Winnipeg Jets: No more excuses for head coach Paul Maurice

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

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

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

Paul Maurice

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

Time to deliver the goods, Coach Potty Mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer celebrate the iconic goal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theoren Fleury

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

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

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

 

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Don Baizley belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame

“I don’t know if I can put into words what Don (Baizley) meant to the game. I don’t know if there’s any one individual I’ve met in my life who’s had a more meaningful, more profound impact on the modern game of professional hockey.”

—Mark Chipman, co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets

 

Don Baizley is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, nor the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame.

He should be in both. As a builder.

I bring this to your attention today because the HHofF class of 2014 is to be inducted on Monday and none of the select six is named Don Baizley, the Winnipeg-based lawyer whose 71 years of being an honest-to-gosh good guy gave way to non-smoker’s lung cancer in July 2013.

As many of you know, Baizley maintained a small stable of clients that represented a who’s who in the National Hockey League and on shinny ponds on the other side of the ocean—Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri, Peter Forsberg, Kent Nilsson, Paul Kariya, Theo Fleury, among others. But to brand him as merely a player agent to the stars is insufficient. Baizley was a trail blazer. He helped redefine the game in the mid-1970s, prior to which both the NHL and World Hockey Association were parochial in scope. That is to say, if you weren’t Canadian or American by birth you need not apply.

Oh, sure, there were a handful of Europeans pre-1974. Pentti Lund, born in Finland but raised in Canada from the age of six, was NHL rookie-of-the-year in 1949. Slovak-born Stanislav Guoth, better known as Stan Mikita, was a much-decorated centre with the Chicago Blackhawks. Ulf Sterner played four games with the New York Rangers in 1965. Thommie Bergman was in the employ of the Detroit Red Wings in the early ’70s. Borje Salming was wearing Toronto Maple Leafs linen. Ditto Inge Hammarstrom.

Basically, however, Euros were as rare as buck teeth on a super model. The prevailing logic insisted Euros weren’t equipped with adequate-sized gonads to be successful in the NHL, where ruffians often ruled the day (see: Big Bad Bruins, Broad Street Bullies).

Then along came the 1974 Winnipeg Jets. And Dr. Gerry Wilson. And Billy Robinson. And Don Baizley.

Dr. Wilson, a surgeon whose specialty was sports-related owies, was doing a post-grad gig in Sweden in 1973 when a fleet right winger caught his attention. The name was Anders Hedberg. The good doctor also liked what he saw in a kid named Ulf Nilsson. And, hey, this guy Lars-Erik Sjoberg was none too shabby on defence. So Doc Wilson put in a call to the Jets, then the flagship franchise in the WHA, and they, in turn, dispatched bird dog Billy Robinson to Tre Kroner country for a look-see at these hot-shot Swedes. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hedberg, Nilsson, Sjoberg and goaltender Curt Larsson represented the first wave of Europeans to arrive on North American shores and, in due course, they proved beyond all reasonable doubt that their junk was plenty big enough to not only succeed, but to excel on the frozen ponds of North America.

Hedberg and Nilsson, in particular, were ceaselessly assailed by extremely disagreeable sorts such as Bad News Bilodeau and Frankie Beaton of the Birmingham Bulls, plus a boatload of barbarians employed by other WHA outfits. These “chicken Swedes,” after all, were taking jobs away from good Canadian boys. The nerve. So they were whacked, hacked and brow beaten to unparalleled levels. Their bodies were bruised as blue as the Jets jerseys they wore. Talk about culture shock. But they endured, in large part due to the guidance of Don Baizley.

Baiz’s influence on the game cannot be under-valued. He didn’t just get big bucks for his clients. He took them under his wing. He was their confidante. Their mentor. He provided them a comfort zone, a place where they could grow as hockey players and, more important, people.

His handling of the fabulous Swedes did not escape the notice of other Scandinavians. Soon Veli-Pekka Ketola was with the Jets. Heikki Riihiranta, the aforementioned Bergman, Willy Lindstrom, Mats Lindh, Dan Labraaten, Kent Nilsson were to follow. Those Euro-flavored WHA Jets played a dazzling, free-wheeling brand of hockey. Brute force gave way to beauty, which translated into titles and provided Glen Sather a blueprint in constructing his remarkable Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s.

So, you see, Baizley was at the forefront in the reshaping of the professional hockey landscape. He was there for close to 40 years, yet this man who helped change the face of shinny preferred to operate in the background. It was never about him. He was, if you will, the anti-Eagle.

I refer, of course, to Alan Eagleson, the notorious player agent who landed in lockup after playing fast and loose with his clients’ money. The Eagle was self-aggrandizing and self-promoting. If the Eagle was involved, everything else was background noise.

That wasn’t how Don Baizley rolled.

Baiz wanted to talk about himself like Gary Bettman wants to live in the north end of Winnipeg. He was more interested in others. He placed value on who you were and what you did. He always made you feel better about yourself and your work.

During my 30 years in sports journalism, I never met a better person than Don Baizley. Not one. So when the giants of the game gathered in July 2013 to salute another giant of the game, you had to believe them when they told you that Baiz was an honest, humble, trustworthy, humorous, generous, loving man. It’s all true.

The guy was an honest-to-gosh hall of fame person.

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