The first Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and I can’t say how many more are to follow…
Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a trend with the Winnipeg Jets? Consider:
Evander Kane wanted out.
Jacob Trouba wanted out/tardy to training camp.
Josh Morrissey tardy to training camp.
Patrik Laine tardy to training camp.
Kyle Connor tardy to training camp.
Jack Roslovic wants out/tardy to training camp.
All young. All first-round draft picks.
Of that bunch, only Morrissey and Connor are locked in longterm with the National Hockey League club. Kane and Trouba vamoosed. Laine’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for Puck Finn and the Jets to part company, and if they’re saying it we can assume Laine put the notion in their noggins. Roslovic, meanwhile, will likely sign, then bide his time playing third- or fourth-line minutes—or eating popcorn in the press box—for a very modest wage until his wish for a new postal code is granted.
Losing four young studs isn’t how draft-and-develop is supposed to work. But when—yes, I said when—Laine and Roslovic are gone, it will have become the Winnipeg way. That’s not a good look.
But, hey, Blake Wheeler will still be there to ride shotgun for Rink Rat Scheifele, and I sometimes think that’s all that matters to the Holy Trinity of Jets co-bankroll Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice.
That’s not a good look, either.
Just a thought: Would the Holy Trinity ever part company with captain Wheeler the way the Boston Bruins discarded Zdeno Chara, the greybeard who wore the C for so many years? Not bloody likely. I say it’s even money that Wheeler is still captain of Winnipeg HC—and playing right wing on the first line if Maurice is still behind the bench—when he’s 43.
Always get a giggle out of Chevy’s gum-flappers, and he was in peak form last week during 40-plus minutes of to-and-fro with news snoops. The thing is, Chevy-speak usually requires de-coding because, when asked the time of day, the GM is apt to tell you how to build a watch. But that’s why I’m here. To translate his natter.
On Laine’s status and trade rumors lingering into the season…
What Chevy said: “I think, again, everybody is a professional and certainly, you know, I was a professional trying to do my job this summer in looking at all the different options, you know, to improve our team, and I think, you know, we have done that. As far as, you know, with Patrik, you know, again, I assume he’s probably gonna have one of the best years of his career, you know, given the group of players that we have and the professionalism that is there and the maturity level that, you know, that all players gain, you know, year over year over year, I think just, you know, helps us move forward.”
What Chevy really meant: “Sure other clubs called and asked if Patty’s available, but do the names Teemu Selanne and John Paddock mean anything to you? What do people remember John for? That’s right, for trading Teemu. You think I want them remembering me as the doofus who traded Patty for a couple of used jock straps? If he’s gonna score 50 goals, it’s gonna be here, not in Philly or Carolina.”
On the Jets maligned blueline, which has added only Derek Forbort…
What Chevy said (take a deep breath, kids): “Well, you know, again, we’re excited, you know, the opportunity to have him. You know, he’s someone that when he was in L.A., he put up some top minutes before he had an injury, put up some, you know, really good years playing against some good players, playing, you know, some shutdown roles, you know, he relishes the penalty kill, which is, you know, something that we, you know, look at improving. Obviously we’re excited that Dylan DeMelo, you know, chose to stay with us, you know, from a free agent standpoint. I’m sure there was…I know there’d be lots of opportunity for him elsewhere, you know, judging by the phone calls I got after, you know, we got him signed, so, you know, again, excited about having that. Really excited about, you know, again, just the continuity of, you know, Josh taking another step and Neal Pionk taking another step. Tucker Poolman, you know, now got a year, you know, under his belt, Sami Niku, just, you know, really hope that he can, you know, just take, you know, use training camp as an opportunity to springboard because there’s so much I think more, you know, in his game that unfortunately through, you know, injuries and the like…I guess we just have to make sure he doesn’t drive to training camp so he doesn’t get in a car accident and, you know, to kick things off. And then, you know, we’ve got some young players that, you know, looking forward to seeing. Dylan Samberg has not had the benefit of coming to an NHL training camp yet, so we really have, you know, we’ve kind of been frothing at the mouth for a couple years to get him into the pro ranks and, you know, now the time is here. Ville Heinola has had the benefit of playing over in Finland, you know, so his game, you know, hopefully will be at a level that will, you know, turn heads here, you know, right away. Obviously he had a great training camp last year and, you know, we’re just looking for, you know, obviously for him to come in and have matured that much more, you know, over the course of time. And a player like Logan Stanley, who’s had the opportunity to play two years of pro, you’re looking for that development and you’re looking for those guys to take that next step. We think we’ve got great depth and we’ve got a couple of guys that we think there’s a lot of room to grow with.”
What Chevy really meant: “Fingers and toes crossed. It’s all on Connor Hellebuyck to, you know, give us Vezina Trophy goaltending again or, you know, we’re up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle.”
Why are news snoops referring to it as the 2020-21 NHL season when all games will be played in 2021?
I agree, after his lengthy tenure with the Bruins, it’s going to be weird seeing Zdeno Chara in Washington Capitals garb this winter. It’ll be kind of like Pope Francis holding mass in Wrangler jeans, Tony Lama snake skin boots and a Stetson instead of his robe and pointy hat.
Is it too much for Sportsnet to tell Elliotte Friedman to drag a hair brush across his scalp? The man looks absolutely disgraceful and, again, there’s no chance a female broadcaster would be permitted to appear on camera looking like she spent the night sleeping in a back-alley dumpster.
