Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.

This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.

And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.

So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.

One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.

2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?

3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.

Michael Gobuty

4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979.  As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.

Cal Murphy

5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.

6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.

8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.

10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.

11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.

12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.

13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.

15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.

17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.

Moosie Turnbull

18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.

19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.

20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.

21. Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.

23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.

Brian Dobie

24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.

25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.

27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.

Jennifer Botterill

28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.

29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.

Harvey Warner

30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.

31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.

Milt Stegall

32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.

33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.

Andy Van Hellemond

34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.

35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.

36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.

38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.

39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.

40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.

Sandy Riley

41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.

43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.

44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.

46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.

47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.

49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.

Let’s talk about Prodigal Paul…Chevy’s case for the defence…CJOB, the Winnipeg Jets and comfort food…an ol’ Sod back in the booth?…moon shots…shoo fly, shoo fly…Cole Perfetti and those big-brained Winnipeg Jets…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and in this free agency period, I must let it be known that I’m always open to offer sheets…

If you could see me right now, you’d know I’m shaking my head. Side to side, not up and down.

I mean, seriously? Paul Stastny? That’s Kevin Cheveldayoff’s solution for solving the Winnipeg Jets’ gaping hole down the middle?

Paul Stastny

Hell’s bells, why doesn’t he try to lure Paul’s pop, Peter, out of retirement, too? And, hey, maybe Paul’s uncle Marian would like another go-round in the National Hockey League. The Jets could market them as Peter, Paul and Marian. They wouldn’t be much good as a forward line, but they could sing a mean folk song between losses.

Don’t get me wrong. Luring Paul Stastny to Good Ol’ Hometown was a master stroke by Chevy—in 20-freaking-18!

Not so much for 2021, which is when we’ll next see the Jets frolic.

Is Stastny totally spent? Not quite. But if he was an American buck three years ago, he’s about the price of a phone call now. The guy who delivered 15 points in 17 skirmishes during the Jets march to the Western Conference final in 2018 won’t be the Prodigal Paul we’ll be watching next year. He’ll be 35 when they drop the puck, optimistically on Jan. 1, and nudging 36 by the close of business (assuming it’s an 82-game crusade).

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any NHL centre-ice men who became more nimble, quicker, jauntier and less brittle once Father Time had put them on notice.

Patrik Laine

But, hey, the pundits are saying the second coming of Stastny is meant to appease Patrik Laine and, supposedly, all natter about a pouting Puck Finn being peddled to the highest bidder shall be silenced. Except it will be replaced by grumbling once the rabble recognizes that Prodigal Paul doesn’t have the lickety-split to keep pace with Twig Ehlers and Laine. He’ll look slower than a sloth with a limp. They’ll be skating in different postal codes.

Think not? Answer this question: Did you notice Stastny during the Vegas Golden Knights’ playoff run in the Edmonton bubble this past summer? Neither did I. For the record, he had nine points in 18 games, but you could have fooled me. I didn’t think he had nine shifts.

Apparently, that escaped Chevy’s attention.

No surprise, I suppose, because the Jets general manager is wearing those 2018 goggles.

Meanwhile, it’s about Nate Thompson, another reclamation project brought on board by Chevy on Saturday. He’s 36. Sigh.

Chevy can turn back the clock but, try as he might, he can’t turn back time. The Jets didn’t get better in the past few days, they just got older.

When the Stastny trade was just a rumor on Thursday, some among the rabble were hopelessly giddy and immediately began trumpeting Laine as front-runner to win the Rocket Richard Trophy (top goal scorer). Come on, people. Don’t be like Chevy. Take off your 2018 goggles. Puck Finn will be playing with Paul Stastny, age 35, not Ducky Hawerchuk, age 25.

Andrew Copp

So you’re Andrew Copp. It’s just been confirmed that you’ll never be anything more than a third/fourth-line centre with the Jets. You’re paid less than eight forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender, and you only received your thin slice of the pie after listening to management tell an arbitrator that you’re about as useful as a pub without beer. Chances are there’ll be a repeat performance in 2021 and you’ll hear the same put-downs. So, any reason why you’d want to stick around?

Let’s be clear about something: Chevy re-upping Dylan DeMelo was a favorable development for the Jets. He’s a useful, legit top-four defender. But he does not improve a roster that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. DeMelo was there at the close of business in August, remember? Ditto Nathan Beaulieu and Luca Sbisa. Yet Chevy has determined that the latter two players are spare parts that his Jets simply cannot do without going forward, so he re-upped them as well. Good grief. The man’s task is to improve a wonky blueline group, not maintain status quo.

I get a kick out of pundits who suggest the Jets are in win-now mode. Not with that blueline, they aren’t.

These truly are curious times. The Calgary Flames will be wearing a retro-jersey next season and the Jets will be icing a retro-roster.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Stastny, a Vegas salary dump, comes with a cap hit of $6.5 million, fourth highest among the Jets, and it underscores the value Chevy got when he signed Rink Rat Scheifele long-term in 2016. The Rink Rat’s cap hit is $6.125M for the 2021 crusade, and his actual salary is $5.5M, same as Stastny’s. Seems to me your No. 1 centre should be in front of the No. 2 guy at the pay window. (All figures re CapFriendly).

Some things are meant to go together: Salt and vinegar on fries; Fred and Ginger on the dance floor; and the Jets on CJOB. The Jets on ‘OB is like a steamy, hot bowl of chicken noodle soup on a crisp, stay-inside winter day—comfort food. It’s pulling on your favorite pair of faded jeans. So it’s only right that the station that gave rise to the legend of cat lady Bertha Rand has won the Jets radio broadcast rights, a development that rendered Knuckles Irving teary-eyed. “I’d hoped that I would live to see the day when the Jets were back on CJOB, and the good news is I have lived to see the day when the Jets are back on 680 CJOB,” said Knuckles, who’s been part of the furniture at ‘OB since the early 1970s and remains the play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “I think it’s fair to say, without sounding arrogant, the Jets are back where they belong.” Agreed.

Paul Edmonds

No word on who’ll score the P-by-P gig on the ‘OB broadcasts, but it’s no surprise that the name of old friend Sod Keilback quickly entered the conversation. I’d be surprised if sports director Kelly Moore did the retro thing and hired Sod, even if nostalgia seems to be in vogue in Jets Nation these days. I’m more inclined to think Kelly will attempt to poach Paul Edmonds from TSN 1290, and it probably wouldn’t require much arm-twisting.

