Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this blog is officially listed as day-to-day…
First of all, Patrik Laine wasn’t a swing and a miss for Kevin Chevldayoff and his bird dogs.
When the ping pong balls bounced their way at the National Hockey League’s 2016 draft lottery, they wisely used that good fortune to claim Puck Finn with the second shoutout at the annual auction of teenage wannabes.
The kid’s a stud, and there’s been scant second-guessing the Winnipeg Jets’ choice, even if hindsight suggests a case can be made that Matthew Tkachuk might have been a better way to go.
Laine mostly delivered as the Jets had hoped, with 36-, 44-, 30- and 28-goal crusades, plus two more snipes in the opening gambit of his fifth season, which has been temporarily derailed due to an undisclosed upper-body owie of unknown origin.
Unfortunately, somewhere and somehow, the Jets-Laine union hit a very large pothole and we’re left to wonder what went wrong.
None of the usual suspects were willing to drill down to the core of the matter on Saturday after Chevy had completed his latest bit of handiwork, sending Laine to the Columbus Blue Jackets in barter for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Puck Finn spoke. General manager Chevy spoke. Potty-mouth coach Paul Maurice spoke. Captain Blake Wheeler spoke. Trouble is, it was nothing but hollow blah, blah, blah. We still don’t know why a 22-year-old stud with 140 notches on his shooting stick was expendable.
So we speculate, and here’s my guess: Coach PottyMo and Wheeler chased him out of town.
In his sole frolic this season, Laine was given 16 minutes, 20 seconds of ice. Wheeler logged 21:27. Maurice stubbornly insists that the 34-year-old captain is a better bet at right wing, and that wasn’t about to change. No matter the numbers either player put up. So Puck Finn put a bug in his agent’s ear, whispering something about the desire for a new zip code, and he’ll now be collecting his fan mail at 200 W Nationwide Blvd., Columbus, OH 43215.
And that isn’t a good optic for Chevy.
None of us knows for certain what it would have taken to make Laine happy, but we can assume that Chevy wasn’t prepared to instruct Coach PottyMo to up the big Finn’s ice time. We can also assume that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, had a sizable say in the matter, because you don’t part company with a player of Laine’s loft without the owner signing off on the deal. Which means he’s okay with the reality that he’s now had four first-round draft picks and/or their reps walk into the GM’s office and request and receive a one-way ticket out of town—Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Puck Finn and Jack Roslovic.
So, rather than a mantra of draft-and-develop, it’s become draft-develop-defect.
Oh, yes, I realize that a handful of the Jets young studs have locked in for the long haul, but having four walk away is at least three too many. And, in Laine’s case, it didn’t have to shake down this way.
Rather than reward Wheeler with a ridiculous five-year extension (including a No-Move Clause) in 2018 and stunt Laine’s growth, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff should have cut the captain adrift. He would have fetched a handsome return, certainly better than he would today or two years from now given the dog ears on his birth certificate.
Instead, they opted to keep the senior citizen over the young gun, which I’m sure makes no sense to most of us outside the Jets think tank.
Hey, anyone can be traded, including Patrik Laine. And the Jets will learn to live without Puck Finn. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be traded. Chevy and the Puck Pontiff bungled this one. Badly. And if they can’t convince Dubois to sign up for the long haul, they’ll really wear it.
Remember last October when Chevy brought Paul Stastny back on board? According to the pundits, it was a move designed to put a happy face on Laine. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, for example, wrote this: “One thing I no longer expect to see based on this week’s events is a trade involving Patrik Laine. The Jets didn’t bring Stastny and his big cap hit in just to send their Finnish sniper packing. They brought him in to play with Laine, a paring (along with Nikolaj Ehlers) that had great chemistry during the 2018 run to the Western Conference final.” Others provided backup vocals. So how’s that working out?
I always enjoy reading what the boys on the beat have to say about these big trades. Here’s a sampling:
Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun: “The Winnipeg Jets’ trading of Patrik Laine to the Columbus Blue Jacks is an abject organizational failure.”
Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet: “By strengthening themselves down the middle, the Jets have taken an important—and necessary—step to widening their collective window of contention. It came at a significant cost, but this blockbuster was a risk worth taking for the Jets.”
Murat Ates, The Athletic: “What does this acquisition mean for the rest of Winnipeg’s roster? The shortest, simplest read is that the Jets want to build strength down the middle and just traded a power-play star at right wing for an even-strength star at centre. It also gives Winnipeg the best player in the trade, while acknowledging that Laine’s potential for growth is as big of a wild card as he is.”
Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “Cheveldayoff has to bear responsibility for what has happened here—the trading of a very popular young star. He was unable to get Laine signed to a long-term deal before last season and the Jets salary cap situation—based on long-term deals given to other players—made it unlikely they’d be able to do so after this season. The cost, as it turns out, is the Jets traded two first-round draft picks for a player who was taken third overall. On paper, it simply looks like too much. The pressure will be immense on Dubois to make it look more even.”
Has there been a bigger swap involving local jocks than Laine-Dubois? I can think of just one—Dieter Brock to the Hamilton Tabbies for Tom Clements in 1983. Hall-of-fame quarterback for hall-of-fame quarterback. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup with Clements behind centre one year later, beating Brock and the Tabbies.
This is rich: Rebel News has started a petition to have disgraced hockey-talker Don Cherry succeed the disgraced Julie Payette as Governor General of Canada.
“He’s a loyal monarchist, perhaps the most loyal monarchist in the county!” the far-right wingnuts at the Rebel write. “And he upholds our Canadian values. Unlike Payette, he represents what it means to be Canadian. There is nobody more dignified and worthy of filling this historic and noble role for Canadians than Don Cherry.”
Hoo boy. That’s a whole lot of stupid.
When last seen and heard, Grapes was on Hockey Night in Canada, demonizing “you people that come here” (read: immigrants) because they enjoy “our milk and honey” but have the (apparent) bad manners to not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. After decades of similar rants peppered with bigotry, zenophobia, misogyny and anti-Quebec sentiments, they finally took away the Lord of Loud’s bully pulpit, yet now the Rebel would have him become Queen Liz’s official rep and take up residence in Rideau Hall. What next? Ron MacLean at 24 Sussex Drive?
I’m sure Queen Liz has enough worries with the royal litter without having to explain Don Cherry and his wardrobe to her loyal subjects loitering outside Buckingham Palace.
Big tidings from the Toronto Blue Jays camp last week, with the addition of outfielder/slugger George Springer, late of the cheating Houston Astros. Apparently Springer leaked the news of his signing by banging on the lid of a trash can.
There’s a fabulous anecdote about Bobby Hull, his boy Brett and Kelly Chase in James Duthie’s book Beauties, whereby they let the wolf loose after a game one night in Chicago, returning to the Drake Hotel at 2 o’clock in the a.m.
“The Drake has this elderly gentleman working the elevators, all dressed up with white gloves on,” Chase says. “He recognizes Bobby right away and says, ‘Mr. Hull, pleasure to meet you.’ Bobby says, ‘Good evening, young man. Could you press floor one for me?’ And Brett goes, ‘No, dad, we’re on three.’ Bobby says, ‘Goddamnit, I said press one!’ And out he goes on the first floor.
“We go up to our room, and a few minutes later, in walks Bobby with this food tray. He’s got a quarter of a clubhouse sandwich, a piece of pizza and a couple of chicken wings. I’m like, ‘What the…?’ And Bobby says, ‘Wasteful bastards! This is how Stan Mikita and I ate in the old days. He took the even floors, I took the odd!’
“This is my idol! Then they bring the cot up, and Bobby is insisting on sleeping on the cot. Well, there is no way I am letting Bobby Hull sleep on a cot, so I take it. Bobby goes into the bathroom, comes out, whips the rug off his head, hangs it on the bedpost and gets in bed. The first time I meet my idol, and he’s eating off food trays left outside people’s doors and his hair is hanging on the bed!”
Ya, that sounds about right.
Can’t let the day slip away without mentioning Henry Aaron, because the home run champ’s death on Friday meant another chunk of my youth has been snatched away.
Hammerin’ Hank, you see, was my older brother Richard’s favorite baseball player. Mickey Mantle was my younger brother Mick’s main man. Mine was Sandy Koufax. We’d squabble the way kids do, nattering about who was the best of the three—the rakish Black man from Mobile, Ala., the brawny Okie who spent his early off-seasons working in lead and zinc mines with his dad, or the soft-speaking Jewish kid from Brooklyn.
None of us budged from our positions. Still won’t.
I do, however, concede and conclude that Aaron traveled a more challenging path to baseball immortality because, whereas both Mantle and Koufax wrestled with chronic ailments, it was death threats for Hammerin’ Hank. Not just to him, but his family.