Social note: Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban won’t be exchanging wedding vows after all. Engaged in 2019, the sports power couple called the whole thing off last week, and it’s hard to figure. After all, P.K. is one of the NHL’s most notorious divers. And now he’s not willing to take the plunge? Go figure.
Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law is now Tiz the Stud, and if you want the great bay stallion to service your mare the price tag is $40,000. Imagine that, $40,000 for sex. Tom Brady must feel ripped off. I mean, he screwed the New England Patriots and never got a dime for it.
This is rich: In a Twitter hissing contest, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star scolded musician/actor Stevie Van Zandt, who had the (apparent) bad manners to trash talk news snoops for the lame questions they ask athletes. “Don’t criticize things you’ve never done,” the pompous Cox harrumphed. That just might be the dumbest tweet…by anyone… ever. It’s a hot, steamy pile of stupid. Unless, of course, I was sleeping during those years when Cox played in the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS. Seriously. The guy’s made a career of crapping on athletes, coaches, managers, owners and officials. He’s a recreational golfer and wannabe tennis player who pooh-poohs pros of all stripes. He’s never spent five seconds in the White House, let alone presided over an entire nation, but he’s spent the past four years crucifying Donald Trump. But, hey, don’t you dare trash talk Cox or other news snoops unless you’ve held a notebook or microphone in a post-game scrum. As if. Like I said, a hot, steamy pile of stupid, and the Star continues to publish his alphabet farts.
Speaking of TorStar, it’s added former NHLer and current TSN gab guy Dave Poulin to its stable of sports scribes. That would be the same Dave Poulin who, in 2018, left Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot, even though the Edmonton Oilers captain was the NHL scoring champion and winner of the Ted Lindsay Award as the best player in the world. Note to self: Cancel Toronto Star subscription first thing on Monday.
It’s about Becky Hammon: Rock on, girl. Becky became the first female to coach a National Basketball Association team last week, taking the wheel of the San Antonio Spurs after bossman Gregg Popovich was told to leave the building in the second quarter of a skirmish v. the Los Angeles LeBrons. She joins a list of impressive “first” ladies in sports that includes Kim Ng, Katie Sowers, Kathryn Nesbitt, Callie Brownson and Alyssa Nakken, so don’t tell me that nothing good happened in 2020.
I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of jock journos and others in the rag trade listing their top 10 or 20 articles/columns from 2020. Never mind that it’s a rather arrogant exercise in ego-stroking, it seems to me that it’s the readers who should decide something like that.
I can’t remember 10 of my posts from last year, let alone 20, and I doubt the five or six people who read this blog can either. So I’ll spare one and all my greatest hits.
Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic lists his “top 10 Canadian sports media stories of 2020.” Nos. 9 and 10 are strictly about radio in the Republic of Tranna. Sigh. Only someone from The ROT would presume to believe those of us who live/work in the colonies actually give a damn. Oh, and apparently we haven’t been introduced to radio and TV, because not one of the “top 10” stories targets a Western Canada market. Or anywhere east of The ROT, for that matter. Double sigh.
There’s an old Righteous Brothers song with the lyrics “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Well, we can say the same about baseball, because the Big Ballpark In The Sky gained a helluva team last year. Included among the legends leaving our mortal coil were Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Phil Niekro, and how would you like to go into a World Series with those four as your starting rotation? Backing them up would be an infield of Bob Watson at first, Joe Morgan at second, Tony Fernandez at shortstop and Dick Allen at third, with Al Kaline, Lou Brock and Claudell Washington patrolling the outfield. The only position the Grim Reaper didn’t tap on the shoulder was catcher.
Canadian Football League outfits are busy getting signatures on contracts for a 2021 season, and that’s good news. The not-so-good news is that nobody has explained how Rouge Football works without people in the pews. As you know, commish Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill last year, hoping for a pogey cheque to cover the costs of an abbreviated season, but the CFL fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger and the feds rejected the beg. So how can it be doable this year? Even with a COVID vaccine available, head counts will be limited. Every skirmish will look like a Toronto Argos home game. And what’s left of rainy day funds can’t possibly cover operating costs of a full season, especially for community-run franchises like our Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Some players across the dominion have rejigged their contracts, but where’s the revenue to pay Bo Levi Mitchell $541,000, Mike Reilly $525,000 and Cody Fajardo $405,000, to name just three high-salaried quarterbacks?
Count me as shocked when I called up the Winnipeg Sun this morning to see an article about girls high school volleyball on the sports front. The tabloid doesn’t do local, other than the pro teams and curling. It doesn’t do women’s sports. So it was a pleasant surprise. Having said that, the Drab Slab continues to wallop the Sun in female sports coverage. Here are the numbers for exclusively female content in the 30 publishing days of December:
Sports front: 7
Days with female sports coverage: 27 of 30.
Sports front: 1
Articles/briefs: 8/2 (plus one sentence on Sarah Fuller)
Days with female sports coverage: 10 of 30.
And finally,I keep reading and hearing people write and say if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to be kind to one another. Seriously? You needed a killer pandemic to learn that?
This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.
It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.
It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:
I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.
I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.
I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.
I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.
I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.
I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.
I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.
I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Don Baizley, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.
I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.
I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”
I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.
I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.
I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.
I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.
I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.
I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.
I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.
I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.
I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!
I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.
I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.
I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.
I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.
The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I know, I know. You’ve probably had it up to your chin whiskers with chatter about Puck Finn, what with those pesky boys at TSN putting him near the top of their trade bait board, and every other pundit with a basement and a keyboard sending him to Philly or Carolina or Buffalo or Montreal or New Jersey or Minnyhaha or the Rocky Mountain foothills.
