Let’s talk about 50 years after starting in the rag trade…Daniel and Gabby are Slam champs, too…Bianca’s place in the pecking order…what about Marie-Philip?…stay in your lane, young people…a good read in The Athletic…the further Torontoization of the Winnipeg Sun…High Tide and Green Grass…and other things on my mind

A special anniversary smorgas-bored…and it’s my doctor’s fault that I’m still doing this after all these years…

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 50 years ago today, fresh out of high school, and I still remember the hum of activity.

It wasn’t loud, not at that time of the morning in those days of PM papers, but it was steady and easy and soothing and vibrant.

I liked it, the way I liked Sinatra and Streisand.

I listened to the constant clatter of the teletype machines and discovered there was a hypnotic rhythm to their tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. There were three of them, as I recall, one for national and Southam news, another for dispatches from across Western Canada, and the third for United Press International. Every so often, one of them would send out a ding-ding-ding chirp. Breaking news. A copy boy would scurry over, read the alert, then tear off the story and distribute the front sheet to the appropriate department head and the carbon copy to the news rim.

Peter Warren

City editor Peter Warren might have been on the Winnipeg Tribune news rim Sept. 10, 1969, or maybe it was Harry Mardon or Jim Shilliday, who later would become the first but not last editor to bark at me. (It was for messing up a coffee order, something about too much sugar or not enough cream. He was wrong, I was right, and desker Peter Salmon, noticing my body quiver like a kitten on a limb, told him so, for which I remain immensely grateful.)

I know Gene Telpner was on assignment in the Middle East that long-ago day, but I suspect Val Werier and Hugh Allan were on site. Jack Matheson, too. Matty would have been hunkered down and proofing sports pages in his bunker in the far left corner of the newsroom, opposite the artsy-fartsy department, a domain shared by Telpner, Frank Morriss and Joan Druxman, whose flair for fashion was extraordinary and resonates to this day.

As I soaked it all in, I decided then and there that the Trib newsroom was where I wanted to be. Where I belonged.

Matty

It took me 10 months to get up to the fifth floor from the business office, where I handled incoming and outgoing mail, but I made it as a copy runner and, not long after that, Matty had a notion to bring me into the toy department.

I wanted to stay at the Trib for 50 years, but the dark forces at Southam Inc. headquarters in the Republic of Tranna had other ideas and put more than 300 of us out of work, kicking if not screaming, in late-August 1980.

But here I am, half a century after my first day on the job in the rag trade, out of work again but still scribbling about Winnipeg sports, albeit from a distance. Go figure.

I sometimes wonder why I carry on with this carry-on. I mean, it’s not like someone is paying me to put this alphabet soup together, although I suspect some among the rabble might be willing to take up a collection to shut me the hell up, and I can’t say I blame them. The thing is, one of my medics tells me it’s best that I keep my mind busy, and I’m not about to go against someone who gets to stick a needle in me on a whim. So, on doctor’s orders, I look for ways to humor myself at 1:30 in the a.m., and poking fun at sacred cows and media mooks works for moi. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going, but I know the end is closer to 50 days away than another 50 years.

Daniel Nestor (left) the Wimbledon champion and partner Nenad Zimonjic.

Now that I’ve mentioned mooks, I’m surprised that so many in mainstream media have saluted Bianca Andreescu as the first Canadian to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament. It simply isn’t so. Daniel Nestor won 12 of them in doubles play, and Gabriel Dabrowski has two major titles on her resumé. Ya, ya, I know. Doubles sucks and nobody cares. But a Slam is a Slam is a Slam, and I’m not going to insult Daniel or Gabby by saying their achievements don’t matter.

