Let’s talk about little green men in River City…greybeard boxing…baseball orphans shuffle off to Buffalo…Jeremy Roenick’s ungay legal gambit…a 1964 prophecy…jock journos whinge and whinge…the Big M was “unfit to practice”…and many other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…

According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.

Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”

Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.

Greybeard Mike Tyson

Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.

So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.

Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.

Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

Nice ceremonial first pitch by America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.

Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.

Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.

Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.

Gary Bettman

Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.

Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?

The Big M

I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.

If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.

But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.

Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.

Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.

The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.

The Big M

The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”

“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.

So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.

“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.

The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.

Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.

“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.

Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.

Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”

Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?

Commish Randy

Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.

Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.

To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.

Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.

On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.

Doc Holliday

A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.

Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.

I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.

Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.

Alyssa Nakken

Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.

Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.

And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?

About Mike O’Shea’s job status with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…will Sunday’s loss cost Coach LaPo a head man’s job?…Coach Chihuahua of the Stamps is yapping again…this Rose stinks…a parade of rasslers…and more

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and as Peter Warren used to say when his voice was the loudest on local radio, “Let’s get right down to business…”

So what’s your definition of progress? Winning one playoff game?

Mike O’Shea

If so, you don’t dismiss Mike O’Shea. You bring him back for the final year of his existing contract as sideline steward with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And I suspect that’s exactly what bulldog CEO Wade Miller and his accomplice, general manager Kyle Walters, will do.

So save your breath if you’re among the rabble inclined to call for Coach Mikey’s ouster.

Unless I miss my guess (that’s been known to happen), here’s what you can expect to hear from Messrs. Miller and Walters in the wake of Winnipeg FC’s elimination from the Canadian Football League fall frolic: They’ll agree that garbage bag day has arrived too early. Yet again. They’ll agree that there’s considerable heavy lifting still to be done, and they’ll vow to keep plugging away until they get it right. But, while acknowledging that the local lads have been found wanting for a 28th consecutive crusade, they’ll point to a big W in the West Division semifinal. In Saskatchewan no less. Surely that must count for something, right?

The Blue Bombers’ three wise men: Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters, Wade Miller.

Well, no, it doesn’t. Not if your definition of progress considers the larger picture.

A year ago, the Bombers were 12-6 in regular-season skirmishing. That earned them second place and a playoff date at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, which O’Shea frittered away with dopey coaching.

This year, they were 10-8 and required to hit the road for the entirety of their Grey Cup chase, which featured the win over the Green People in Regina and concluded with Sunday’s tank-on-empty, 22-14 loss to the Stampeders in the West Division title joust at McMahon Stadium in Cowtown.

Is that one step forward or one step back? Is it the spinning of wheels?

Marc Trestman

O’Shea has had the head-coaching gig for five years. He’s 45-45, 1-3 in the games that matter. That’s hardly grounds for dismissal. Unless it is. I mean, the Argonauts just told Marc Trestman to get lost, less than a year after a happily-ever-after ending in the Republic of Tranna. The guy brings the Grey Cup to The ROT, then goes 4-14 because his quarterback had the bad manners to grow old and fragile, and they kick him to the curb faster than you can say “Popp is the weasel.” But that’s Tranna, where folks are too busy worrying about Auston Matthews’ shoulder and William Nylander’s contract standoff to notice there’s a football team in town.

In River City, the rabble notices. They know the only three men to bring the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown since the 1950s are named Grant, Murphy and Riley. There are statues of two of them on Chancellor Matheson Road.

Does O’Shea’s record warrant another opportunity to join that select company?

I say, sure, let him stay. If, however, garbage bag day arrives before the final Sunday in November next year, it’ll be time to move on.

Paul LaPolice

While watching the Bombers’ inept offence vs. the Stampeders’ stout defensive dozen, I couldn’t help but wonder if this result will cost O-coordinator Paul LaPolice a head-coaching gig. There are openings in the Republic of Tranna and B.C., but do the Argos or Lions want the overseer of a group that failed to get the ball into the end zone in a playoff game?

Anyone out there still want to fire D-coordinator Richie Hall? The defence gave Winnipeg FC a chance to win on Sunday. The offence didn’t.

Dave Dickenson

TSN has its turning point during a game, I have my WTF moment, and Calgary coach Dave Dickenson wins first prize in WTF-ism for his bizarre anti-Canada rant when his universe wasn’t unfolding as it should on Sunday. No Stampeders’ game is complete, of course, without Dickenson pitching a pathetic hissy fit aimed at the zebras. And, sure enough, TSN’s mics caught John Hufnagel’s yappy, little lap dog barking angrily after one of his choir boys had been flagged for a foul. “Why are all the penalties in front of Mike O’Shea? Fucking Canadians!” shouted Coach Chihuahua. WTF is that supposed to mean? Is he calling us a nation of fornicators? If so, he’s correct. After all, there are 37 million of us, so we’ve definitely been bumping uglies. But what we really like to do is screw American coaches who can’t find work in the U.S. It doesn’t do much for our population growth, but that’s okay. Dickenson is proof that we already have one too many buttheads up here.