I’m not sure if Cole Perfetti belongs in the NHL or on Big Bang Theory. I also find myself wondering if Chevy and his bird dogs are putting together a hockey team or a think tank.

I mean, to read about this kid Perfetti and listen to people heap hosannas on him, I’m convinced he’ll one day score 100 points in a season and also one-up Albert Einstein, although not necessarily in that order.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Chevy using the 10th overall shoutout at last week’s NHL entry draft to recruit a brainiac capable of solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in less than 60 seconds. High functioning grey matter is always an admirable quality, especially if it translates to fewer dumb penalties in the offensive zone, and it seems that Chevy puts as much stock in grades as goals.

Perfetti was the Canadian Hockey League scholastic player of the year last season, and two others in Jets livery—Josh Morrissey, Adam Lowry—are former top scholars in the Western Hockey League.

Chevy

Oh, and let’s not forget the man himself—Chevy was the WHL’s top student player in 1988.

Why, if those four put their big brains together they could likely discover a cure for COVID-19 or curb the planet’s climate crisis, although I’m sure the hard-core hockey faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown would rather they use all that fertile grey matter to devise a way back into the Stanley Cup tournament.

Whatever the case, Chevy probably qualifies for frequent-shopper points at the local Brainiacs ‘R’ Us store, and you’ll never convince me that’s a bad thing.

Is it by design or happenstance that Chevy keeps reeling in kids with serious smarts? Not sure. But I hear the asking price in any deal for Patrik Laine is a top-six forward, a top-four defenceman, and an egghead to be named later.

Perfetti vows he’ll arrive at Jets training camp (whenever that is) with a chip the size of Dustin Byfuglien’s dinner plate on his shoulder, because “there were nine teams that passed on me.” Nope, just eight outfits snubbed him. So much for the kid being a regular Einstein.

Spaceman Lee

Speaking of rocket scientists, there’s been renewed talk about establishing a colony of humans on the moon by 2024. That’s welcomed news for Bill (Spaceman) Lee. He’ll finally have some next-door neighbors.

Apparently the going rate for four people to live on the moon for one year is $36,000,000,000, or the same as New York Knicks season tickets in 2024.

The ideal all-athlete moon colony: Spaceman Lee, Blue Moon Odom, Andre (Bad Moon) Rison, Wally Moon, Warren Moon, Rocket Richard, the Pocket Rocket and, of course, Randy Moss for once mooning Green Bay Packers fans.

I agree, having Crystal Hawerchuk make the announcement that Perfetti was the Jets’ first choice in the entry draft was classy. The appearance of Ducky’s bride was one of two reach-for-the-Kleenex moments during the evening, the other being when Doug Wilson Jr. used sign language to claim Ozzy Wiesblatt for the San Jose Sharks. Ozzy’s mom is deaf, so you know that Wilson Sr., the Sharks GM, raised himself a very thoughtful lad.

Love this tweet from good guy Scott Campbell: “Times in the NHL have changed once again with Covid but still more than my time, when I was drafted 9th overall by St. Louis Blues. Mom called me in from playing road hockey with friends. ‘Scott, get in here. There’s a Mr. Francis on the phone from St. Louis who wants to speak to you.’” As it happened, Scotty spurned Emile (The Cat) Francis’ overtures and hooked up with Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association, then joined the Jets for their final championship crusade.

According to the Toronto Star, the NHL might open the 2021 season with a little pond hockey—an outdoor skirmish at Lake Louise, most likely featuring the Calgary Flames. What a cool idea. I just pity the poor guy who has to drive the Zamboni up and down the side of a mountain.

So much natter about a fly landing on Mike Pence’s head during last week’s U.S. vice-presidential debate. Haven’t heard that much talk about a fly since Tiger Woods got caught with his down.

Even though there’s no Rouge Football this year, I find myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make their annual nominations to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. More to the point, will the jock journos induct a female reporter for the first time? There were only a handful of women on the beat during my 30 years writing about everything from high school/university grid to the Canadian Football League and National Football League, but surely there should be room for pioneers like Joanne Ireland, Ashley Prest, Judy Owen and Robin Brown. Hell, Brown should get in just for her battle with Kindly Cal Murphy over female access to CFL man caves.

So here’s a question I found myself asking recently: With the NHL in limbo and no Manitoba Moose to write about, would either of the local dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown give the Manitoba Junior Hockey League big-time treatment? Pleased to report that sports editor Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab has Mike Sawatzky on the beat and he delivered copy four days running, including pre-season packages and a game report. I’d like to think Winnipeg Ice would warrant similar coverage once (if?) the WHL drops the puck. The Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, devoted one page to the MJHL on Oct. 3 and has ignored it since. That’s lame. I don’t want to hear any whinging about supporting local news outlets if they aren’t going to cover local news other than the pro teams.

And, finally, today’s must-see TV: Our girl Brooke Henderson is just two shots off the lead going into today’s final round of the Women’s PGA Championship, a ladies’ major. Shame that neither of our two national sports networks care about women’s golf, but we can watch Brooke on NBC.

Let’s talk about the NHL lottery and Mickey Mouse…privacy vs. public figure…Edmonton’s Rocky Mountains…B.C.’s Rock Star Doc…Theo’s Hockey Hall of Fame snub…secret ballots…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, like the National Hockey League draft lottery, a lot of this probably won’t make sense to anyone…

I once saw a monkey figure out a Rubik’s Cube, but I’ll wager that the same smart-ass monkey couldn’t figure out the NHL draft lottery process.

Ideally, the first shout-out at the annual auction of teen talent would go to the NHL’s Sad Sack outfit, the Detroit Red Wings, who gave new meaning to the term “bottom feeder” in a season never completed. But no. The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce the Winged Wheel’s way in Phase 1 of the lottery on Friday night, and a Team To Be Named Later will pluck can’t-miss-kid Alex Lafreniere from the pool of NHL wannabes. The TTBNL might actually be named Pittsburgh Penguins, who narrowly edged the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference standings by a mere 47 points, and, as Brian Burke emphasized on Sportsnet, that’s “nothing short of a disgrace.”

Brian Burke

Burkie was in full-throated rant mode post-lottery, and he went off on the NHL in a natter with David Amber. The former NHL general manager and league exec said: “I think it makes our league look really bad. I think it makes our league look Mickey Mouse, and we’re not Mickey Mouse.” Perhaps not, but Goofy and Dopey come to mind.