Here’s something else that gets up my nose: Our flowers of jock journalism wax on about the “greatest moments” in the history of game-playing by True North athletes, and they spew the same names and the same events. The Henderson goal. Sid’s golden goal. Donovan Bailey’s lickety-split at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mike Weir at the Masters. Joe Carter touching them all. The Tranna Jurassics. And now, of course, Bianca’s victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open. Which is fine and fitting, except for one glaring omission: None of them ever mention Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal. I don’t know about you, but nothing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics had my heart beating faster than Marie-Philip’s OT goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory over Uncle Sam’s Yankee Doodle Damsels. I still get chills watching the video. Alas, Marie-Philip’s goal fails to get the respect it deserves simply because it’s women’s hockey, which appears on the radar once every four years for most news snoops, and it’s quickly forgotten.

We all have our personal “Where were you when?” moments, and this is my top five in Canadian sports:
1. Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series between the good guys and the Red Menace from Red Square Moscow.
2. Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal.
3. Kenny Ploen’s 18-yard skedadlde in OT to nail down a Grey Cup win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1961.
4. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen winning curling gold at the Sochi Olympics.
5. Bianca Andreescu beating Williams in Queens, NYC, on Saturday.
Honorable mention: Brooke Henderson winning the Canadian Open golf tournament in 2018.

I try to stay in my lane when it comes to rating the events from a lifetime of watching sports, and that means 1957, or thereabouts, to the present. Anything that happened pre-1957, I don’t have a clue, other than what I’ve read about or watched on grainy, black-and-white film. I suggest young opinionists do the same. If you weren’t even on the breast when Paul Henderson slid a puck under Vladislav Tretiak in 1972, you have no business comparing Bianca’s achievement to that moment. Like, if you weren’t around when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in Gotham, don’t tell me about Beatlemania. Stay in your lane.

Even veteran jock journos like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna make that mistake. Simmons likes to present himself as a sports historian, and he’s fooled TSN into believing it, but his point of reference can’t start any earlier than 1965, if not later. He tweets, “I choose not to make assertions about athletes I’ve never seen unless they’re Ted Williams or Babe Ruth,” yet he was arrogant enough to compile a list of the National Hockey League’s greatest 100 players. Except he never saw 20 of them play. He added a list of 40 honorable mentions. He never saw 16 of them play. Ergo, the list was a sham.

Grantland Rice

Here’s what legendary sports scribe Grantland Rice had to say on drawing parallels to events and athletes from one era to another: “Probably the greatest waste of time known to man is the matter of comparing some star or champion with another who lived and played in a different decade.” It’s a trap we all fall into, of course, and I’m convinced that Steffi Graf would kick Serena Williams’ butt six out of every 10 matches. But Ol’ Grantland is likely correct. It’s just that the then-v.-now debate always makes for such good barroom banter.

Best read I’ve had this week is Eric Duhatschek’s piece in The Athletic on Winnipeg Jets young defender Josh Morrissey. Really, really good stuff. If you’re looking for a reason to subscribe to The Athletic, this is it.

Josh Morrissey

On the subject of Josh, why all the fuss last week about him saying he wants to stay in Good Ol’ Hometown for the duration? “I want to be a Jet” screamed a Winnipeg Sun headline, in type size normally reserved for a declaration of war, moon landings or the assassination of JFK. People, people. I agree it’s swell that young Josh wants to stick around, because he does boffo work on the Jets blueline and he seems like the kind of lad you’d want your daughter bringing home for Sunday dinner. But it’s dog-bites-man stuff. It’s not news.
Here’s Josh in May 2018: “I love playing here, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in August 2018: “I love being here. I love playing here. I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in September 2018: “I love playing here and love being a Jet. I hope I can be here for a long time in the future.”
So he repeats what he said three times last year and it warrants a screaming headline? I shudder to think how large the type will be when he actually signs long term.

Speaking of the Winnipeg Sun and headlines, what’s up with that sports front this morning? There are pics of Bianca and hoops guy Kawhi Leonard towering over the CN tower and the Republic of Tranna skyline, with this captioning: “Bianca Andreescu and the Raptors got the country buzzing—and have changed sports forever in Toronto.” Excuse me, but we care about the sports landscape in The ROT why? The article was written by a ROT scribe, Steve Simmons, and aimed at a ROT audience. Neither the column or the cover belong in a River City rag. But it’s just the latest example of Postmedia’s pathetic Torontoization of its newspaper chain, and it sickens me.