If Jonathan Rose of the Bytown RedBlacks is allowed to participate in the Grey Cup game, CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has totally lost the plot. Rose gooned a game official in the East Division final and was instructed to take the remainder of the day off. But it can’t end there. He must be suspended.

The cardboard Ric Flair.

Snippets from another day on the couch watching three-down football: TSN chin-waggers Rod Black and Duane Forde copped out in describing Rose’s assault. Black called it an “emotional mistake” while his sidekick Forde said the Bytown defender “kinda lost it.” Kinda? He totally lost it. It was left for Milt Stegall to tell the truth. Turtle Man called it flat-out “dumb.”…Is there anyone in Canadian sports broadcasting as good at his/her craft as TSN gab guy James Duthie? I can think of only two—Ron MacLean and Scott Oake…Did I hear some of the rabble shout “true north!” during the singing of O Canada at McMahon Stadium? Good grief…What’s up with CFL teams and rasslers? The Hamilton Tiger-Cats trotted out Nature Boy Ric Flair to arouse the rabble for their East Division semifinal a week ago, and they propped up a cardboard cutout of the Nature Boy outside their changing room in Bytown on Sunday. Not to be outdone, the Stampeders dredged up Bret (The Hitman) Hart as a motivational tool in advance of their skirmish with Winnipeg FC. Can we expect to see Sweet Daddy Siki at the Grey Cup?…Saw a commercial for a new Rocky movie. How many is that now? Ten? Twelve? And will I be missing something if I give it a pass?…Head coach Rick Campbell and his Bytown RedBlacks refused to touch the East Division championship trophy following their 46-27 rag-dolling of the Ticats. “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!” players cautioned one another, as if the thing had cooties. Not so with the West-winning Stampeders, who hoisted their trinket and passed it around, albeit tentatively. I’ve always believed the “no touching the trophy” thing to be a silly superstition in sports, but whatever floats your boat…Brad Sinopoli of the RedBlacks or Andrew Harris of the Bombers for top homebrew this season? Tough call…Good thing the votes for most outstanding player were in and tabulated before Sunday’s skirmishes, otherwise QB Jeremiah Masoli of the Tabbies would have no hope.

And, finally, I like Bytown over Calgary in the Grey Cup game. I think every one of us 37 million effing Canadians ought to root, root, root for the RedBlacks.

Winnipeg Jets get a stinker out of their system

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 3 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on the Sabbath…

Coachless Corner with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Pregame blah, blah, blah: After Game 2, I suggested divine intervention was one of only two things that could prevent les Jets from taking out the Wild. So does a major spring blizzard in Minneapolis/St. Paul count as divine intervention?…Ma Nature dumped 30-40 centimetres of the white stuff on Minny/St. P. How much is that in English? Sorry, I’m old school when it comes to measurements…Can’t see the snow storm having a negative impact on les Jets. It’s not like they’re playing outdoors. I realize, of course, that the white stuff meant a return to Winnipeg on Saturday after two hours on a tarmac in Duluth, but the weather is simply something for news snoops to blah, blah, blah about and nothing more..Donald S. Cherry was in his bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his yadda, yadda, yadda thing, and the way Grapes has it figured les Jets did themselves no favors by engaging the Wild in extra-curricular activity (read: fistic exchanges, pulling, tugging and face palming) in the final seconds of Game 2. “They’re so used to losing they get a little giddy because they won the game,” Cherry said on his Coachless Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada. “(Minnesota) was all set to go to sleep, fold the tents up just silently…I’ll tell ya one thing, they got the team stirred up. I said before the game, before the series started, they’re gonna win. They’ll still win, but they just made it hard on them.” Okay, duly noted: The Jets will win, but it won’t be easy because they got too frisky. Like, when did frisky become a bad thing?…All these years on Hockey Night In Canada and not once has Ron MacLean closed the show by tossing a pen or a pencil…Can’t start any game in the U.S. and A. without a salute to the military.

