor Hellebuyck won’t be the second coming of Pokey and the Bandit either.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Pokey and the Bandit, Coach Potty-Mo. Two interesting, young dudes from the back half of the 1980s. One, Daniel Berthiaume, was mostly a cheery sort and the other, Eldon (Pokey) Reddick, had a tendency toward the sullen, with gusts up to sourpuss. Together, they combined to provide Winnipeg Jets 1.0 with the sort of goaltending that will cost a National Hockey League coach his job. Matter of fact, two head coaches and one GM drew pink slips during their tour of duty in the blue ice.

So, no Coach Potty-Mo, you don’t want your tandem of Mason-Hellebuyck to be Pokey and the Bandit II.

But, again, even if they bottom out, it’s going to be on you and your system(s).

Meanwhile, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy added one-vowel-short-of-a-full-load Dmitry Kulikov to shore up the left side of your blueline brigade. They’re telling you he’s an upgrade on Mark Stuart. You might not agree, given your fascination with greybeards of sketchy skill, but a left flank of Josh Morrissey, Toby Enstrom and Kulikov sounds better to me than Morrissey-Enstrom-Stuart.

On the down side, Coach Potty-Mo, they took away your favorite play thing, Chris Thorburn. I’m not convinced that means you’ll be less of a street busker with your forward combinations—your juggling Thorbs from fourth to first line and the two slots in between truly was annoying—because you’re apt to adopt a new teacher’s pet to infuriate the faithful.

You have your way of doings things, curious as they are, Mr. .500. They’ve seldom worked, but now they must work. If there are no meaningful matches being contested at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next April, you’re the fall guy.

Still no contract extension for Maurice, whose lifeline has been reduced to one more season as the ice-level puppet master. Not that I think he deserves a new deal, but Cheveldayoff repeatedly insists that he and his head coach are joined at the hip. So what’s the hangup? Could it be that the Puck Pontiff has grown iffy about Coach Potty-Mo? Naw. He won’t let Maurice go into the season as a lame duck. I say it gets done this month.

Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer celebrate the iconic goal.

I get a chuckle out of young people who weren’t even an embryo in 1972 telling those of us who were there that their goal in 2010 was more iconic than our goal. Our goal, of course, is Paul Henderson sliding a shot under Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, in a hostile, corrupt environment a world away to win a signature, culture-shifting hockey series that was as much about politics as pucks. Their goal is Sidney Crosby whipping a shot through Ryan Miller’s legs to win an Olympic gold medal against a southern neighbor in front of friends and family in the cozy confines of our own back yard. Only someone who lived both can compare both, and there is no comparison. Yet Emily Sadler of Sportsnet submits that Crosby’s 2010 golden goal is the most iconic moment in Canadian sports history. I submit that Emily is showing her age.

Among other things, Sadler allows that the Crosby goal has earned “Where were you when…” status. I’ve got news for her. I don’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing when the red light behind Miller flashed. But I do know that I was sitting in my living room on Wayoata Street in Transcona, with my young son Tony on my lap, when Foster Hewitt yelped, “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

I get the drill. The Sadler piece was meant to stir conversation and debate, which it no doubt did. But, geez, someone at Sportnet might have clued in and had a writer who was at least knee high to Yvan Cournoyer in ’72 scribble that story. A 30something simply cannot relate to the Cold War intrigue of the times, any more than they can provide a first-hand account of what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived on our shores. Heck, most of them don’t even know who John, Paul, George and Ringo are.

How intense was the eight-game, us-vs.-them ’72 series between our guys and the Soviet Union? Here’s what Team Canada leader Phil Esposito offered years after the fact: “I’ve said this publicly and I’m not too proud of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have killed those sons of bitches to win. And it scares me.” Can you imagine Crosby saying that about the Americans? After losing the opening skirmish, 7-3, head coach Harry Sinden detected a shift in attitude among the Canadian players. “They switched to a war mentality,” he said. “They understood the politics at play, the Cold War backdrop. Imagine a team playing the Germans in the middle of World War II—that’s what it was like.”

Moving to present-day topics, I note that a group of 40 guys in Buffalo have set a new world record for marathon shinny by playing an 11-day hockey game. Yes, 11 days. By happy coincidence, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane has now gone 11 days without being in trouble with the law.

Just wondering: Would you want a field goal kicker who’s last name begins with the letters C-R-A-P? That’s what the Saskatchewan Roughriders have in Tyler Crapigna, whose wonky right leg has failed Gang Green twice when they needed it most. The Riders are already 0-2 on a new Canadian Football League season, leaving us to wonder what the before/after is on head coach Chris Jones being asked to leave that swanky, new building on the bald Saskatchewan prairie? I say he’s gone by Labour Day, especially if he doesn’t find a leg that aims straight.

Theoren Fleury

For those of you puzzled because Theoren Fleury isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, here’s the reason in his own words (from his book, Playing with Fire, in which he details his alcohol and drug addiction, his womanizing, his heavy gambling and his bar brawling): “The whole league reacted to my leaving the way you would feel after having a big, happy dump. There were a lot of guys like me in the game, but they didn’t want anyone to know that. My presence kept the bad news on the front of the sports pages. Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock, and I was really fucking with that image.”