So, after Phase 1 of the lottery, the Edmonton Oilers have a chance to win the No. 1 pick and land Lafreniere. Of course they do.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: In March, one basketball player tested positive for COVID-19, putting the brakes on the entire sports world and, at the same time, launching a stampede to the toilet paper aisles that resembled the California gold rush of the mid-1800s. Yet now, with many dozens of athletes in many sports testing positive, it’s go-time for the NHL, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball? What part of “deadly virus” do they not understand?

Just between you and me, I’m more excited to see toilet paper back on the shelves than shinny on the ice, hoops on the hardwood, and rounders in the ballyard.

Auston Matthews

It’s an old debate: Public figure vs. private citizen. Does the rabble have the right to know that Auston Matthews has tested positive for COVID-19? Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna thinks so, thus he wrote the story even though Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs preferred to keep it on the QT. Others, like TSN and Sportsnet, ignored it. Why? Because they’re part of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment structure, and they don’t think an employee’s personal health information is any of our business. Seems to me it should be up to the athlete. If Matthews had chosen to disclose his “upper body injury,” fine. If not, you can’t convince me we’re better off knowing about it. Unless he’s going to be sitting next to me at the pub, it’s none of my bee’s wax.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver took a big-picture look at the Matthews situation, and he doesn’t like what he sees vis-a-vis the pro sports team-media dynamic, in terms of controlling the message. He laments “a landscape where every attempt is made to manage availability in order to create homogeneous storylines,” and adds this: “Maybe you don’t find this outrageous. But this comes at a time when both the business and the soul of traditional media is fighting to survive. We used to be an unbiased filter between the established order and the public. Sometimes we still are. But we’re losing our strong, independent voices. We’re losing our place and the public is losing something in the bargain. You can understand why teams and leagues, to say nothing of political parties and their leaders, like this arrangement. But you shouldn’t.” If he thinks sports teams are controlling the message now, he ain’t seen nothing yet. It’ll be worse on the other side of the pandemic. That genie is out of the bottle, and she’s not going back in.

Longtime Sports Illustrated scribe S.L. Price had this take on the Willes essay: “This is more important than it seems, a canary in the ever-darkening journalism coalmine.” A tad dramatic, perhaps, but likely true.

Edmonton or Vancouver?

That was quite a sales pitch Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered in attempting to convince NHL Commish Gary Bettman that he’d be wise to set up shop in Edmonton for the Stanley Cup runoff. I mean, mountain vistas. Mountain resorts. Mountain lakes. Mountain waterfalls. Mustangs roaming wild and free. Who knew? Last time I was in downtown Edmonton, it looked a lot like downtown Winnipeg, only without the inferiority complex. But, hey, that was a couple of decades ago. Perhaps climate change means the Rocky Mountains have crept closer to the Taj West Edmonton Mahal. Does Greta Thunberg know and does she approve?

The Kenney video tweet supposedly was aimed at families of NHL players. While hubby/dad is busy playing hockey and living in a downtown hub bubble, mom and the kids can scatter hither and yon for fun and frolic. In other words: Come to Edmonton, but you probably won’t want to stay.

Dr. Bonnie Henry

Vancouver, which actually features mountain vistas and oceanfront property for real rather than on propaganda material, is out as an NHL playoff hub bubble, and I’m not hearing a big squawk from anyone on the Left Flank of the land. That’s because B.C.’s top doc, Dr. Bonnie Henry, managed to get a handle on the COVID-19 count from the get-go, and no one’s in the mood for a backslide by bending quarantine rules for an NHL invasion. “We are doing very well, we have a good balance,” says the Rock Star Doc. “But under no circumstances was I going to compromise in any way the health of people here in British Columbia.” She’d have put a series on hold if players tested positive, and that wouldn’t work in Commish Gary’s world. Some suggest a hub bubble in Vancity would have meant $19 million in found money during a financially crippling pandemic, but what’s the cost of lives?

Loved Scott Campbell’s fun tweet about the Hockey Hall of Fame’s latest list of inductees, which includes former Oilers defender Kevin Lowe: “Another tough year for me not making HHOF, but nobody cares. How many Avco Cups did Lowe win, huh?!!” You tell ’em, Scotty. Your one World Hockey Association champion ring is worth all six of Lowe’s Stanley Cup rings. Or maybe not.

Quick now, name all eight female players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Heck, name five of the eight. Betcha can’t do it. For answer, see below.

Theo Fleury

Now that you ask, yes, I believe Theo Fleury belongs in the HHOF based on the numbers he put up in the NHL and his success while wearing Team Canada linen. But, no, I’m not surprised that he’s been snubbed again. His on-ice bona fides are beyond challenge, but, as he wrote in his book Playing with Fire, “Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock,” and that ain’t Theo Fleury. Confessions of off-ice antics that included excessive boozing, heavy drug abuse, womanizing, gambling and barroom brawling tend to be a turnoff to the purists.

Got a kick out of Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the HHOF election process, which remains a deep, dark secret. “Because vote totals aren’t released, we have no idea how close Fleury came, who may have lobbied for his inclusion and who was against it,” he writes in the Drab Slab. “Compare that with how the NHL’s annual awards work, in which a couple hundred members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association reveal our ballots every year in the name of accountability and transparency, which is how it should be.” Every year? Spare us the back-patting, Mad Mike. The PHWA was a secret society for 49 years and didn’t play show-and-tell with its ballots until 2018, so pots shouldn’t be calling kettles black.

Lou Marsh Trophy

On the subject of pots and kettles, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star also took a run at the HHOF, asking this question: “Can anybody offer a plausible rationale for the secrecy?” Right. The guy who serves as executive director of the Lou Marsh Trophy voting committee is calling out the HHOF for a lack of transparency. That’s like Lance Armstrong trashing A-Rod for taking drugs. We’re never told exactly who and how many people are on Cox’s Lou Marsh selection panel, nor which jocks receive how many votes in Canada’s athlete-of-the-year balloting. We just know that a bunch of news snoops gather around a big boardroom table in the Republic of Tranna for snacks (presumably) and to bicker for a couple of hours. After that, they send up a puff of white smoke to alert the rabble that they’ve anointed the country’s top jock. That’s transparent like a jar of peanut butter.