I swear, Dr. Richard Kimble didn’t move around this much on The Fugitive. The kid has been traded more often than a 1960s bubble gum card.
Except he hasn’t gone anywhere, has he Chevy? You brought him into the National Hockey League as a Winnipeg Jet, and he remains a Jet today.
Question is, will you be giving him a new postal code?
Just so you know, I don’t think pulling the trigger on a trade involving Puck Finn would be the biggest gaffe since the Edsel rolled off the assembly line, even if there’d be considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing among the rabble. Hell, the “you can’t ever, ever, ever trade Laine” mob is already in full squawk, invoking the name of Teemu Selanne.
You remember Teemu, of course, Chevy. The Finnish Flash. Wowed ’em with 76 goals in his first NHL crusade. Record still stands. Probably forever.
I’m guessing you remember John Paddock too, Chevy. Very nice man. A real salt-of-the-earth product by way of Oak River, and they don’t come much more honest and sincere than folks from rural Manitoba. But John’s name will go down in infamy as the man who sent Teemu to Disneyland. Memories are long and easily stirred, Chevy. They don’t want you making the same mistake.
But it isn’t wrong to part with Laine and his 138 goals. It’s only wrong if you don’t do it right.
I shouldn’t have to remind you that the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup less than two years after sending Wayne Gretzky to Tinseltown. Yes, Chevy, I realize the Oil hasn’t done much of anything since, but their Stanley Cup drought isn’t due to the Gretzky deal. It’s because Slats Sather also parted company with Mark Messier and Jari Kurri and Kevin Lowe and Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. And that’s not to forget Paul Coffey, who skipped town before Gretzky. Unload that many Hockey Hall of Famers and it’s a long road back.
In your case, Chevy, it’s not like you have a boatload of can’t-miss hall of famers, even if your head coach, Paul Maurice, believes there’ll be a statue of Rink Rat Scheifele outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie some day, right next to a likeness of Ducky Hawerchuk.
Fact is, Chevy, Laine might be the closest thing you have to a hall of famer, which explains the angst among the rabble.
Since he’s still a sprig in hockey terms, we can assume that Puck Finn’s most productive and finest playing days are in front of him. What that means is uncertain. Will it be a steady diet of 35-goal seasons? I’m sure 31 other NHL GMs would settle for that. The fear, though, is that Laine will go all-Ovi and put together a string of 40-plus, or even 50-plus, crusades in another locale. There’s no one else on your roster with that potential, Chevy. Not Scheifele, not Twig Ehlers, not Kyle Connor. And certainly not the captain, Blake Wheeler.
Wheels is one of your mistakes, Chevy. You should have sent him packing instead of signing him to a ridiculous five-year contract extension, and now he’s dug in like a tick in an Alabama dog’s ear. He’s 34 with four more seasons and a no-movement clause in his deal and, because Coach PoMo insists on blessing him with first-line minutes, Laine’s been required to skate alongside a hodge-podge of plug-and-play centre-ice men.
That 2C dilemma might become your undoing as Jets GM, Chevy. You’ve had three years to solve it and the best you’ve done is a couple of rent-a-centres in Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes. Now it’s strongly suggested that dealing Puck Finn might be your only solution.
It’s a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, Chevy.
I realize we’re suppose to wash our hands a lot these days, but I must say it’s discomforting to think you might feel obliged to wash your hands of a 22-year-old right winger with 40/50-goal potential, simply because you and the coach harbor the misguided belief that an aging, sloth-like Wheeler is a better bet at right wing. Now and down the road.
But, again, trading Laine is only the wrong thing to do if it isn’t done right.
We await your next move with anticipation, Chevy. Have a nice day.
A day-before-Halloween smorgas-bored…and let’s hope no one casts a spell on you…
I’m not sure where or how Zach Collaros is spending his down time this week, but if he’s been reading his press clippings and/or listening to natterbugs on air and on the street, the guy’s head ought to be the size of farmer Joe’s blue ribbon-winning Halloween pumpkin right about now.
Oh, yes, the hosannas continue to pour down on the walk-on-water quarterback, whose successful debut as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers starter has put the faithful into a tizzy.
Consider, for example, the musings of Doug Brown in the Drab Slab.
“A breath of fresh air in what had become a suffocating offensive situation,” is how Brown described Collaros after observing his handiwork in a 29-28 conquest of the Calgary Stampeders. “It’s rare that you would hand the keys over to any franchise after a single game, but if you didn’t see the difference and the potential of a Collaros-led offence Friday in contrast to the last few weeks or months, you simply weren’t paying attention.”
Fair to suggest, then, that we can count Brown among the many who expect (demand?) to see Collaros behind centre when Winnipeg FC engages either the Stampeders or Saskatchewan Flatlanders in the opening step of the Canadian Football League playoff dosey doe on Nov. 10.
I’m not prepared to argue with him, because Doug once put bread on his dinner table by scaring the bejeebers out of quarterbacks and stealing their lunch money, or anything else he fancied, so he knows QBs.
Meanwhile, the boys on the beat are bucking for QB Messiah, too.
Here’s Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: “If Collaros isn’t the guy tasked with leading this team to a Grey Cup with (Chris) Streveler back in his role as the short-yardage QB, then the Bombers don’t deserve to win. And they won’t.”
Here’s Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “If he remains upright, the guy makes the Bombers the league’s playoff wild card.”