I really hope boycotting women’s shinny players are getting on with their lives, because Dani Rylan isn’t in any hurry to shut down her National Women’s Hockey League to make way for an NHL takeover. “I see us as an international league spanning both the U.S. and Canada with a great broadcast deal, the best players in the world, and a fan base that is continuing to grow exponentially,” commish Dani told The Ice Garden. “So I think the options are endless. The future of women’s hockey is incredibly bright.” As for the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Dani reports that “unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us.” The five teams have 83 players under contract for a fifth season.

Be advised that I scribbled a good portion of this post while groovin’ to the Rolling Stones album BIG HITS (High Tide and Green Grass), which might be the best 12-song, 36-minute set in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve got Keith’s kick-ass guitar licks, the thumping beat of Charlie’s drum kit, Mick’s snarl and sass, and some of the best, straight-ahead rock songs ever written—Satisfaction, The Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Brilliant.

And, finally, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my entry into the rag trade, a quick tip of the bonnet to a few of my all-time faves, news snoops who made the journey more enjoyable and still inspire me: Dave Komosky, with whom I spent a sizable portion of 50 years in the trenches, young Eddie Tait, Knuckles Irving, Shakey Johnson and Ringo Mingo, Big Jim, Greaser, Uncle Tom, the Caveman, Homer, Ketch, Sinch, Swampdog, Scotty Morrison, Trent Frayne, Shaky Hunt, Willie Lever, Downsy, Jon Thordarson, Ronny (Les Lazaruk), Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Marty Falcon, Buzz Currie, Doc Holliday, the Friar, Sod, Pick, Witt, Cactus, Matty, Peter Young, Blackie, Reyn, Joe Pascucci. And thanks to the late Don Delisle for hiring me right out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate.

Let’s talk about Brad Marchand talking in tongues…sports in the key of F-bombs…Ab’s the man in St. Jimmy…ranking Ricky Ray…a fan boy in the press box…watching a train wreck…gay girl power in SI…a diamond is this girl’s best friend…and they’re at the post

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Mom’s Day to all the moms…

Read the following quotes, kids, then name the high-profile Boston athlete they target:

“(He) removed himself from the ranks of decent sportsmen. Yesterday he was a little man, and in his ungovernable rage, a dirty little man.”

“No grown man in full possession of his faculties would make the vile gestures that he made on one occasion.”

Gotta be that rotten, little scoundrel Bad Brad Marchand, right?

Ted Williams

Wrong. Try Boston Red Sox legendary hitter-of-baseballs Ted Williams, who harbored an extreme dislike for most people holding a pen and notepad and more than once spat at the hometown fans, calling them “buffoons.”

So I suppose we can say Marchand is in lofty company.

Bad Brad was at his petulant worst last week, and I’m not sure which sent up a greater plume of outrage, him licking an opponent’s face in spring 2018 or him having sport with news snoops in the current Stanley Cup runoff.

Either way, if Bad Brad didn’t have a tongue, opinionists would be lost for words.

Think about it.

A year ago this month, the Boston Bruins’ adolescent-like forward used an opponent’s face for a lollipop, and what ensued was an outpouring of scorn the likes of which is normally reserved for those on the sex offender registry. More latterly, this cringe-worthy fellow again has been the target of a verbal tomato tossing, this time for biting the very tongue he used to lick foes.

If you missed it, here’s how the most-recent tempest took grip:

  • Kyle Bukauskas of Sportsnet engaged Marchand in a rinkside natter scant moments before Game 6 of the Boston-Columbus Blue Jackets playoff skirmish last week. Asked a cheeky question about the sharpness of his skates, an offended Bad Brad dashed away.