Something only a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna would say, Vol. 3,692: “Everyone loves Vince Carter in Canada,” TSN gab guy Jay Onrait declared last week after the former Tranna Jurassics star retired. Well, speaking only for moi and not the entire nation, I’ve never understood the Vince Carter as God thing, and I think about him as often as I watch Friends reruns. Which is never. (Loved Phoebe Buffay, though.)

Megan Rapinoe

Kudos to Sportsnet, which has been featuring stories and video in support of gay athletes during Pride month, whereas TSN basically ignored the issue. “There’s a lot more out athletes who have made names of themselves in the media—people like Megan Rapinoe, Adam Rippon or Gus Kenworthy—so…the media are collectively much more aware of LGBTQ people in sports,” says Jim Buzinski, co-founder of the gay website Outsports. “But also, at some level, I think they get a little bit bored of it if there’s not a big name coming out.” So that explains it. TSN is bored. Or boring. (Seriously, have you been watching SportsCentre lately?)

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Tranna Blue Jays have asked Trudeau The Younger for permission to play their MLB season at home. If that request is granted by the feds, perhaps they’ll also explain why the Winnipeg Goldeyes are calling Fargo, N.D., home this summer.

Funny how we develop a rooting interest for different sports outfits. My team in the English Premier League is freshly crowned champion Liverpool FC, and it has nothing to do with footy skill. I like them because of the Beatles and the team theme song, You’ll Never Walk Alone by another Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers. I couldn’t name three members of the LFC starting 11, but, hey, I know the names of all four lads in the Beatles’ starting lineup, and one who didn’t make the final cut (hello, Pete Best). You’re right, it’s probably a silly reason to root, root, root for LFC, so sue me.

And, finally, the eight female players in the Hockey Hall of Fame are Kim St-Pierre, Angela James, Cammi Granato, Hayley Wickenheiser, Geraldine Heaney, Angela Ruggiero, Danielle Goyette and Jayna Hefford. If you named them all without going to Google, I’m guessing you wear your hair in a ponytail.

The WHA Winnipeg Jets were first to win 15 straight, not the Tranna Raptors

Ignore the propaganda that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spewing this week, kids.

Oh, sure, it’s true that the Tranna Jurassics have come out best in their last 15 frolics on the National Basketball Association hardwood, but…contrary to dispatches from The ROT, that does not establish a new standard for the longest run of sustained success in the history of Canadian professional sports franchises.

The Winnipeg Jets, you see, have been there and done that.

That is correct.

The Jets circa 1977-78 were a rollicking, swashbuckling outfit that used a blend of European panache and Canadian growl to lord themselves over the World Hockey Association, at one stretch winning 15 consecutive matches.

It began on Jan. 29, when Winnipeg HC toppled the Stingers in Cincinnati, 8-4, and win No. 15 was delivered on Feb. 26, with the Jets paddywhacking Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell and the Houston Aeros, 9-6, in the friendly confines of ye ol’ and decaying barn on Maroons Road.

Here are the facts, kids:

Jan. 29: Winnipeg 8     at   Cincinnati 4
Jan. 31: Winnipeg 7     at   Quebec 2
Feb.  4: Winnipeg 7     at   Cincinnati 5
Feb.  5: Winnipeg 4           Edmonton 3
Feb.  8: Winnipeg 9           Birmingham 0
Feb. 10: Winnipeg 10,       Cincinnati 2
Feb. 11: Winnipeg 5    at   Indianapolis 3
Feb. 12: Winnipeg 6    at   Houston 5
Feb. 15: Winnipeg 6          Edmonton 5
Feb. 16: Winnipeg 2    at   New England 1 (OT)
Feb. 18: Winnipeg 4    at   Cincinnati 0
Feb. 19: Winnipeg 5          Quebec 2
Feb. 22: Winnipeg 4          New England 2
Feb. 24: Winnipeg 7          New England 2
Feb. 26: Winnipeg 9          Houston 6
Totals:   Winnipeg 93        Opposition 42

Oddly enough, the Jets’ streak was bookended by losses (8-5 Jan. 28, 4-3 March 1) to the Birmingham Bulls, a bottom-feeding side that featured an assortment of barbarians. Go figure.

At any rate, what the Jurassics have accomplished is totally admirable, and they can one-up the Jets with a 16th consecutive W tonight in Brooklyn, where they meet the Nets.

For now, though, they’re Johnny-come-latelies.

Footnote: There were a few other noteworthy items about those 1977-78 Jets: They also had an 11-game win streak; Kent Nilsson was the WHA’s top freshman (“He’s got more potential, more ability than any other 21-year-old hockey player I’ve ever seen,” said Bobby Hull), the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, was the top defender; Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, the Shoe, Hull and Barry Long were all-stars; Bobby Guindon was the playoff MVP; they became the first North American club side to beat the Soviet Union national team (5-3 on Jan. 5); they won the WHA title, losing just one game in their two series.

Let’s talk about whistleblowers and the NHL…talking heads…with this ring, P.K. does wed…the Chris Streveler pub crawl…beer league hockey meets Ponytail Puck…the Tranna Maple Beliebers…D’oh boys…and other year-end award winners

Back by unpopular demand, one final Sunday smorgas-bored for 2019…and if you haven’t had your fill of turkey, here’s another one for you…

It’s time for the inaugural RCR Year End Awards, which are not to be confused with the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, or the Tonys. Nor should they be mistaken for something significant. They are nothing more than the simple musings of a little, old lady who has too much time on her hands.

Bill Peters and Akim Aliu.

The Turkey Shoot Shield: To Akim Aliu and other National Hockey League whistleblowers.

A day of reckoning has arrived for NHL coaches, and there appears to be no statute of limitations on racist/sexist/homophobic language or bullying behavior, leaving us to wonder how deep a dive into the tombs they’ll take in a quest to root out the ghosts of wrong-doings past.

Bill Peters lost his job as head coach of the Calgary Flames for racist comments he made 10 years ago in another league, and for something he did a few years ago in the NHL.

Mike Babcock

Mike Babcock might never pull puppet strings from behind a players’ bench again because he did something stupid to Mitch Marner a couple of years ago.

Marc Crawford remains on forced leave from the Chicago Blackhawks today because he might have gotten physical with players in Los Angeles more than a decade ago.

We don’t know what Jim Montgomery said or did, or when he said or did it, but he’s no longer coaching in Dallas because of it. The Stars have only told us that Monty was dismissed for “unprofessional conduct,” a blanket statement that could cover everything from aiding and abetting Lee Harvey Oswald to piddling on the Grassy Knoll while intoxicated.