That’s tall talk. But not unreasonable, given that the Bombers long ago established that they can go toe-to-toenail with either the Stamps or Flatlanders regardless which man is putting O-coordinator Paul LaPolice’s marching orders into motion, Streveler, Collaros or Matt Nichols.
My main concern is health.
I mean, if Collaros is the Chosen One on Nov. 10, he might not be able to answer the bell due to an upper-body difficulty—his big, fat pumpkin head and halo won’t fit into his helmet.
The Bombers took a healthy hit at the box office this season compared to 2018, which is bound to put a pair of grumpy pants on Wade Miller, the CEO whose job it is to convince the rabble that Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is the place to be at least nine times each summer/autumn. The final head count was 228,728 (via stats.cfldb.ca), a whopping dip of 13,195, and if we are to consider each lost patron as a 50-dollar bill, that’s a $659,750 whack to the bottom line. Can you say “ouch,” kids?
Major League Baseball has banned two women, Julia Rose and Lauren Summer, indefinitely for baring their breasts behind home plate during Game 5 of the World Series. Hmmm. That’s the same game Donald Trump attended. Looks like they booted the wrong boob.
As a rule, I’m not in favor of public nudity, but, hey, I’m all for anything that will keep me awake during four-hour baseball games.
I saw five pucks—on just 19 shots—get past Connor Hellebuyck on Tuesday night and he saw unicorns and fairy dust. Again. “It’s not like I’m coming in here and saying I played bad,” the Winnipeg Jets goaltender told news snoops after a 7-4 loss to the Disney Ducks in Anaheim. “I liked a lot of my game. I was just a little bit off. I liked the way I was playing. I liked the way I was feeling, I liked the way I was feeling the puck, and for some reason just (not) getting any of the lucky bounces.” I’m sure the Ducks liked his game, too.
Fun, but kind of creepy, story from old friend Teemu Selanne, who did the 20-questions thing with Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic and confirmed that former Jets captain Troy Murray once chowed down on a wine glass during dinner. “Oh my god, that was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” the Finnish Flash told Fitz-Gerald. “He ate a whole wine glass. Not the bottom, but the top part. He chewed that very close. Such small pieces. I was disgusted. But that’s what he did. It was unbelievable. I think he said that when you chew it, little by little—very small—it doesn’t hurt. But I would not try it.”
I think it’s important to note that Murray ate just the top half of the wine glass, which means no one can ever accuse him of being a bottom-feeder. (I know, groooooan.)
Teemu, by the way, also told Fitz-Gerald that he prefers the old Jets uniforms to the present-day duds, and I couldn’t agree more.
Great line from Matt Baldwin, 93-year-old Alberta curling legend who was on hand for this week’s launch of Terry Jones’ latest book, World Capital of Curling. “You know you’re getting old when you can’t remember where you left your walker.”
No doubt the Jones tome is boffo, but I’m afraid the title is a tad misleading, if not a big, fat fib. The book is an homage to Northern Alberta Pebble People, which is fine, but the rest of us know that the true “World Capital of Curling” is Good Ol’ Hometown—Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Old friend Jonesy knows that, too, but they’d probably stuff him in a broom bag and deport him to Lethbridge or Medicine Hat if he ever admitted it.
On the subject of Pebble People, nice to see local lad Matt Dunstone nail down his first Grand Slam of Curling title, winning the Masters in North Bay last weekend. Matt does his thing on the Flattest of Lands now, playing out of Regina, but he was weaned on the pebble of River City and we like to remind people of that whenever one of our own shows ’em how it’s done.
Tiger Woods won something called the Zozo on the weekend, and that’s not to be confused with Zsa Zsa or ZZ Top. The Zozo Championship was Tiger’s 82nd W on the PGA Tour, putting him alongside legendary Sam Snead atop the all-time leaderboard, so why am I still hearing people say Jack Nicklaus was a better golfer? Ya, sure, the Golden Bear has three more Grand Slam titles to Tiger’s 15, but if winning majors was the sole measuring stick, we’d be talking about Margaret Court as the greatest female tennis player in history. We know she isn’t. And Nicklaus isn’t the greatest golfer either.
And, finally, I can’t decide who to dress up as for Halloween, so I think I’ll just stay home and hope I don’t turn into a pumpkin.
A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m still a free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing and there ain’t no offer sheets on the way…
Let me guess. You’re underwhelmed.
I mean, the National Hockey League annual grab bag of teenage talent has come and gone, the frenzy that is Day 1 of free agency is behind us, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev are memories, the return on Jacob Trouba was scant, and there’s a hole the size of Don Cherry’s ego on the right side of the Winnipeg Jets’ defence.
In other words, the Summer of Chevy is unfolding as expected.
Kevin Cheveldayoff is paid to generally manage les Jets, but what we have here is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The system now dictates his every move. He was forced to deal Trouba. He was forced to watch Myers and Tanev skate away as UFAs on Monday. He’ll be forced to make Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp mega-millionaires. He might be forced to unload useful workers and, perhaps, elite talent. And, unless he can find a sucker or two, he’s stuck with some contracts that will grow old in a hurry, if they haven’t already (read: Byfuglien, Dustin; Wheeler, Blake; Little, Bryan).
In short, it’s a fine mess Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have gotten themselves into.
Granted, there’s still much heavy lifting in front of Chevy, and the rabble can always hope that he has a bit of Harry Houdini in him. Or that he can find some hats with rabbits inside. For now, though, it looks like the third defence pairing in October will be a couple of guys named Wing and A Prayer.
