The River City Renegade


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About the “True North!” tribal chant…Ducky talks up the Rink Rat…Winnipeg Jets are signing jockeys…salute to Doc Holliday and Mad Dog…and a concussed sports scribe

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

I understand why the faithful who flock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie bow to a corporate god by shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets matches.

Honest, I get it.

Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood

I mean, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his deep-pocketed co-bankroll, David Thomson, delivered a National Hockey League franchise to them after so many bleak winters in the wilderness, thus the giddy rabble is grateful and the full-throated “True North!” cry has become their tribal chant.

But (you knew there was going to be a but, right?)…

As much as I promote freedom of expression and I get where Jets Nation is coming from, the “True North!” ritual has a cringe-inducing element to it. Whenever I hear the salute to their corporate god, True North Sports & Entertainment, it sounds rather nerdy. If not flat-out cheesey.

I am reminded of this due to a sparring match between Troy Westood and Jeff Veillette in the cesspool of anger and ugliness known as Twitter.

Westwood, of course, is among the stable of talking heads at TSN 1290 in River City and, like most talking heads, he sometimes shoves his left foot (the same one he once used to hoof field goals for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) into his mouth. Veillette, meanwhile, works out of the Republic of Tranna as an editor/writer at Leafs Nation and managing editor of hockey content for the Nation Network.

Here is their weekend to-and-fro:

Veillette: “Someone just TRUE NORTH’d the anthem at the Toronto FC game. Worst tradition in all of pro sports. Get that out of this stadium.”

Westwood: “Jeff, I believe I speak for the majority of Manitobans here while inviting you to go outside and play hide and go f yourself. #TRUENORTH.”

I assume Ol’ Lefty uses that mouth to kiss his loved ones, but, hey, we’re all adults on Twitter and F-bombs and insults are as commonplace as Jets loyalists who believe the Puck Pontiff can do no wrong, regardless how much he charges for a glass of beer at TLHHOtheP or how often he feeds at the public trough.

Not surprisingly, the Westwood-Veillette thrust-and-parry aroused the rabble, and their respective Twitter feeds featured a few more F-bombs and much banter that came across as the squawkings of school kids whose mothers wear army boots and whose dad can beat up the other guy’s dad. Seriously. Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks…Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks.

For the record, I don’t think either city sucks. I just prefer not to live there. Or there.

At any rate, Veillette got up a whole lot of Peg noses with his pooh-poohing of the “True North!” tribal chant and calling it the “worst tradition in all of pro sports.” (I can think of at least one worse tradition—annually failing to win a professional shinny title for 50 years. Mind you, Veillette wouldn’t know much about Maple Leafs lethargy because he’s barely off his mother’s breast milk, so we shouldn’t confuse him for someone whose hockey knowledge extends beyond knowing Auston Matthews’ sweater number.)

What I wonder is why Peggers get so bent out of shape whenever some dude from the Republic of Tranna slags Pegtown. So Jeff Veillette isn’t fond of the tribal chant. Boo flipping hoo. You want to shout “True North!” then do it. Even if the rest of the country thinks it makes you sound like a bunch of doofuses. You and I know there’s plenty to like about good, ol’ Hometown, and if I can find time between sandbagging for the annual springtime flood and swatting mosquitoes I might be able to think of some of them. (Oh, relax. I’m just kidding. I don’t want or need Ol’ Lefty lobbing F-bombs in my direction.)

Barrie Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk

Really enjoyed the Sportsnet Q&A between Luke Fox and Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk. Ducky, head coach of the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League, provided some good insight on present-day Jets centre Rink Rat Scheifele: “He was a dream kid coming into junior hockey. His attitude surpasses so many people’s. He loves walking into the rink, grinning ear to ear, and can’t wait to work hard. He almost makes the coach’s job easier because he pushes the pace all the time, and everyone tries to keep up. People don’t know this: They think I really steered Winnipeg onto Mark. No. Winnipeg called me once. They said, ‘We just interviewed this kid. Is he really for real?’ That was their only question. I said, ‘Oh, ya. He’s the real deal.’ He blows you away when you meet him—you see the passion in his personality, and he brings it out in his game.”

I note the Jets have signed Sami Niku, a Finnish defenceman who weighs less than the food on Dustin Byfuglien’s dinner plate. Seriously. One hundred and 68 pounds? I guess that makes him Toby Lite. Not to worry, though. If the hockey thing doesn’t work out for Niku, they’re always looking for jockeys at Assiniboia Downs.

Speaking of the Downs, which went to the post for its 60th season on Sunday, there’s a 4-year-old filly out there called Dink of the Year. Who knew that someone would name a race horse after Ryan Kesler?