Whatever the case, the year closes with NHL coaches dropping out of sight faster than stoolies in a mobster movie, and by the time the turkey shoot is over no one but Sunday preachers and choirboys will qualify to fill vacancies behind the bench.

The thing is, I’m not sure Christ and his disciples could pass the sniff test today, because they were known to spend time with tax collectors and women of sketchy character..

The That’s Telling It Like It Is Trophy: To Scott Campbell, one-time Winnipeg Jets D-man and all-round good guy. Scotty took note of news snoops pumping Paul Maurice’s tires as the NHL’s top bench boss, and offered this tweet: “Thinking seriously about a Jets blog about Maurice, listening to some fans and national MSM that he’s a top candidate for coach of the year. Just because they have a job talking doesn’t make them right.” For evidence, see: Poulin, Dave.

Lindsey and P.K.

The With This Ring I Thee Promise To Wed Wreath: To Lindsey Vonn, who no longer slides down icy mountainsides for a living. The former champion ski racer did a very 21st century thing by proposing to her main squeeze, hockey guy P.K. Subban. No word on whether Lindsey got down on bended knee, but P.K. said “yes.” Ya, that’s a real shocker. P.K. Subban taking a plunge.

The 99 More Bottles Of Beer On The Wall Plaque: To Chris Streveler. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback might become the first player in history to go directly from a pub crawl to four-down football. It’s been reported that Streveler has some workouts lined up with National Football League outfits, but they might want to have him take a breathalyzer test before he takes his first snap. Does he even know the Grey Cup parade has ended? Has he put his clothes back on?

The Pour Me Another One Medallion: Again, to Streveler. He’s been named the South Dakota Sports Celebrity of the Year, as if he needed another reason to celebrate. At this rate, he’ll show up at his NFL workouts with a blood-alcohol reading higher than Tom Brady’s career passing yards total.

The Hissy Fit Diploma: To members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, who believe glorified scrimmages and mean-mouthing the National Women’s Hockey League is the best route to creating a one-size-fits-all operation for Ponytail Puck. The PWHPA prattles on about not having a league in which to play, even as the U.S.-based NWHL is comfortably into a fifth season that mainstream media chooses to ignore, and that makes zero sense. But, hey, a year ago at this time there were two non-sustainable women’s semi-pro leagues. Now there’s only one for the media to ignore. Maybe that’s the PWHPA’s idea of progress.

The Trash Talking Trinket: To Hilary Knight. The American Olympian and outspoken PWHPA member labelled commish Dani Rylan’s NWHL “a glorified beer league.” And what, PWHPA scrimmages aren’t? Fact is, the PWHPA boycotters are delivering the very definition of beer-league shinny. You know, get a bunch of players together, toss the sticks into a pile, pick sides, have at it, and hope someone notices. So far, Billie Jean King and little girls have noticed, but not mainstream media or the masses.

Biebs and the boys: Auston Matthews, the Biebs, Mitch Marner, Tyson Barrie.

The Tranna Maple Beliebers Bauble: To pop guy Justin Bieber, who somehow convinced Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Tyson Barrie of les Leafs to drive down to Stratford for a bit of Boxing Day shinny. The boys played 4-on-4 with the Biebs and some of his childhood chums, and here’s the shame of it: Their pickup game is attracting more internet attention than the PWHPA or NWHL. Even longtime CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge scribbled an article on it. Ponytail Puck can only wish.

The Gay Pride Plaque: We end this year and decade with Sports Illustrated anointing Megan Rapinoe—an out, proud and loud lesbian—its Sportsperson of the Year, and Time magazine sharing a group hug with Rapinoe and the U.S. women’s national soccer side, naming the lesbian-laden Yankee Doodle Damsels its collective Athlete of the Year. That’s serious gay power.

The What Part Of Anti-Gay Speech Do They Not Understand Trophy: To organizers of the Australian Open, who plan to salute Margaret Court next month. Ol’ Maggie, be advised, is a noted gay-basher. She would prefer to live in the type of illusory world created by Hallmark Channel’s makers of saccharine-sopped movies, where there are no Megan Rapinoes or Sue Birds or Elena Delle Donnes celebrating things like birth, marriage, parenthood, family and Christmas. Gays do not exist in Hallmark’s hokey, happily-ever-after world. Ah, but tennis legend Maggie knows that’s pure Pollyanna. She acknowledges that she if forced to share oxygen with gays, and she likes it about as much as Donald Trump likes witch hunts and whistleblowers. So she scrunches up her prunish face and tells us that there are far too many lesbians on the women’s tennis tour, that they’re kin to Hitler and Satan, and that there’s a global-wide gay lobby similar to communism, whereby the LGBT(etc.) collective is trying to steal the minds of your children. And the Aussie Open plans to shower ol’ Maggie with hosannas next month? Sigh.

The Gender Bender Give Your Head A Shake Shield: To the tall foreheads in the ivory tower at World Athletics (nee International Association of Athletics Federations). They don’t think South African runner Caster Semenya walks, talks or looks femme enough to run against the other girls, at least not at 800 metres, so they argued (successfully) that Semenya is “biologically male,” even though their own decade-long poking and prodding of the Olympic champion’s body confirmed that she’s a she.

Dustin Byfuglien

The Flip Flop And Don’t Tell A Lie Laurel: To Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab.

Here’s what Mad Mike wrote about the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 17: “Not having another alpha male like (Dustin) Byfuglien around to compete with would make anyone breathe a little easier. And that’s a sentiment I’ve heard this year from several people around the team, and around the NHL. Byfuglien can be a polarizing individual, one who marches to his own beat and pretty much does whatever he feels like. On the ice, the Jets haven’t missed Byfuglien nearly as much as people thought. The absence of one former superstar on the back end may have been a surprising catalyst for some much-need change.”

And here’s what Mad Mike wrote on Dec. 26: “A healthy, well-rested and motivated Byfuglien could be a difference-maker, especially to a Winnipeg blue-line that has undergone no shortage of turnover. It could be the ultimate trade deadline acquisition—without having to give up any assets in the process.”

So, if you’re scoring at home, Big Buff was a disease on Dec. 17 but, nine days later, he became the cure for whatever might ail the Jets. Double sigh.