  • Once the Bs had taken their measure of the Jackets, winning 3-nada, Bukauskas and Bad Brad again were rinkside. Three questions were delivered…three one- or two-word answers were provided.

  • Once inside the Bruins changing room, a media mob surrounded Marchand, offering 19 questions for his consideration. He countered with 19 answers—total word count 39.

Elliotte Friedman

“It’s almost like he’s making fun of us,” gasped an aggrieved Elliotte Friedman.

Imagine that. Marchand had the bad manners to take a poke at news snoops. Oh, the humanity!

“He goes into the scrum and it goes from being ticked off to actually getting enjoyment out of it, like it was a game to him or it was for his own amusement. That’s where it got really stupid and goofy,” offered Nick Kypreos.

Imagine that. A former National Hockey League meathead—who puts bread on his table by saying really stupid and goofy things—thinks someone else is being stupid and goofy.

Kelly Hrudey

“He’s just so immature and, you know, he’s not that clever. He’s gonna be 31 in a month. At what age do you sort of grow up a little bit?” chimed in Kelly Hrudey.

Imagine that. Three talking heads, three pairs of knickers in a twist.

The hand-wringing wasn’t restricted to the Sportsnet panel, though. Many others weighed in. Examples:

Darren Dreger, TSN: “This was him sucking his thumb over something. Disrespectful.”

Steve Whyno, Associated Press: “Just plain rude.”

Stu Cowan, Postmedia Montreal: “Marchand went into full-jerk mode.”

All that because Bad Brad was frugal with his words. Boo flipping hoo.

Bugsy Watson

Look, I agree, Marchand is a rat. He’s not the original rat, understand, because both Bugsy Watson and Ken Linseman beat him to it. Bad Brad has, however, surely cranked it up a notch on the creep-o-metre with his rather unconventional methods.

But here’s the deal, kids: No athlete, Brad Marchand included, owes news snoops quality sound bites. Nor are they governed by a word count.

You know what I’d do if I were Marchand? Next time they come looking for bon mots, I’d talk to them in tongues.

While listening to the fallout of this latest L’affaire Marchand, a couple of things occurred to me: 1) It truly exposed news snoops’ egg-shell egos; 2) where was this great hue and cry when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to “fuck off” in a post-match scrum? I also wondered if Wheeler received a tsk-tsking or a pat on the back from les Jets ownership/management.

Jurgen Klopp

It was F-bombs away in the wide, wide world of sports last week. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp launched the lewd language on live U.S. TV, then Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr parroted Klopp and, finally, Tranna Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo provided the backup vocals in the key of F. Of the three, Klopp’s WTF moment on the heels of Liverpool’s 4-nada win over Barcelona in Champions League play was my favorite:

Klopp: “You can look at this game in different ways. You can look at it as a manager and say, ‘Okay, we could have done this or that better,’ or you can look at it as a fan and say, ‘What the fuck was that?’”

Interviewer: “We apologize for the language there.”

Klopp: “I thought in America it’s okay.”

Here’s a boffo idea: Let’s say we name the shinny freeze at the St. James Civic Centre Complex in honor of Ab McDonald, first to wear the ‘C’ with les Jets. Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame president Don Kuryk, Teddy Foreman and city councillor Scott Gillingham are leading the push to do that very thing, and if old friend Teddy F. is behind it I say the mucky-mucks who make those decisions ought to be on board as well. Ab was a salt-of-the-earth guy, and the Ab McDonald Memorial Arena sounds spot-on.

Ricky Ray

Not spot-on is Matt Dunigan. In terms of quality quarterbacking in Canadian Football League history, the former gunslinger and present-day TSN gab guy insists that now-retired Toronto Argonauts QB Ricky Ray belongs “at the top” of the all-time greatest list. Matty knows quarterbacks, but I’m afraid he’s off the mark. You start with Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, then fit Ray in somewhere after that. And, just for the record, I’ve been watching CFL QBs since Jim Van Pelt and Ken Ploen were playing catch with Ernie Pitts and Farrell Funston. In other words, before Dunigan ran a bootleg out of his mama’s womb.