The nearer Aaron came to reeling in Babe Ruth and laying claim to the greatest record in sports—714 career home runs—the greater the peril for the Atlanta Braves outfielder. Not all of America was prepared to accept a Black man usurping the Sultan of Swat. Not in the 1970s. Yet Aaron soldiered on, swatting dingers and chasing the larger-than-life Bambino until the night of April 8, 1974, when he sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field fence and into the Braves bullpen. He had touched ’em all for the 715th time.
“What a marvelous moment, for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. It’s a marvelous, wonderful, enjoyable moment here in Atlanta,” is how legendary broadcaster Vin Scully described it.
Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the Winnipeg Tribune building, anxious to lay out and design the next day’s sports section. Even though the Jets had opened a playoff series vs. Houston Aeros that night, I relegated them to the inside pages. The sports front was reserved for the great Henry Aaron. Every inch of it.
Jared Porter has been outed as an oinker of the highest rank and, thankfully, the New York Mets squandered nary a nano-second in defrocking their creepy general manager.
Mind you, it’s not like the Amazins had any choice.
I mean, Porter’s one-man crusade to bed an unidentified female reporter while overseeing the Chicago Cubs stable of scouts in 2016 was as relentless as it was disturbing. More than 60 times he hounded the woman with come-hither texts and pics, the last of which brought an erect penis into focus, and it doesn’t matter that he claims the erect-penis pic he sent wasn’t a pic of his erect penis.
“The more explicit ones are not of me,” Porter assured ESPN. “Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”
Oh, ya, unwelcomed graphic porn is a real knee-slapper, Jared.
Listen, most women I know appreciate a man with a healthy sense of humor, but some scuzzball visiting porn sites and playing copy-and-paste with images of boners doesn’t qualify as giggle-worthy.
It’s sad, pathetic, dangerous and no one’s idea of slapstick.
Fortunately, the Mets did every female news snoop a solid by kicking Porter to the curb, and I can’t imagine any other Major League Baseball team bringing him and his baggage on board.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of Postmedia treating the Winnipeg Sun like the red-hair, freckle-face step-child of the chain. When I call up the Postmedia tabloids in the Republic of Tranna, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, I normally find seven or more pages in the sports section. In Good Ol’ Hometown it’s usually four pages. Some days just two. Other days there’s two pages of sports near the front of the rag and two more near the back. Ridiculous.
And, finally, I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did. At least six times between February 2019 and last week, I warned you that Patrik Laine would not finish his career in Good Ol’ Hometown. Moreover, I posed this question in June 2016, days before the Jets drafted him: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?” Puck Finn conceded on Saturday that “it wasn’t the right fit for me and for the team.”
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.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s another long weekend until the next long weekend…
Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the hop:
Babe Ruth was sold. Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Mets told Nolan Ryan to get lost. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of the U.S. Midwest and the Milwaukee Bucks obliged. Three husbands dumped Marilyn Monroe.
So don’t talk to me about untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
I mean, untouchables? You’re talking untouchables? Tell that to Peter Pocklington.
Peter Puck’s the dude who dispatched Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, then sat in a flashy convertible during a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton less than two years later.
It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, and we need look no further than Fenway Park in Boston for evidence. The Red Sox peddled the Bambino to the dreaded Evil Empire in New York for the kingly sum of $100,000, the first of four $25,000 payments made on Dec. 19, 1919.
“I do not wish to detract one iota from Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer nor from his value as an attraction, but there is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth in the race last season,” Bosox bankroll Harry Frazee harrumphed. “What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team which finishes in sixth place.”
Well, the Red Sox didn’t celebrate another World Series championship until 2004. Ruth and the Yankees, meanwhile, sprayed each other with bubbly after seven American League pennants and four WS victories by the time the Sultan of Swat bid adieu to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium in 1934.
So, ya, parting ways with a young blue-chipper can blow up in your face like a Wile E. Coyote scheme gone wrong, but the value is in the return. Always.
Frazee accepted paper money in barter for Babe Ruth. Poor return. Pocklington, on the other hand, insisted on live bodies (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas) in exchange for Gretzky, plus first-round picks in 1989, ’91, ’93, plus $15 million of Bruce McNall’s bankroll. The Oilers won a title sans No. 99, the Kings had a sniff in 1993 but never won with him.