The D’oh! Boy Bauble: To Postmedia. This country’s rag trade goliath is, of course, best known for sucking up to Andrew Scheer, pinching pennies, destroying newspaper competition in the colonies, and kicking quality news snoops to the curb. But it achieved unparalleled levels of dopiness by anointing Vasek Pospisil top male jock in the True North. I’m sure young Vasek is a lovely lad. He smiles frequently. And he did boffo work for our side in Davis Cup competition. But he wasn’t our best dude tennis player (hello Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov), let alone the top jock.

The They Made Me Do It Scroll: To Scott Stinson, the National Post columnist. He was obliged to scribble an essay explaining Postmedia’s choice of Pospisil. I’m guessing Scott did so while holding his nose as he typed, which is a boffo trick on its own.

The Old Man Shouts And Waves His Fist At Clouds Cup: To Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. As usual, the year was a massive bitch-a-thon for Simmons. He bitched about Marcus Stroman not saying enough during spring training. He bitched about award winners making political statements. He bitched about Canadians not buying books written by his friends. He bitched about name-calling “idiots” on Twitter by calling them (you guessed it) “idiots.” He bitched about the subdued salute the Tranna Boatmen gave retired QB Ricky Ray. He bitched about Canadian Football League teams not making certain players available for chin-wags during the season. He bitched about Kawhi Leonard not saying thank you to enough people, or the right people. He bitched about Todd Bertuzzi being included in the Vancouver Canucks home-opener celebration. He bitched about Andrew Harris playing in the Grey Cup game. He bitched about Mitch Marner’s dad and agent. He bitched about Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo sitting Vlad the Gifted on Victoria Day. He bitched about TV talking heads growing mustaches for Movember. He bitched about scribes at The Athletic promoting their work, even as he promoted his own work and that of his Postmedia colleagues. Other than that, he was a happy camper.

And, finally, The Auld Lang Syne Trophy: To you. Happy new year to you all.

Let’s talk about the impeachment of Blake Wheeler…Rink Rat Scheifele and the ‘ruffled feathers’ file…the champion Winnipeg Jets…reduced pricing for Head Cheese football…the CFL head count…Bianca’s biggest win…and other things on my mind

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.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

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.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

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.

Rink Rat Scheifele

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.

Lou Marsh Trophy

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.

Bianca Andreescu

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.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QBs…counting heads…Corn Dog Cody Fajardo…awesome and ugly football…’minor’ concussions…tweet, tweet, tweet…ponytail puck…and a bounce-back season for Puck Finn?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re reading this at the cottage on the last leg of a long weekend, I can only wonder what’s wrong with you…

So the stage is set. Two Goliaths. Temporary bragging rights at stake.

And, yes, I still consider the Blue Bombers a Goliath, because I firmly subscribe to that old chestnut ‘you are what your record says your are,’ and it doesn’t get any better than Winnipeg FC and the Calgary Stampeders, who’ll be the house guests at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night.

Matt Nichols

Although there are those among us who believe the Bombers’ W-L log is the product of smoke, mirrors and a steady diet of 98-pound weaklings, I’m not going to quibble about a 5-2 record.

The doubting Thomas argument gained strength, of course, when the local lads were bullied by Pee-wee Herman on the back half of Winnipeg FC’s recent 0-for-Southern Ontario misadventure, but I feel obligated to point out that the Bombers and Stamps have played the same sides, with one exception—the Saskatchewan Roughriders. As we all know, Canadian Football League schedule-makers tend to save the Blue-and-Gold/Gang Green tiffs for Labour Day weekend on the Flattest of Lands and a few days later in Good Ol’ Hometown, when they tune up the banjos for the follow-up dosey doe.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Thursday’s duel of 5-2 outfits should serve as a statement skirmish for Winnipeg FC. Win and they gain believers, lose and talk radio becomes a blood sport.

There’s already plenty of nattering that suggests head coach Mike O’Shea is actually Homer Simpson with a head set, and his refusal to insert Chris Streveler into the fray when starting quarterback Matt Nichols can’t pass wind, never mind a football, seems to be the main irritant. Some, in fact, would prefer to have the two QBs reverse roles, but I’m guessing those folks are also flat-earth fanatics who walk around with wide strips of tin foil on their heads.

Chris Streveler

Hey, I agree that Streveler is a good change of pace and we should see more of him behind centre, but make him the main man? Sorry, we’ve had enough backup QBs thrust into the starting role this season, thank you very much, and the product has suffered.

I suppose the good folks on the Flattest of Lands might pipe up and dispute that, because their No. 2 guy, Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, has done such boffo business that the Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they can get along just fine without Zach Collaros and shipped him—and the ever-present bats in his belfry—to the Republic of Tranna.

Much the same can be said in the Alberta Foothills, where Nick Arbuckle has kept things mostly neat and tidy during Bo Levi Mitchell’s time in the repair shop. He’s 4-1, that’s all, and if you expect more than that from a fill-in QB you’re more demanding than the nuns who taught me in Catholic school.

Anyway, it’s about Streveler and Nichols and the notion that they should swap snaps. Look, I don’t like what I saw of Nichols in the Golden Horseshoe any more than many of you, but if Coach O’Grunge has them trading places, he really would be a “D’oh!” boy.

Football Follies Field in Fort Garry

I’m curious to see what kind of a statement the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown will make on Thursday night. A grab-grass-and-growl argument to determine top dog in a West Division that has taken on the look of a mosh pit ought to be a best-seller, except the Bombers’ bumbling in the Hammer and The ROT likely cost them a customer or two. I hope I’m wrong, but a head count of just 20,433 for the Battle of Alberta in Cowtown on Saturday tells me that people are finding other things to do as we dig into the dog days of August.

Hey, check it out. We finally know how many people have been ignoring the Argonauts in The ROT. According to CFLdb.ca, they’ve topped out at 16,734 patrons and bottomed out at 11,428 in their three BMO Field assignments this crusade, but the Scullers are the only CFL outfit showing a year-over-year increase in attendance from 2018. Meanwhile, I don’t understand why we have to search CFLdb.ca to discover what the CFL should be telling us on its own website. That’s just wrong.

Corn Dog Cody

Not only has Fajardo got a nose for football, Corn Dog Cody’s sniffer also leads him to fun and games and growlies, like the kind you’ll find at the Queen City Ex in Regina. We know this because the Riders QB confessed to a special kind of motivation after his late-game TD put the seal on a 24-19 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies. “I’m really excited to get a corn dog to be honest,” he told news snoops, as the aroma of those carny treats wafted his way from the nearby Ex. “I’m a big carnival corn dog guy and I was like hopefully the game goes well so I can get a corn dog. So that’s probably what gave me the will to score that touchdown, a little inspiration of a corn dog at the carnival.” If that’s what corn dogs do for a QB, what say we make them Matt Nichols’ pre-game meal? (It’s also refreshing to hear an athlete deliver something other than cookie-cutter, club-approved, yawner quotes for news snoops. Atta boy, Corn Dog.) 