Paul (Mad Dog) Robson

Nice to see old friend and former newspaper colleague Bob Holliday earn the Historical Award for his work with the St. Vital Museum, and Paul Robson, my former bossman (publisher) at the Winnipeg Sun and one-time general manager of the Blue Bombers is to be invested into the Order of Manitoba. One day during his stewardship at the Sun, Robson overheard me mention that Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron and Chris Walby were “really good guys.” He stepped forward to join myself and a few other sports scribes in our little corner of the newsroom and said, “Let me tell you something about football players. They’re all a–holes. Every one of them. It’s just that some of them are bigger a–holes than the others. Don’t let those guys fool you into thinking they’re not a–holes.” That from a guy whose nickname when he played for the Bombers was Mad Dog. I still don’t agree with Robson. Westwood, Cameron and Walby were among the good guys in football. And so was Paul (he was also my favorite publisher).

Did I read Steve Simmons right? Did he actually label former players involved in a concussion lawsuit against the NHL “opportunists?” And they’re hopping on “an apparent gravy train?” Yup, that’s what he wrote. Farther down in his Postmedia column, however, he submits, “In my view, the current players are not properly protected by the NHL system.” I see. Former players whose coaches shoved them back onto the ice scant seconds after suffering head trauma (shake it off, kid; it’s a long way from your heart) are “opportunists” looking to make an easy buck, but it’s today’s players who are being mistreated. Seems to me there’s a least one sports writer who’s been concussed and needs to spend some time in the quiet room.

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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About the difference between the Jets and Leafs…Sportsnet talking Stanley Cup in the Republic of Tranna…rapping with Rink Rat Scheifele…two gasbags in Pegtown…a five-year plan…and a thank-you to the media

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

I don’t know about you, but while observing the recently concluded skirmish between the pesky, upstart Toronto Maple Leafs and the accomplished Washington Capitals, I kept asking myself the same question: Why not the Winnipeg Jets?

I mean, shouldn’t the Jets be part of the Stanley Cup derby? What do the Leafs have that the local hockey heroes don’t?

Brendan Shanahan

Well, okay, the Leafs have a team president, Brendan Shanahan, who actually performed in the National Hockey League and won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). The Jets have an executive chairman, Mark Chipman, who once sold cars and whose sole claim to fame as a jock was participating in one Canadian Football League exhibition game before being cut by legendary coach Cal Murphy.

So there’s that.

What else? Well, the Leafs have a general manager, Lou Lamoriello, who has won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). And they have a head coach, Mike Babcock, whose name is also etched on hockey’s holy grail and whose resume includes Olympic Games gold medals (yes, plural). The Jets, meanwhile, have Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice, winners of zero Stanley Cups as GM and head coach, respectively.

So there’s that, too.

Anything else? Well, there’s goaltending. The Leafs have it in Frederik Andersen. The Jets don’t.

Oh, one more thing: The Leafs have one pain in the ass (see: Kadri, Nazem) who can also score 30 goals, and another pain in the ass (see: Komarov, Uncle Leo) who’s basically a nasty rash on every opponent’s skin. The Jets most definitely do not have a pain in the ass, never mind two.

What about Auston Matthews you say? The Leafs have him. The Jets don’t. Fine. Except when I looked at the NHL scoring leaders at the close of regular-season business, only six players were ahead of Mark Scheifele and none of them was named Auston Matthews. (The separation between Matthews and Scheifele—today, not 10 years from now—is as thin as the sparse playoff whiskers on the Toronto rookie’s chinny-chin-chin.)

Lou Lamoriello

As for the rest of the on-ice personnel…if you say Jake Gardiner, I say Jacob Trouba. If you say Morgan Rielly, I say Dustin Byfuglien. If you say Nikita Zaitsev, I say Josh Morrissey. If you say Mitch Marner, I say Patrik Laine. If you say William Nylander, I say Nikolaj Ehlers. If you say Tyler Bozak, I say Bryan Little. If you say James van Riemsdyk, I say Blake Wheeler. Etcetera, etcetera.

Clearly, the Jets are more than a talent match, the exceptions being one goaltender and two pains in the ass. So, again, why were they not part of the playoff hijinks this spring like the Leafs?

I’ll let you discuss that among yourselves, but I suggest you start at the top of the totem pole by asking how involved Puck Pontiff Chipman is in the day-to-day operation of the Jets, then work your way down to ice level, specifically behind the bench.

You’ll probably find your answers there.

Only in the Republic of Tranna: The Leafs qualify for the postseason party for the second time in 12 years and Sportsnet, which often reads like a Maple Leafs blog, is already talking about a Stanley Cup in The 416. “Maple Leafs need to strike while in unique Stanley Cup window” is the headline on a piece by Chris Johnson, who advises us that the Leafs “are currently much closer to behaving like a Stanley Cup contender than they’re comfortable admitting publicly.” I believe the last time I heard Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup used in the same sentence, Punch Imlach was still coaching, Humpty Harold Ballard had yet to be caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Trudeau the First was still playing second fiddle to Lester Pearson.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Speaking of Sportsnet, they actually managed to squeeze a piece featuring somebody other than one of the Maple Leafs onto their website. True story. Luke Fox had a lengthy and insightful tete-a-tete with Rink Rat Scheifele and, by all accounts, it was a pain-free exercise for the young centre. Imagine that. One of the Jets doing the chin-wag thing without a team PR flack lurking in the background.