Which brings us back to the Jets and untouchables.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answers the phone one day and it’s Joe Sakic on the line. The Colorado Avalanche GM is offering Cale Makar. He wants Patrick Laine in return. Is Chevy supposed to say “Sorry Joe, but Patty’s an untouchable,” and hang up? Maybe Jim Benning will call and offer up Quinn Hughes, asking for Nikolaj Ehlers in barter. You don’t really believe Chevy would decline because “Nik is an untouchable” do you?
Sorry, kids, but there hasn’t been an Untouchable since Eliot Ness and accomplices went after Al Capone’s booze dens in Chicago.
Certainly there are players you’d like to keep in Jets linen, but if the right offer falls onto Chevy’s lap, damn straight he has to pull the trigger. (Assuming, of course, that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, gives it the official okie-dokie from on high.)
This, remember, is an outfit that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. A side that hasn’t won a post-season skirmish since skating to the National Hockey League’s final four more than two years ago. So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn, Josh Morrissey or Kyle Connor.
If the right deal comes along, you do it.
What about goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck, you ask? Same thing. In case you haven’t noticed, with the exception of Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams still alive in the current Stanley Cup runoff are doing it without Vezina Trophy-winning puck stoppers. The Colorado Avalanche were one Michael Hutchinson save away from advancing to the final four. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Thatcher Demko. The New York Islanders won Game 7 vs. the Philly Flyers with backup Thomas Greiss in the blue paint. And don’t get me started on Anton Khudobin. So repeat after me: There should be no untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
In this, the strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will be the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. I swear, there hasn’t been this much confusion about legs since Joe Namath did that pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.
No horse had better legs than Authentic on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky-bred bay colt showed 14 other ponies his heels in the Run for the Roses, which means his four legs now have one leg. And if that sounds like some kind of a Zen koan, blame it on the Dalai Jocklama.
Normally, of course, the Kentucky Derby goes to the post the first Saturday in May, and the pews at Churchill Downs are full of fashionable ladies trying not to spill their mint juleps while bumping into one another with their big hats. Not so on the first Saturday in September 2020. The grandstand was basically barren before and after Authentic stuck his nose under the wire, and it just didn’t feel right without the Derby day buzz. Then again, is there anything about 2-aught-20 that feels right?
Come to think of it, were I a horse breeder, I’d have named my first foal this year Bizarro World. You know, as a salute to a time in history when up is down, over is under, right is left, and Terry Bradshaw gets his own reality TV show.
For real. Bradshaw has a show on the telly to call his own. The concept for The Bradshaw Bunch on E! Channel seems simple enough: The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback surrounds himself with a bevy of beauties (his wife and three daughters), and cameras follow them about the ranch in Oklahoma while they discuss such urgent family matters as one of the girls getting a boob job. In other words, it’s the Kardashians do Hee Haw.
Hey, it’s the Labor Day weekend. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be grabbing grass and growling this very afternoon in the annual Labor Day Weekend Classic on the Flattest of Lands. Not happening, though, because Canadian Football League coffers are as empty as a politician’s promise and its line of credit is worse than the COVID curve stateside. But that doesn’t mean the true tradition need end—taking cheap shots at Flatlanders and their football team. Which brings to mind a Matty-ism from a Jack Matheson column in the Winnipeg Tribune after a trade sent Tom Clements from the Ottawa Rough Riders to Saskatchewan in 1979: “Mrs. Tom Clements is said to have been the push behind her QB husband’s recent move because she felt ‘Ottawa’s a hick town,’ so you have to wonder how Regina will grab her.”
Premier Scott Moe has declared this Saskatchewan Roughriders Day on the Flattest of Lands, and he’s encouraged the rabble to adorn themselves in green-and-white garb. To which every citizen in the province said: “Huh? Ya means to tell us they makes tank tops and ball caps in other colors?” Seriously, a melonhead needs urging to wear green and white like a priest needs a reminder to say prayers on Sunday.
I haven’t watched a great portion of the NHL’s made-for-TV frolic in the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna bubbles, but my sampling has been sufficient enough to know that Sportsnet’s Chris Cuthbert calls a terrific game. He’s going to be missed in the TSN blurt box once the CFL is back in business, whenever that is.
I agree, the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets is a peculiar bit of business. I mean, he’s a scrawny white guy in a league full of large Black men, he’s Canadian in a league of mostly Americans, and he has zero experience. We haven’t seen anyone that miscast since a movie mogul put Kevin Costner in a pair of tights and told him he was Robin Hood.