Duane Forde

So, how do you like what you’ve seen to date in our quirky three-down game? Opinions differ.

Veteran news snoop Frank Zicarelli of Postmedia Tranna wrote this last month: “There is no legitimate quarterback on the (Argos) roster in a league where the position is so thin that most games have become virtually unwatchable.” The granddaddy of E-Town jock journos, Terry Jones, agreed: “Too many CFL games are unwatchable this season.” And, of course, TSN talkers Duane Forde and Davis Sanchez both slapped an “ugly” label on different games in the past two weeks.

Then there’s Knuckles Irving, the Winnipeg FC play-by-play guy who, like Jonesy, has very long teeth. His take: “Awesome weekend for the CFL. 4 close, entertaining games, although as my pal Herb Zurkowsky already pointed out, it would be nice if they could speed them up a bit and keep them under 3 hours.”

Personally, I’ve seen too many clunkers. Too many nights only the lickety-split of the kick returners has prevented me from switching channels or nodding off.

Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones tells us that his QB, Vernon Adams Jr., suffered a “minor concussion” when J.R. Tavai of the Bytown RedBlacks cracked him with a head-to-head cheap shot that went unpunished. Sorry, Khari, but I never considered any of my 10 concussions “minor.” They still put me in a dark room.

Knuckles Irving

Tweets that grabbed my attention in the past week…

* The aforementioned Knuckles Irving, after a follower called Mike O’Shea an “idiot”: “He hasn’t won the big one but Our idiot head coach is 38-23 since 2016. Bring me more idiots.” Just as long as they aren’t wearing tin foil on their heads, right Knuckles?

* Former all-star D-lineman, CJOB gab guy and freelance columnist Doug Brown, during the Argos 28-27 victory over the Bombers: “Imagine losing to Dane Evans, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, back to back. That might be a bit of a buzz kill.” Exactly 17 minutes later: “My god.” Too funny.

* Old friend and all-round good guy Scott Campbell: “I’m expecting regression from #NHLJets and not mad about it. It would be worse had they given those contracts to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot. I’m more worried about the coaches optimizing the lineup. Hoping Maurice got back to summer work.” I guess two steps forward and one step back beats one step forward and two steps back every time.

* And, of course, Steve Simmons continued to be a total Twitter troll. The Postmedia Tranna columnist cited a handful of top-drawer quill jockeys as the reason he subscribes to The Athletic, then added: “I do wish they’d stop drooling over each other every time someone writes something good.” He posted that at 10:59 a.m. on July 31. At 1:13 p.m. that same day, look who was “drooling over” one of his own Postmedia colleagues, Rob Longley. Yup, Simmons. “Our guy, baseball’s most underrated writer, has broken the stories thus (sic) afternoon of Blue Jays trading Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to Houston.” Two days later, he was “drooling over” Longley again. Pot, meet kettle. And I hope he was wearing a bib.

I didn’t think it possible, but the new teleprompter reader on TSN Sportscentre, Kayla Gray, is actually louder than Kate Beirness. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Making my ears bleed is not.

Dani Rylan

Officially, there will be a fifth National Women’s Hockey League season. Unofficially, there might not be a fifth NWHL crusade. Two months before they’re scheduled to drop the puck, commish Dani Rylan’s house league has scared up just 39 players willing to boycott the boycott of the ForTheGame200 gang, a group of elite performers who insist they will continue to stomp their feet, hold their breath and refuse to play hockey until a sugar daddy comes along and pays them a living wage. Unfortunately, only a few of us notice, or care, that they’re missing, so I hope they aren’t expecting an amber alert.

And, finally, interesting piece by Ian Tulloch of The Athletic Tranna. Ian goes about the business of listing 10 National Hockey League players likely to have a “bounce-back” season, and he has our own Patrik Laine at No. 6. Well, let me just say this about that: You know Puck Finn is some kind of special when he lights 30 lamps and pundits are talking about him in terms of rediscovering his scoring touch.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Morris Lukowich

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

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

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

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

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

Kim Clackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.

***

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

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

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

Larry Hillman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sudsy Sutherland

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Fergy

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Suitcase Smitty

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Tom McVie

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

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

Examples…

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

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

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

Tom McVie in the champions’ changing room.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

The Shoe

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

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

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

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

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

***

This was a WHA title that almost never happened.

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

There was a money dispute, you see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Jacques Demers

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Roscoe and Clacker

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.

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

***

Michael Gobuty

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

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

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

  3. Fergy hired Tom McVie.

  4. The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

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

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

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

About those “rotten to the core” Winnipeg Jets…cranking up the gossip mill…putting Wheeler and others on ignore…parting gifts instead of banners for the Habs…nothing but bridesmaids in Canada?…talking about Ponytail Puck…and lady golfers at Augusta

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.

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

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.

Tom McVie

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.

Coach Potty Mouth

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.”

Blake Wheeler

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?

Sam Pollock

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.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

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.

About Puck Finn and the Magic man…Burkie telling it like it is again…more numbers from Pie Chart Boy in the Freep…Mike Mac gets the columnist gig…what goalie controversy?…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers meal ticket…pregnant Pebble People…and a nice tribute to Joe Daley

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, as Cactus Jack used to say, it turned out nice again…

There are two things I really like about Patrik Laine: 1) his shot; 2) his age.

I’d probably like him as a person, too, because he strikes me as a nice young man with wry humor and a blunt honesty that’s uncommon among play-for-pay jocks. He seems like a cool kid.

Puck Finn

But I’m here today more to discuss Puck Finn the hockey player, not the cool kid and his passion for PlayStation and whatever other techno gizmos and gadgets that have caught his fancy and keep the Winnipeg Jets winger occupied when he isn’t lighting lamps at one end of the freeze and handing out free pizzas at the other.

I recognize some Kent Nilsson in Laine, on and off the ice.

Kenta was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon in a one-horse town. He was also blessed with a wicked sense of humor. (Nilsson once sneaked up behind a scribe tapping away at his computer keyboard in the Calgary Saddledome press box and said, “How could so much shit come out of such a little machine.”)