Zach Parise

First Period: Something tells me that Jets goaler Connor Hellebuyck will be required to take a shower after this game, unlike the two in Winnipeg…The crowd at the Something Or Other Center (really dislike corporate names on hockey barns) is ramped up and the boys are fractious in the early skirmishing, so it’s evident that the Wild have decided to get engaged. Apparently there’ll be wearing skates tonight instead of showshoes…Chintzy, chintzy call on Matt Cullen of the Wild. It was a love tap. Zebras have discovered their whistles, which probably won’t be a good thing…Blake Wheeler scores what Paul Romanuk describes as a “greasy dog of a goal” from a horrible angle on the powerplay. Jets 1-zip…Guaranteed the Jets will be flagged for the next infraction, after two weak calls against the Wild. Guaranteed…Yup, there goes Ben Chiarot to the bin, followed immediately by Adam Lowry, giving Minny a 5-on-3 PP. Jets survive the 5-on-3, but Mikael Granlund levels the score before the second penalty expires…Chiarot takes another penalty…Zach Parise scores on the PP. Wild 2-1…Guaranteed the Wild will be shorthanded before the end of the period. Yup, there goes Matt Dumba to the hoosegow. Refs are too involved for my liking.

Eric Staal

Second Period: If Wild have any plans to get back into this series, they’ll have to get ‘er done now, because Jets own the third period…There’s Matt Dumba putting Minny up by two on a shot from the point. Not sure Hellebuyck saw it, but he has to shut the door now. He has to be perfect the rest of the way…Tyler Myers scores for the second game in a row, beating Devan Dubnyk to the far side again. Innocent looking play. Dubnyk looks off his game. Two suspect goals…Wild 3-2…Jets seem to be finding their skating legs (about time), but Dubnyk no longer looks off his game. He stone-cold stuffs both Twig Ehlers and Bryan Little from his doorstep…Sloppy giveaway by Dustin Byfuglien ends up behind Hellebuyk, Eric Staal pulling the trigger. This game is over. No way the Jets rally…Now rookie Jordan Greenway makes it 5-2 Wild. Only question is whether Jets coach Paul Maurice gives Hellebuyck the rest of the night off now or waits until the end of the period. I’d wait…Foligno scores and Maurice sticks with Hellebuyck…Ouch. Myers goes down for the count. He heads for the repair shop and it doesn’t look good…Only noticed Paul Stastny once through 40 minutes, and Mark Scheifele could have stayed home in Winnipeg for all the good he’s done. Jets didn’t have any passengers in Games 1 and 2, tonight they’ve got half a dozen. Maybe more…Wild 6, Jets 2.

Marcus Foligno

Third Period: During the intermission, Twig Ehlers tells Scott Oake the Jets are “playing the right way.” Sorry, kid. You’re never playing the right way when it’s 6-2 after two periods…Steve Mason (remember him?) takes over in the blue paint for the Jets. Not saying this was Hellebuyck’s fault, but he had to be flawless after it was 3-2. Instead, Dubnyk was the perfect goaltender from that point on…Myers is done for the night, but what about the rest of the series?…This is quite boring…Oh my, I actually nodded off. Just woke up to see and hear Maurice talking about this stinker. Don’t think he’s going to enlighten me. If he tells us that Marcus Foligno was the best player on the freeze, either side, I would agree. All credit to Foligno and the Wild for a 6-2 win…How many Foligno boys play in this league? Can’t keep track…Well, okay, Jets are allowed one stinker. But only one. They still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 and remain 14 wins away from a Stanley Cup parade…Don’t think they have to go back to the drawing board. They just have to remember to drive the net and use the body in Game 4 on Tuesday. And keep their feet moving. And someone better give Stastny a wakeup call.

Should the Winnipeg Jets get out the brooms, or will Devan Dubnyk steal a game for the Minnesota Wild?

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 1 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Wednesday night…

Pregame blah, blah, blah: Love living on the West Coast. Game time is 4 o’clock, meaning it should be over at about 7 chimes, which is bedtime for moi. Don’t know what I’ll do if it goes to OT…Just for the record, yes, I have a rooting interest in this series—rah, rah, rah for Good Ol’ Hometown—but, no, I am not wearing white…That’s quite the scene in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and outside on Donald Street in downtown Pegtown. I haven’t seen that much white since Donald Trump released the official White House staff photo…The Winnipeg whiteout tradition has always struck me as kind of Halloweenish, kind of creepy. But whatever works, I guess. Oh, wait. I forgot. The whiteout has never worked for the Jets, this version or the original NHL version…As I recall, there was no need or desire for this whiteout gimmickry at the Old Barn on Maroons Road during the 1970s. You know, when the Jets actually won playoff series and championships…I note reseller tickets for this Wild-Jets opener were being offered on StubHub for as much as $1,026 U.S. Geez, for $1,026 U.S. you can book a seven-day Las Vegas vacation and wear whatever color clothing you want…Am I supposed to be disappointed that Sportsnet has put Paul Romanuk, rather than Bob Cole, behind the play-by-play microphone? Well, I’m not. Romey doesn’t have Cole’s pipes, but I’ve always liked his call. The guy’s got energy. He’s got game. He’s also got Garry Galley with him in the chat room, which is probably a good thing. I mean, say what you will about Galley as a color commentator, but he’s got at least one thing in his favor—he’s not Greg Millen…Ron MacLean delivers sad news: The lovely young Dayna Brons, trainer for the Humboldt Broncos, succumbed to injuries suffered in last week’s fatal team bus accident. That raises the death toll to 16. Damn…Nice job on the anthems by Stacey Nattrass, who, of course, is rockin’ the white. You’d never know Stacey’s been awake since 5:30 in the morning. I’ve often wondered if anthem singers hang around to watch the game or leave for another gig…Time to drop the biscuit.