And to think, a year ago Winnipeg HC was viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Today they’d be lucky to win a cup of soup.
Chevy and the Puck Pontif (on the rare occasions when he’s spoken) have used up considerable oxygen reciting and trumpeting their draft-and-develop mantra. Which is fine. Except for all the good work their bird dogs have done identifying blue-chip kids, the braintrust is doing everything else all wrong.
That is, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff haven’t been building around Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and the departed Jacob Trouba. They’ve been building around the aforementioned Byfuglien, Wheeler and Little. They still are. And that’s totally bass ackwards.
Let’s forget for a moment what’s in their pay envelopes. Think term. Do you realize that Twig Ehlers is the only player—that’s right, just one!—with a longer-term contract than Wheeler and Little (both five years)? They’re 33 and 32 years old. No defender has more term than Big Buff (two more years). He’s 34. Those are the deals that Chevy and the Puck Pontiff continue to build around. And, now that it’s time to pay the piper in the form of re-ups for Puck Finn, Connor and Copp, those ill-advised contracts with their no-movement and no-trade addendums are in the way.
Wheeler, of course, is fresh off repeat 91-point seasons, so he isn’t spent, but if he keeps producing at that level into his shinny dotage someone will demand he pee in a bottle. That is to say, at some point his numbers have to drop faster than F-bombs at a stag. Big Buff, meanwhile, is a necessary evil now that Trouba and Myers have skipped town, and we all know Little is no longer a No.-2 centre. It’s just that Chevy ignores that obvious flaw until he gets his annual wakeup call before the NHL shop-and-swap deadline, at which time he’s moved to squander a first-round draft choice for a two-month rental.
Look, I concede there’s value to thirtysomething hockey players. I just don’t think a guy should be at the front end of a five-year term once his chin whiskers turn grey. And they certainly can’t be considered building blocks.
Like I said, it’s bass ackwards.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it interesting that Wheeler, Little and Big Buff are the only remnants of the Atlanta cartel that arrived in 2011. I’m not sure what that means, but it occurs to me that they’ve been coddled from the get-go. Just saying.
Looks like a couple of boys on the beat have been swilling the Jets Kool-Aid. Both Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Murat Ates of The Athletic used the same word to describe how we should view Chevy’s do-nothing handiwork—patience. Wiebe acknowledged that Winnipeg HC is in retreat mode, but he managed to find a silver lining in that cloud: “Reclaiming some semblance of underdog status probably suits the Jets just fine.” (I don’t even know what the hell that means.) He then stressed “the importance of patience for a small-market organization like the Jets.” Ates provided the backup vocals, opining, “I believe Cheveldayoff’s best play is to show patience.” Wow. I’ve gotta get me a pair of those rose-tinted glasses.
What say you, Pierre McGuire? Give us your take on the Summer of Chevy. “This pains me to say this, ’cause I think Kevin Cheveldayoff and all the people in Winnipeg have done a phenomenal job with their group,” the TSN natterbug said when asked to identify a “loser” on Day 1 of NHL free agency. “That being said, James (Duthie) talked about losing people, when you lose Jacob Trouba for nothing, basically, when you lose Tyler Myers for nothing, when you lose Tanev for nothing, you lose Kevin Hayes for a fifth-round pick, you’re losing a lot. That hasn’t even addressed Ben Chiarot yet. So that could be a lot of losses. Winnipeg is not as good. They’re not as good as they were a year ago.” Some of us feel your pain, Pierre.
Remember old friend Evander Kane? Of course you do. Chevy shipped out the young winger in February 2015 (along with Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf) and received a handful of live bodies in barter with the Buffalo Sabres—Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia—plus a draft pick he turned into Jack Roslovic. Myers is now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, which means Chevy has Roslovic to show for that transaction and Buffalo has Bogo. Would any of us take Roslo for Bogo today? I would.
TSN scout-in-residence, Craig Button, isn’t as high on les Jets top prospects as you might be. Naming Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Kristian Vesalainen, Mason Appleton, Logan Stanley, David Gustafsson, Simon Lundmark, Mikhail Berdin, Declan Chisholm and Santeri Vertanen as the top-10 wannabes, he gives Chevy’s bird dogs a B-minus for their work, worse than every Canadian club except the Calgary Flames, also a B-minus.
“Winnipeg’s list is populated by prospects projected to be middle-six, bottom-half-of-the-lineup NHLers,” he says.
This is interesting: According to NBC, the Edmonton McDavids, your Winnipeg Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs are the top road draws in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philly Flyers rounding out the top five. And here I thought the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was the best road show out of River City.
Hey, check it out. Old friend John Paddock scored a hole-in-one on the 12th at Clear Lake on the weekend. You’ll remember good, ol’ John as a terrific guy, but also the man who had the bad manners to ship Teemu Selanne to the Disney Ducks back in the day. The former Jets GM accepted Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger and a third-round draft pick in barter for Teemu, Marc Chouinard and a fourth-rounder. “In hindsight would you do it differently? Of course you would,” Paddock, now GM of the Regina Pats, told ESPN a few years ago. “But that’s hindsight. The owners talked about budget and contracts and trying to get a defenceman…and there was a health concern with Teemu…there were different factors.” Some of us were concerned for John’s health after that trade.
Let’s play Jeopardy! Your category: The Canadian Football League after Week 3.
Clue: This is what $2.9 million buys you these days. Answer: What is a zero-3 record?