In terms of pure skill, though, there’s no comparison between Laine and Nilsson. I maintain to this day that no one who’s worn Jets linen was, or is, more gifted than the slick Swede. Not the Golden Jet, Ulf or Anders. Not Ducky. Not the Finnish Flash. If you’d like to debate the issue, consider that Wayne Gretzky once said Nilsson “might have been the most skilled hockey player I ever saw in my career.” That’s good enough for me.

Kent Nilsson

In the mood, Magic Man Nilsson was a maestro. The game was played at his tempo. On his terms. It was best to toss a second puck onto the ice so the other 11 guys had something to play with.

Trouble is, Kenta was an enigma. That is, engaged one minute, disinterested the next. And the rabble recognized both his other wordly talent and his indifference.

When Nilsson scored 131 points for the Calgary Flames in 1980-81 (fewer than only Gretzky and Marcel Dionne), expectations became heightened to the point of delusional. The faithful assumed there would be more of the same. There wasn’t. The best Nilsson could do for an encore was 104 points, ninth in National Hockey League scoring, and that just wasn’t up to snuff for the Flames faithful. Those 104 points would have/could have/should have been 134.

“If only he applied himself all the time like Gretzky,” they would moan.

In that sense, Puck Finn is a Nilsson doppelganger. He introduced himself with 36- and 44-goal seasons, so he’s boxed himself in at those numbers. Anything less and frustration and much braying ensues.

At present, Laine’s sitting on 25 snipes, best among les Jets. But you’d swear he’s stuck on 10 goals.

Trade him! Ship him to the farm! Stick him with the fourth-line sluggos! Get him a skating coach! Take his Fortnite game away! Oh, yes, the lunatic fringe is in full throat.

Let’s call a timeout on that, though.

Wayne Gretzky

I mean, it’s fair to be critical of Laine. Been there, done that. But give the kid a new postal code? Send him down the hall at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and tell him to suit up with the Manitoba Moose? Sure, and maybe we should think about bringing Pokey and the Bandit back to stand in the blue paint.

Let’s get a grip here, people.

Yes, Laine is seriously lacking in certain essentials. There’s very little lickety-split in his stride, he’s prone to boneheaded blunders, and he’s been known to zone out mentally. And, like Nilsson, he’s maddeningly frustrating because there isn’t a fire burning in his belly at all times. Those flaws are easy to overlook or forgive when he’s scoring. When not, the rabble feels cheated.

But repeat after me: Puck Finn is 20 years old. That isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact.

Nilsson produced his benchmark season at age 24. Teemu Selanne delivered his at age 22. Mario Lemieux had his most productive year at age 23. Gretzky topped out at age 25.

I say we give Laine a chance to grow his game before heaving him onto the dung heap.

Brian Burke

I found Brian Burke’s take on Puck Finn’s game interesting. In a chin-wag about Laine’s earning potential once he becomes a restricted free agent, Burke had this to say on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon: “I’m not as big on Patrik Laine as a lot of people are. I don’t like his 5-on-5 game. Wonderful goal scorer and I’d have him on my team in a heartbeat, but there’s some holes in his game, too. Now, we know we pay goal scorers. We can find guys to offset those deficiencies. I can find a winger to play with Patrik Laine, to do the backchecking, do some of the things he’s not proficient at. But it’s gonna be north of ($9 million), it’s gonna start with a one. We have always paid snipers. We have always paid snipers. I can bitch all I want about certain deficiencies in his game…he can play on my team tomorrow. I do think he’s a good kid…I do feel when he’s not scoring he’s a liability.” I’d say that’s spot on.

Andrew Berkshire doesn’t share my thoughts on Burke’s assessment of Laine. In the Drab Slab, he writes: “Former NHL executive and current Hockey Night In Canada/Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke has said Laine gives you goals, but nothing else. Goals are pretty significant in the NHL, and I would say that statement is remarkably harsh.” Harsh? You want harsh? The headline on Berkshire’s piece labeled Laine “a D-zone disaster” and the stats geek described Puck Finn’s work in the defensive zone as “disastrous.” Now that’s “remarkably harsh.” Again, why the Winnipeg Free Press runs Pie Chart Boy’s graphics is a mystery to me. He simply uses them to confirm what a lot of us already know. Bring back Scotty Campbell.

Speaking of the Drab Slab and its stable of scribes, I guess it’s official that Mike McIntyre is the new sports columnist. I wish him well, because it’s a tough gig and the rabble is never shy about reminding you that you’re a total moron.

For those of you scoring at home, McIntyre is the fifth sports columnist at the Freep this century, the others being Scott Taylor, Randy Turner, Gary Lawless and Paul Wiecek. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, they’ve had one—Paul Friesen. You might not find the turnover rate at the Drab Slab interesting, but I do.

Connor Hellebuyck

Is there a goaltending controversy with les Jets? Well, yes, in the stands, in watering holes and among news snoops. But until I hear it from the inner sanctum (read: head coach Paul Maurice, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman), it doesn’t exist. Connor Hellebuyck is their guy, and Laurent Brossoit is the other guy.

So, there won’t be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to ignoring it.

Interesting to note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols has cut cheeseburgers and other greasy grub from his diet. Does that mean the Calgary Stampeders will continue to eat his lunch? Is he still the Bombers’ meal ticket? Is he going to lay another egg? Whatever the case, it’s food for thought and gives us something to chew on. OMG! I just overdosed on really bad, cornball clichés/puns. Someone slap me silly so I’ll stop.

Rachel Homan

If Rachel Homan isn’t the best female curler on the planet, she’s definitely the best pregnant curler. Rachel’s down there in Glitter Gulch today, helping the North American side attempt to subdue the World group in the Continental Cup, and she’s very preggers. Her due date is June 14 and here’s what I’m wondering: If Rachel wins the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the world championship while pregnant, will news snoops give her the same over-the-top, “mother of all mothers” glorification that they heaped upon tennis player Serena Williams? I very much doubt it. After all, most news snoops ignore the Pebble People until an Olympic year arrives. A real shame that.

And, finally, it’s a big day for one of the truly good guys in Good Ol’ Hometown—Joe Daley. He’ll be honored this afternoon at my old stomping grounds, Bronx Park Community Centre, when mucky-mucks unveil a mural featuring the former Jets goaltender. Such a nice tribute to a nice man. Really pleased for him.