This is rich. Columnist Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun harrumphs in a tweet: “A Hall of Famer like Ricky Ray shouldn’t be announcing his retirement on a conference call. He deserves to go out with more pageantry for all he’s accomplished and meant to people.” So where did Simmons’ own paper play the Ray retirement story? They buried it on Pages 18-19 of the sports section, behind everything but the cricket scores and monster truck standings. Pot, meet kettle.

Apparently, Simmons possesses a very rare skill: He can type, wave pom-poms, and grovel at the same time. We know this because Simmons has penned a “heartfelt” fan boy letter to Kawhi Leonard, begging him to lock in longterm with the Toronto Raptors: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.” Oh my. Yo! Steve-o! Is there a Kawhi poster on your bedroom wall? You wear Raptors jammies to bed? I mean, I can’t recall ever reading such insipid, fan-boy tripe from a lead columnist at a major daily.

The Ice Garden website tells us there’s good news for women’s hockey: Online interest in distaff shinny has never been higher. Alas, there’s also bad news: It seems people just like looking at train wrecks. That is to say, folks and mainstream media are paying attention only due to the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a proposed boycott of the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League season. If not for the product going completely off the rails, interest would still be meh with gusts up to completely ignored.

Here’s a woman Sports Illustrated couldn’t ignore—Megan Rapinoe, longtime member of the U.S. National women’s soccer side. You can debate the merits of the SI Swimsuit Edition all you like, but Megan’s inclusion in this year’s scantily clad issue is a landmark moment for the LGBT collective. She’s the first out lesbian to be featured, so I guess we can say gay female athletes finally have some skin in the game.

On the subject of busting down barriers, bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Brittney Langlais, the first female to play with the boys in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League. The MJBL has been around for 43 years, so you know that Brittney is some kind of special lady, and Jason Bell has the skinny on the Interlake Blue Jays hurler in the Drab Slab.

If you’re looking to put some giddyup in your life, you can’t go wrong with Assiniboia Downs. The ponies start running on the western flank of River City this very day, and it brings back memories of some very enjoyable summer afternoons and evenings thanks to people like Sharon Gulyas and Darren Dunn. Both Sharon and Darren are Downs lifers—she started in 1978, him in ’82—and it’s nice to know they’re still around to make a day at the racetrack a pleasant experience.

And, finally, I saw a promo for The X-Files the other day, and it occurred to me that after all these years I still don’t know which one is Scully and which one is Mulder.

About Mike O’Shea’s stubborn streak…clothes don’t make the coach…Kent Austin still has a job?…strange brew from a Postmedia scribe…and Genie’s charisma

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

Mike O’Shea and Bill Belichick: Clothes don’t make the coach.

For the record, I think Mike O’Shea is a seriously flawed head coach.

His most notable wart would be his mule-like refusal to acknowledge blatant blunders. I mean, when a man makes a mistake and then tells the rabble that, yes, given the opportunity for a do-over he would make the same stupid gaffe again, he’s not someone who should have the nuclear codes.

But that’s O’Shea.

Did he learn from an ill-advised 61-yard field goal attempt that fell seven yards short of the target and ended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season last November at B.C. Place Stadium? Nope. Three days after the fact, O’Shea advised news snoops that, “Yup, absolutely,” he’d ignore logic and again put his faith in Justin Medlock’s left leg.

Did he learn from an ill-advised faux punt that turned potential victory into defeat a little more than a week ago vs. the B.C. Lions? Nope. “We’d do it again,” he confirmed.

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. I suppose it is. Unless your name is Mike O’Shea.

I swear, if it were up to O’Shea he’d have the Edsel back on the road. He’d say the guy at Decca records who rejected the Beatles made the right call. He’d let Custer have another go at all those Indians at the Little Big Horn.