B.C. Lions bankroll David Braley coughed up large coin for starting QB Mike Reilly, and I’m guessing he’s given more than a fleeting thought to a do-over. A donut in the W column and a 2,124 drop in attendance for the home opener can’t be what he had in mind.
Clue: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in an ice tub. Answer: Who are Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipkin and Bo Levi Mitchell?
Three starting quarterbacks down due to owies, six to go. At this rate, we can expect to see TSN natterbugs Matt Dunigan and Hank Burris back in pads and flinging the football by mid-August.
Clue: Seen mostly in B.C., Toronto, Montreal and, now, Edmonton. Answer: What are empty seats?
If the Eskimos didn’t perform in such a monstrosity of a stadium, the optics wouldn’t be so bad. But when you put 23,639 into a 60,081 facility, there’s more empty space than in Homer Simpson’s head. That’s not what Prairie football is supposed to look like.
Got a kick out of Megan Rapinoe’s comments after the Americans’ 2-1 women’s World Cup quarterfinal win v. France: “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science right there.” Seems ridiculous, but Megan makes a valid point as it relates to the World Cup. The website Outsports advises us that there are 40 out lesbians/bisexuals playing, coaching or on team support staff in France, and 19 of them are on sides that reached the last four—U.S. (6), England (3), the Netherlands (5) and Sweden (5). So it’s a fact: You can’t win without gays.
And, finally, a ship carrying 1,500 tons of Canadian garbage arrived on our shores last week, but there’s no truth to the rumor that Chevy was there to meet it and look for defencemen.
A mid-week, media-centric smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and a happy hump day to all you working stiffs…
A couple of weekends back, I mentioned something about cheering in the press box and entered a guilty plea on the charge of silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets in the final waltz of the final World Hockey Association playoff gala.
The key word is “silently.”
I totally understood the ‘no cheering in the press box’ mantra and I subscribed to it without reservation during my 30 years in the rag trade. More to the point, I was inclined to cast the stink eye at anyone who betrayed the precious, unwritten code that dates back to the first chisel striking a stone tablet following David’s epic upset win over Goliath.
Thus it was with interest that I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s thoughts on the matter at the conclusion of his recent hoops safari to the Republic of Tranna at the behest of the Drab Slab.
While the Jurassics and the Golden State Juggernaut had at it on the hardwood, Mad Mike found himself somewhat discomforted by the presence of the most scorned and tut-tutted of press box inhabitants—he/she who waves pom-poms.
“That’s just gross,” he opined. “To be clear, I didn’t witness this from any of the mainstream press—who I expect would know better—but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where ‘fan-friendly’ copy can score you easy clicks and likes.
“Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don’t cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time for deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.”
Well, let me say this about that (without being too loud) once again: Any news snoop who tells you that he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying. And because they have favorites, they want those people and/or teams to succeed. That isn’t wrong, nor does it make them sellouts to a sacred trust. It makes them human.
Imagine that. Sports scribes as humans. What a concept. It’s true, though. Especially among the women. I’ve yet to meet a female jock journo who isn’t human. The men, not so much.
But even the men are suckers for a good story from good people.
You think there wasn’t silent cheering in the press box at the old barn on Maroons Road when Teemu Selanne was about to shatter Mike Bossy’s rookie record for goal scoring in 1993? Teemu wasn’t just a fan favorite in Good Ol’ Hometown. He was a media darling. Scribes and talking heads loved the obliging, aw-shucks kid with the flashy nickname from Finland. They couldn’t get enough of him. So when Selanne passed Bossy, you wanted to stand up and damn well cheer.
Other things made you want to break down and bloody well cry, like a spring afternoon in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets bid farewell to the faithful and bolted for the Arizona desert. (I know, for certain, there were news snoops with tears in their eyes that day.)
The trick, of course, is to keep any bias on the down low while perched in the press box and, most imperative, prevent it from creeping into your copy.
To date, Mad Mike has managed to do that while sucking back his Diet Pepsi. But Big Sister is watching and reading.
Prejudice, you realize, can cut both ways. The most recent example of negative bias I can think of was the extreme and shameful hate-on former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek had for Jacob Trouba. The young Jets defender (allegedly) lied to Wiecek about a desire to play in Winnipeg, and the Freep scribe went into attack mode, never squandering an opportunity to discredit Trouba’s character, if not his play. It became an obsession, very personal, nasty and uncomfortable. That is as much a betrayal to the trade as standing up and cheering in the press box.
Here’s how legendary American columnist Red Smith handled a run-in with an athlete back in the day (from the book No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman):
“Over the years, of course, all sports writers, especially those assigned to and traveling with ball clubs, have difficulty with a ball player, or ball players. I never had anything as crucial as an actual fist fight, but I did have some differences with Bill Werber. This was when I was in Philadelphia and he was traded or sold. The A’s sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, and when the deal was announced I probably wrote something to the general effect of ‘Good riddance.’ I’m not sure. I didn’t care deeply for Bill. I thought he paraded his formal education. He was out of Duke, you know, and he used to correct the grammar of other ball players. There were things about Bill that didn’t enchant me.
“In 1939 the Reds were in the World Series. When we got to Cincinnati for the third game I went down to the bench before the game, and my old friend Paul Derringer said, ‘Hello, Red, you know Bill Werber don’t you?’ And Werber said, ‘Yes, I know the sonofabitch.’
“It went on, a tiny few exchanges like that, and then he said, ‘Get off this bench! Get out of the dugout!’
“I said, ‘No, I’m a guest here.’