Bruce Boudreau

First Period: Why is Cassie Campbell-Pascall wearing a white top? A really fashion-challenged white top? She’s working the game for Sportsnet, a national network. She’s supposed to be impartial. Yo! Cassie! You don’t see Scott Oake in white, do you? You aren’t a member of the Jets organization. Knock it off…Garry Galley says the underdog role is a “new look” for Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. I don’t know about that. He’s still short, still wide and still has a very red face…It’s 15 minutes into the match and I’m not seeing a lot of nasty out there. There’s definitely big-boy bodychecking, but no nasty…Mathieu Perreault crashes the Minny blue paint and Devan Dubnyk dumps him on his britches. Good for Dubnyk. Goaltenders shouldn’t take any crap…Refs are keeping the whistles tucked away. Wonder how long that’ll last…Are the Wild playing for a tie? I mean, four shots?…Zip-zip after 20 minutes, but I’m already convinced that Minny has one chance to win this best-of-seven series. His name is Devan Dubnyk.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Second Period: If I had a hockey stick, I’d leave it outside on the porch tonight…Ka-runch! Dustin Byfuglien snot bubbles Joel Eriksson Ek and Mikko Koivu returns the favor with a broadside on Perreault. Maybe that’ll turn on the nasty switch…Perreault is a gamer, but I’m not convinced his body is made for NHL playoff hockey. If he survives the night, he won’t survive the series…Loved Romanuk’s call on a Bryan Little dash toward the Minny goal: “A dazzling, buccaneering play from Little.”…Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay to put the Jets up 1-zip. Wild are paying so much attention to Puck Finn (Patrik Laine) that they’re ignoring Scheifele in the high slot. Something to keep in mind as the series moves on…Is Paul Stastny even playing? Or has Jets bench boss Paul Maurice decided to give him the night off? And here I thought they brought the guy over from St. Louis specifically for the playoff push.

Devan Dubnyk

Third Period: No surprise. Perreault is in the repair shop and done for the night. Poor guy took a fearsome pounding…What’s this? The Wild put two pucks past Connor Hellebuyck, first Matt Cullen then Zach Parise. There is no joy in Mudville, only silence and a 2-1 Minny lead…Not to worry, Puck Finn pulls the locals even “like the predator he is,” as Romanuk put it. And, hey, look who fed him the puck with a nifty drop pass—Stastny. Nice to see Maurice recognizes that Stastny has a pulse…Adam Lowry definitely is built for playoff hockey. He arrives at the rink with flared nostrils and in a bad mood, and he plays with a take-no-prisoners mentality…Who had Joe Morrow in the game-winning goal pool? Anybody see that coming? Jets up 3-2 and I’d say they’re home and cooled…Boudreau gives Dubnyk the night off two minutes and 30 ticks from time. Kind of early to yank your goalie, but the Jets use that 2:30 to ice the puck six times. Or was it seven? They need to work on their empty-net skills and not much else…Don’t know who chose the three stars at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, but Dubnyk, not Lowry, was the best player on the ice…Final score: Jets 3, Wild 2. No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep…Okay, it’s past my bedtime. See you Friday for Game 2.

Winnipeg sports: 45 years later, a look in the rear view mirror

It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.

Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.

Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.

I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.

I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.

I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.

I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.

So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.

(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)

These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)

Matty
Matty

Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.

Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.

Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.

Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.

Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.

Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!

My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.

Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.

Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.

Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.

Tommy McVie
Tommy McVie

Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.

Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.

Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.

Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.

Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.

Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.

Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.

Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.

Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.

Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

Best player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.

Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.

Cal Murphy
Cal Murphy

Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.

Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.

Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners by booing during PA announcements made en francais during a Jets-Finland friendly, a man called my home the next day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.

Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.

Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.

Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.

Vic Peters
Vic Peters

Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.

Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.

Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.

Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.

Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.

“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”

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

“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”

Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.

Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.

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