Speaking of media, cheering in the press box is supposed to be taboo, but news snoops in the Republic of Tranna must have missed the memo. Just watch the sports highlights shows on TSN and Sportsnet and you’ll hear them openly swooning and unabashedly root, root, rooting for the Toronto Jurassics in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and the same must be said of the boys on the beat at the daily newspapers. They don’t give the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Tranna FC or Argonauts a similar amount of sugar, which leaves me to wonder what it is about the Jurassics that has won over such a normally hard-scrabble lot.
Got a kick out of Gregg Drinnan’s piece on his time at the Winnipeg Tribune, a tour of duty that included a case of mistaken identity. No spoilers here, though. I’ll let Gregg tell the story. I’ll just say it involved the Greaser (that’s Gregg), Knuckles Irving, Cactus Jack, Kenny Ploen, Blue Bombers GM Earl Lunsford and a fancy, shmancy hotel suite in Calgary (don’t worry, it’s not X-rated). Gregg also confirms that some of the Trib tales I told last week might actually contain a morsel of truth.
One of the things I didn’t mention in my remembrances of the Trib folding 40 years ago was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a board game based on the actual stats of Major League players. We’d play it during our down time, waiting for late copy or phone calls to come in, and the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver last week reminded me of the year we held a Strat-O-Matic player draft. Seaver was among my starting hurlers, and one night he spun a no-hitter against the Ian (Caveman) Dutton Nine. A few years later while with the Calgary Sun, I had occasion to interview Tom Terrific and, as an ice-breaker, I mentioned the no-no he had hurled v. the Dutton Nine. He looked at me like I was speaking Casey Stengelese, but chuckled. “Don’t laugh,” I told him, “that board game no-hitter will probably be the deciding factor that gets you to Cooperstown some day. The Hall of Fame voters won’t be able to ignore it.” Sure enough, the great New York Mets righthander was elected in 1992, and you can only imagine my disappointment when he failed to mention that Strat-O-Matic perfect game in his acceptance speech.
I’m not sure if Ed Willes left the building by choice or if he’s the latest victim of Postmedia buffoonery, but he’s done after 38 years in the rag trade, the last 22 at the Vancouver Province. Some of you might remember Ed’s time with the Winnipeg Sun, where he detailed the daily goings-on of the Jets and wrote a column during the 1990s. It was always high-end stuff. The guy can flat-out scribble. Ed turns 65 in November, so perhaps this was the end game all along, but I’m always suspicious whenever quality writers walk away from Postmedia, which has destroyed newspaper competition everywhere west of Winnipeg. If it was his call, good on him. He’s earned his warm corner. If he was nudged by the suits in the Republic of Tranna, shame on Postmedia.
The Willes adios brings to mind a quote from Trent Frayne, the finest jock essayist in my lifetime: “It is an axiom of sports that the legs go first. For sportswriters, it’s the enthusiasm.”
Once upon a time, I officiated kids sports, so I speak from lived experience when I tell you it can be a thankless, often intimidating experience. Some coaches, parents and officials are at odds with acceptable behavior in mixed company, which is putting it politely. So what in the name of Pele was the Manitoba Soccer Association thinking when it instructed its game referees to play the role of rat fink and virtually red card fans who fail to observe physical distancing protocol at kids’ matches? Expecting whistle blowers to be, well, whistle blowers isn’t just unfair, it’s stupid.
Last week we mentioned that Jennifer Lopez and her main squeeze, Alex Rodriguez, had failed in their bid to buy the New York Mets. If successful, JLo would have joined a short list of female owners in Major League Baseball. The first was Helene Britton, who inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, Stanley Robison, in 1911, when women still hadn’t won the right to vote in the U.S. This is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Redbirds’ new lady owner: “She is small and round and trim, with decided chic. Her mourning costume (for her uncle) failed to subdue certain lively touches that indicate a love of life and gayety…her attitude is ever alert.” Other National League owners, all men, tried to bully the small, round and trim Helene into selling the Cardinals “for the good of the game,” but she held out until 1917, finally accepting $350,000 for the club and ballpark. Among other things while bankrolling the Redbirds, she introduced Ladies Day providing free attendance to women. But only if accompanied by a male escort.
And, finally, today marks the 20th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first Pride-themed night. It took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, mainly because a lesbian couple had been escorted out of the ballpark a week earlier by eight heavy-handed security guards. The crime? The women shared a smooch in the bleachers. Who could imagine back then that two lesbians, Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss, would be part-owners of the Dodgers today?