“And he got up and shouldered me out of the dugout, just kind of strongarmed me out. I had my portable and I was strongly tempted to let him have it—with the typewriter. But I somehow didn’t feel like doing that on the field before the first World Series game in Cincinnati and so I left.
“I remember Charlie Dexter coming along behind me and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to protest to the Baseball Writers Association?’
“I said, ‘No, Charlie, the player doesn’t like me.’
“I didn’t speak to him again.”
Another interesting entry from Doug Brown on the pages of the Drab Slab. Despite evidence to the contrary in the 2018 Canadian Football League crusade, Doug’s not convinced that Chris Streveler is a suitable backup quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “It can take a lot more time to develop a pocket-passing acumen than a couple of starts, a year of practice and some preseason games. Call it a hunch, a best guess, but I’m not sure he eventually will.” Brown adds that Streveler’s “habits, and affinity for contact, aren’t sustainable for the long-term in the CFL.” Like I said, interesting. Brown, of course, saw some QBs during his time on D-lines in both the CFL and National Football League, but I’m saying he misses his “guess” on Streveler.
So, some dude named David Pagnotta from a blog called The Fourth Period cites “multiple sources close to the situation” and tells us that restricted free agent Patrik Laine plans to “explore” all his options. That, in turn, leads to rampant rumor that Puck Finn wants out of River City if les Jets don’t pony up to the tune of $10 million per season on a new contract. That’s where Tim & Sid weighed in on Sportsnet.
Tim Micallef: “Laine is an elite goal scorer.”
Sid Seixeiro: “But here’s the thing. Laine…there are some red flags on Laine a little bit. Would you not acknowledge? He’s extremely hard on himself, he’ll go in that slump…there are parts of Laine, when he’s scoring 45-plus you kind of ignore, but when he had a year like he had last year…look, they’re gonna pay him, they’re gonna keep him, I’m not saying they’re not. But his rep isn’t what it was 18 months ago.”
Tim: “But even then, so what do you drop to, a Phil Kessel? Like, honestly, the guy can score in his sleep, right?”
Sid: “When he’s scoring.”
Tim: “But when he’s scoring he ends up with 40, in and around. Right? Like, even with the slumps, he ends up with in and around 40, which, I don’t know if you checked, gets a lot of money in the NHL these days.”
Sid: “Oh, it does. Look, the Cheveldayoff thing and Laine, we’re gonna hear a lot of the breaking rumors, he is not leaving Winnipeg, he is signing long term in Winnipeg, he is not being traded, he is not exploring those options. Of all the restricteds, that one is gonna get locked down guaranteed.”
I’m with Sid, even though his numbers are a bit wonky (Laine has yet to score “45-plus” in a season). Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere. Not yet.
Strange tweet from Scott Stinson of the National Post: “No one from outside Ontario would dare cheer for the Maple Leafs. The Raptors, though…” What rock has that dude been hiding under? When les Leafs make their annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, it’s like they’re the home team. Stinson might want to get out of the house more often. Or at least stay up late enough to turn on his TV and watch les Leafs when they’re playing in the colonies.
D’oh boy tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: “More people watching these Raptor games in the NBA Finals than watch Grey Cups these days. That’s exceeding an annual piece of Canadiana. Think about that for a moment.” I don’t have to think about it. Although Cox doesn’t spell out what “these days” are, here are Canadian TV ratings from Grey Cup matches this century vs. the NBA final:
2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M 2019 Game 2 NBA final 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M 2019 Game 1 NBA final 3.3M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M
And, finally, I keep hearing pundits talk about hockey IQ and basketball IQ and football IQ, but I never hear anyone mention baseball IQ. I guess after listening to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, the notion of intelligent life on Planet Baseball was ruled out years ago.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.
The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.
“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”
And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.
I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.
“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.
“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”
My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.
“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”
“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.
Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.
And that set me to thinking…
I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”
Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.
Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.
Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.
Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.
Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.
Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.
Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.
Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.
If it’s Sunday, it must be time for another sports smorgas-bored…all opinions are mine except those that the devil made me write…
Top o’ the morning to you, Mike O’Shea.
Has the fog lifted? Can you see clearly now? Do you recognize what’s in front of you? Ya, that’s right. A playoff spot. It’s there for the taking, like a nerdy school kid’s lunch money. Just beat the suddenly very beatable Calgary Stampeders on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry and your Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in.
So here are your instructions, Mikey: Now is not the time for one of your dumb-ass brain farts.
You know what I’m talking about. But just so we don’t have a failure to communicate, I’ll spell it out for you: Do not attempt a field goal from 61 yards out unless Hurricane Helen is at Justin Medlock’s back; do not fake a punt when a) scrimmaging deep inside your end of the field, and b) when holding a lead.
In other words, Mikey, stay the hell out of your own way.
Now, I realize that you’re fond of hocus-pocus football, but here’s the deal: You’re a football coach, not Penn & Teller. Darcy Oake isn’t your special teams coordinator. Still, I’m guessing you’ll feel the urge to attempt some trickery and gimmickry vs. the Stampeders. Well, fight it off like Chris Walby pushing away from the dinner table when there’s still chicken and dumplings on his plate. If you can’t, just use your smoke and mirrors at the right time and place.
Aside from that, Mikey, you’re on your own.
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t trust the Winnipeg FC head coach to steer clear of his own mad scientist impulses. During O’Shea’s five-year run as sideline steward in River City, he’s made a habit of allowing his kooky notions to interfere with logic. In both the 2016 and ’17 West Division semifinals, for example, he self-destructed with flim-flammery. Canadian Football League champions are seldom born of magic acts. Unless, of course, your quarterback is named Doug Flutie. Thus, O’Shea would be wise to get the ball into Andrew Harris’ hands early and often and leave the illusions to Penn, Teller and Oake.