Here’s proof that sports scribes carry no influence on the public: Steve Simmons of Postmedia pleaded with his readers to support the Toronto Argonauts prior to their home-opener vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats, writing: “Please, pretty please, pretty, pretty please, buy a ticket and take in the game against Hamilton.” Let’s ignore the deeper issue, that being a prominent Canadian columnist serving as a screaming shill for the Argos and the CFL. I’m actually okay with that because, like Simmons and most others who have covered three-down football, I love the CFL. As for Simmons’ sway with readers, the head count was only 13,583 for the opener and even less, 11,219, for their encore performance against the B.C. Lions. He has more than five times that many followers on Twitter.

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

 

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I’m a Winnipeg Jets junkie again…damn them!

I’ve just returned from a fortnight in detox. Had to get the Winnipeg Jets out of my system. Didn’t read anything about them. Didn’t hear anything about them. Didn’t watch them. Went cold gobbler.

Life was good. Nothing like the purified, invigorating air of shinny sobriety.

Then it happened.

I was sitting in my local watering hole on Friday, trying to remain oblivious to the din of post-work week celebrants as I contemplated the events of the past five years of my life, when one of the regulars approached.

“You’re from Winnipeg, right Patti?” he said.

“You know I am,” I confirmed. “But I’ve already heard all the Winnipeg jokes about mosquitos, winter, spring flooding, slurpees, the murder capital of Canada, the Blue Bombers and especially the Jets. So save your breath.”

“But people aren’t joking about the Jets anymore.”

“Why not? Last time I looked, they were in last place.”

“Not anymore, little lady. They’ve picked up points in seven straight games. They’re only a few points out of first place. They’re winning ugly, but they’re winning.

“What do you mean by winning ugly.”

“They’re doing it without scoring any goals.”

“That’s crazy. You can’t win in the National Hockey League without scoring?”

“The Jets do.”

“What happened? Kevin the Possum (GM Cheveldayoff) finally make a trade for a bonafide NHL goaltender? They get King Henry? Jonathan Quick? Ryan Miller? Dominik Hasek come out of retirement?”

“Nope. Ondrej Pavelec is still the goalie.”

This fellow now officially had my undivided attention. I stopped nibbling on my grilled cheese-and-ham sandwich, put it down and fixed him with a hard look of suspicion. The boys in this bar tend to tease me about all things Pegtown, you see, so I thought perhaps this was another exercise in “Let’s yank Patti’s chain.”

“Don’t do this to me,” I said. “Please, please, please do…not…do…this…to…me. I’m a recovering Jets junkie. I’ve been off them for two weeks. I’m as clean as St. Bernadette’s soul. I no longer suddenly wake up at night in a cold sweat, wondering if coach PoMo really had Chris Thorburn playing on the second line or if I was just dreaming. I’m completely off Thorbs and Bogo and Pavs and Big Buff. I’ve been doing my rehab at Habs Nation. It’s a nice place to be. We have group sessions and talk a lot about the playoffs, because they’ve been there. And Stanley Cups, because they’ve won them. They retire jerseys, because they have Hall of Fame players. Lots of them. So don’t tell me the Jets are winning. I don’t want to go back there. I cannot go back there.”

Thus, I had a tough call to make. My choice on Saturday night was Montreal-Minnesota or Winnipeg-Ottawa.

I held the remote in my right hand. My trigger finger twitched like Charlie Sheen when a police cruiser approaches. Channel 13 or channel 23? P.K. Subban and Carey Price or Thorbs and Pavs? Bob Cole or Dave Randorf (my, but what a lovely set of teeth you have). Either way, I knew there would be pain, because I couldn’t avoid P.J. Stock or Curdmudgeon’s Corner (if Don Cherry spent less time whining about not having enough time to say what it is he has to say, he’d have plenty of time to say what it is he has to say), and I also knew that I’d be seeing that pudgy, quasi-annoying A&W guy out on the streets pestering people about the non-use of steroids, hormones or antibiotics in chickens and cows (hey, pal, it’s fast food; it’s not healthy whether you’re feeding the critters caviar or shooting them up like Alex Rodriguez).

At any rate, I’m here to report that addiction won the day over sobriety. I’m hooked on the Jets. Again. I think.

I mean, this was gawdawful hockey. It was borderline unwatchable. If not for Wayne Gretzky surfacing in a pinstriped, mob hit man suit and joining Stromboy in the red chairs during the second intermission, I might have fled back to the serenity of Habs Nation. Seriously. The Jets have morphed into the New Jersey Devils. That isn’t Paul Maurice behind the bench. It’s Jacques Lemaire.

What I saw was a whole lot of same old, same old. Mark Scheifele is still on his knees more than his feet. Thorburn is still losing fights. Dustin Byfuglien is still wandering aimlessly. Zach Bogosian is still fortunate to have Toby Enstrom as an accomplice. Really, the only difference I noted in the Jets, individually, was between the goal posts. Pavelec actually looked good. Really good. Especially in the shootout of this 2-1 victory over the Senators. Imagine that. Ondrej Pavelec, stud goaltender. Who knew? Certainly not me. And he’s the reason the Jets have earned points in eight successive assignments.

So now I need another Jets fix. Damn them!

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.