So, ya, he’s stubborn like a Winnipeg winter is cold. It’s a flaw that, at some point, will likely cost him his job.

Until then, he’ll continue to keep us scratching our heads, and I’m guessing that he’ll keep doing it in a pair of short pants that somehow keep popping up as a talking point.

I’m sorry, but the significance of O’Shea’s pant legs escapes me. So the guy dresses like some shlub squatting on a street corner in Osborne Village, begging for nickels and dimes. Bill Belichick does, too. Even worse. He’s a hobo in a hoodie. But he’s also the best head coach in professional football. He’s just never let success go to his clothes, is all.

Jeff Reinebold: What a goof.

I can think of just one example of a coach’s wardrobe possibly impacting on team performance—Jeff Reinebold. He looked like a guy who got lost on his way to a beach volleyball game. He was a total goof-off. So were the Bombers under his watch. It was party time in flip-flops with Bob Marley until someone finally shot the sheriff, 32 games and 26 losses too late.

Calgary Stampeders 60, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 0-5. Only win-free outfit in the Canadian Football League. Fewest points scored, most points allowed. And head coach Kent Austin still has a job? How is this possible?

Pet peeve: Broadcasters and reporters who describe a short kickoff as an “onside kick.” All kickoffs are onside. They have to be, otherwise there’d be a five-yard penalty. Is that picky of me? Ya, about as picky as people who talk about O’Shea’s short pants.

So, here are the head counts at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry for the Bombers this crusade: 30,165 (Calgary), 25,085 (Toronto Argonauts), 25,931 (Montreal Alouettes). Average attendance: 27,060. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos play to larger audiences. This is a problem how?

In the D’oh! Department: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press refers to John Hufnagel and Wally Buono as “former coaches.” When last seen, Buono was standing on the B.C. Lions sideline and he wasn’t there as window dressing. He’s the Leos’ current, not former, head coach.

Some strange brew from Steve Simmons in his weekly three-dot column for Postmedia. Let me count the ways:

  1. He describes Ted Williams as baseball’s “greatest hitter ever.” Well, let’s see. The Postmedia columnist was born in 1957. He was barely out of the cradle the day Williams last swatted a baseball in 1960, hitting a dinger in his final Major League at-bat. I hardly think someone who was a three-year-old boy at the time and never once watched Williams play with the Boston Red Sox is qualified to determine anything about the Splendid Splinter.
  2. He writes this of three-down football: “I really wish the CFL faithful would stop telling people how many great games there are” Huh? You have a boffo product and you shouldn’t—repeat, should not—brag about it? And I thought Mike O’Shea said strange things.
  3. He writes this of women’s tennis: “The top tennis player in the world, according to the WTA, is Karolina Pliskova. The No. 5 player is Elina Svitolina. If either of those women knocked on your door and said hello, would have any idea who they were?” Well, Stevie, you’re supposedly the most-read sports columnist in Canada. If you knocked on my neighbor’s door and said hello, would she have any idea who you are?
Genie Bouchard

In the world according to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, tennis player Genie Bouchard is “this country’s most charismatic athlete.” Well, I’ve never met our girl Genie. Probably never will. So I can only go by what I’ve seen/heard/read on TV and the Internet, and she strikes me as sullen, guarded and totally lacking in charm. I can’t help but cheer for terrific young Canadian athletes like golfer Brooke Henderson and swimmer Penny Oleksiak, but I struggle mightily to root, root, root for our Genie. Henderson and Oleksiak are far more charismatic. So, too, is P.K. Subban. Henry Burris was charismatic. Pinball Clemons was the very definition of charismatic. Still is. Hey, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because I’m sure little girls flock to Genie. Just like they flock to Justin Bieber. It’s just that I find both her and him disagreeable.

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

About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

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

No. 4, Bobby Orr
No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?
Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.