So, pick your poison. Would you rather have Winnipeg FC try their playoff luck on the Prairies or take the scenic route in the east? Finish third and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders are in front of them on the road to the Grey Cup game. Cross over into Ontario and the Bytown RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats lie in ambush. My advice: Go west, young men.
Okay, I confess, I had the B.C. Lions written off halfway through this CFL crusade, yet the Leos qualified for the Grey Cup runoff with a thoroughly convincing victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Friday night. So why is it that I’m still not convinced they’re legit? Perhaps it’s because the starting QB, the very capable Travis Lulay, is as brittle as a piece of burnt toast.
Having said that, I think the Grey Cup would be a lovely parting gift for Leos head coach Wally Buono.
The discussion has begun about the Bombers nominee for most outstanding player. If I had a vote, which I do not, it would go to beastly linebacker Adam Bighill. I’m confident that the boys and girls on the Winnipeg FC beat will get it right.
On the subject of outstanding jocks, it’s about the Connor McDavid-Auston Matthews who’s-the-best debate: Both Sidney Crosby and Rink Rat Scheifele have entered the fray and say McDavid is the National Hockey League’s leading man.
Here’s Crosby: “I think McDavid has set himself apart just based on the awards and the accolades he’s gotten and the consistency he’s had. I think it’s fair to say it’s an easy pick just because of that. It’s hard to argue (against McDavid). He’s been really consistent, he’s won scoring titles, MVPs. So, ya, that’s an easy one to pick.”
Here’s the Rink Rat: “Matthews is a star in this league and he’s going to get better. But he’s not at McDavid’s level just yet.”
That’s good enough for me. Case closed.
Question about the Winnipeg Jets: Is Bryan Little dragging down Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine, or are they dragging him down? Please discuss among yourselves.
Out of curiosity, I read one of Andrew Berkshire’s offerings in the Winnipeg Free Press last week and, not surprisingly, it included a whack of numbers and a couple of charts to interfere with all the words. Basically, those numbers and charts were designed to assure the rabble that all is well with Twig Ehlers. “He’s doing all the right things to create goals,” Berkshire wrote. He added that Twig is “One of the most dangerous players (in the NHL) once the puck crosses the blue line.” Well, sure…if your idea of “dangerous” is zero goals and three points in eight games. That translates into a 30-point season. I have no quarrel with the crunching of fancy numbers in hockey, but Ehlers is paid $6 million a year to provide offence, and no amount of fancy stats can sugar-coat the reality that Twig isn’t delivering. Zero goals is zero goals. Those are the only numbers that matter. No charts required.
Still can’t get over the play of Ehlers and Puck Finn on the goal that gave the Edmonton McDavids a 5-4 extra-time win over les Jets last Tuesday. It was shocking. I mean, it’s one thing to make an ill-advised pass (Ehlers) that turns the puck over to Darnell Nurse in the Edmonton end of the freeze. Hey, brain cramps happen. But the effort by both Jets forwards once Nurse arrived at the home side’s blueline was pathetic. Puck Finn made a feeble, ultra-lazy, one-handed wave of the stick, as if trying to tickle Nurse, then coasted. Ehlers performed an Ice Capades routine inside the zone, making a quick side step and a dainty wave with his stick. Unacceptable effort. Yo! Boys! That isn’t PlayStation hockey. It’s the NHL. Hard work isn’t an option. It’s mandatory.
Am I wrong to suggest Laine is a great goal-scorer but an average player? That’s my reading on him this month. At times he’s looked lazy, at times he’s looked very slow, at times he’s looked clumsy, at times he’s looked out of shape, at times he’s looked like he doesn’t have a clue. And, to think, many were calling him Finnish Flash II when he arrived in River City. That was an insult to Teemu Selanne then and it is today.
Weed became legal in Canada on Wednesday. The striped shirts handling the Vancouver Canucks-Jets joust the following night celebrated by stinking out the joint.
If I’m the people in Seattle and I’m allowed to take any of les Jets defenceman to start my expansion club, it’s Josh Morrissey. Kid’s got game. When I look at the tea leaves, I see numerous 50/60-point seasons ahead for the young rearguard. With gusts up to 70-75 points.
On a whim, I visited the Winnipeg HC website to see what, if any, tickets were available for the Saturday afternoon set-to vs. the Arizona Coyotes. Turns out there were plenty. Lowest single-ticket price $59.90; top price $235. If you wanted to take a date, though, you were looking at a $206-$470 hit (for two tickets). My reaction: What kind of a loser has $470 to spend and takes a date to see the Coyotes?
Suitable that the turning point in the Boston Red Sox-Houston Astros series was the grand slam surrendered to Jackie Bradley Jr. by Roberto Osuna in Game 3. Houston ownership/management, which trumpets a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence, believed they needed Osuna’s right arm to successfully defend their Major League Baseball title. They found out differently. So the question now is this: How long before the hypocritical Astros unload their woman-beating relief pitcher like he’s yesterday’s potato peelings?
And, finally, we have a throwback World Series, featuring the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the favored team of my youth. For me, this is like comfort food. Two traditional outfits, wearing the same classic unis as they did in the 1960s, and frolicking in two of the three oldest ballparks in MLB. Buy me some peanuts and crack me a beer. Let’s play ball! (And go Dodgers!)