Among the interesting nuggets in the Fox-Scheifele to-and-fro was this: “You never sewer a teammate,” said the Jets assistant captain. He might want to mention that to Mathieu Perreault, who doesn’t hesitate to toss his comrades, most notably the goaltenders, under a convenient bus. For his part, the Rink Rat had this to say about the much-maligned men tasked with the duty of stopping pucks for the Jets—Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson: “There’s always something that happens before a goal, and the goalies are just the last line. They take the brunt of the blame because they’re goalies and that’s what they signed up for and they’re crazy like that. But you can’t point the blame at our goaltenders. They both worked hard and never gave up on us. We all have to take blame for our weakness.”

I’m not sure what to make of this, but Kevin Chevldayoff and Paul Maurice are hot-aired gasbags compared to their counterparts with the Maple Leafs. Here’s the scorecard from their season-over chin-wags with news snoops:

Cheveldayoff: 47 minutes, 37 seconds.
Maurice: 26:45.
Lou Lamoriello: 10:36.
Babcock: 8:49.
Combined totals:
Cheveldayoff/Maurice—1 hour, 14 minutes, 22 seconds.
Lamoriello/Babcock—19 minutes, 25 seconds.

I guess the Jets brass had more explaining to do. Either that or they just had a whole lot more smoke to blow up the media’s butt.

Mike Babcock

I find it interesting that Shanahan, Lamoriello and Babcock don’t hesitate to put themselves on the clock. That is to say, Lamoriello went on record as saying the Leafs are operating on “a five-year plan.” In other words, Leafs Nation can expect to see a perennial playoff participant by then (they’re now two years into the plan). Puck Pontiff Chipman and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, have never dared to offer Jets devotees a similar time frame on their “process.” What are they afraid of?

Here’s another interesting comparison between the outlooks of the two teams: Asked about the Leafs roster next season compared to that which was eliminated in six games by the Capitals, Babcock said, “There’ll be changes.” Maurice answered a similar question by saying next season’s Jets are “gonna look an awful lot like this team but five months older.” Pushing forward in TO, same old-same old in Pegtown.

Got a kick out of Lamoriello’s parting words to the assembled news snoops in the Republic of Tranna: “Thank you for making it an enjoyable year.” I think he was serious. Who in professional sports does that?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About jocks jumping the MRI queue…those “coddled” millionaire Winnipeg Jets…a dude named Dart Guy…it isn’t The Forsberg…giving the Soviets the finger…Centre of the Universe snobbery…and Gomer Pyle sings the anthem

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

Okay, hands up anyone who is genuinely shocked that professional athletes pulling in great gobs of American greenbacks have been allowed to jump the MRI queue in Canada?

Seriously. If word that play-for-pay jocks receive “preferential treatment” is a revelation to you, then you’d probably be interested in knowing that a guy named Trudeau is prime minister in the True North but his first name isn’t Pierre. I mean, hellooooo. How long have you been napping?

Pro athletes and “preferential treatment” have been hand-in-glove since David threw down on Goliath. You think David ever had to buy his own pints and chow after scoring that upset?

But, hey, what’s happening in Manitoba isn’t about free bar or restaurant tabs, is it? It’s about health care and the deified, millionaire members of the Winnipeg Jets and the regular Joe-salaried workers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. According to the provincial auditor general, 59 jocks were allowed to jump the MRI queue for 149 scans in an eight-year period (2008-2016). Allow me to do the math: That averages to less than one athlete and 1.5 scans per month.

Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers are so low.

Look, I don’t blame anyone for being PO’d if they’ve been on a wait list for four months only to see Jacob Trouba or Matt Nichols limp in and go directly to the scanner. It isn’t fair. But in Winnipeg, that’s the way it has to be if you want a National Hockey League and Canadian Football League franchise.

In the interests of full disclosure, I had an MRI scan done on my brain slightly more than a year ago. The good news is, they found a brain. The bad news is, results showed soft tissue in my grey matter, the result of the combined nuisances of multiple concussions (10) and aging. Hopefully, that explains a lot of things, if not everything.

This whole MRI thing has really gotten up Paul Wiecek’s nose. His pallor surely must be as ashen as his hair, because the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has called out Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman for the Winnipeg Jets owner’s silence on the issue, and he describes the local hockey heroes as a “tiny cadre of coddled millionaires.” Coddled? Coddled? You want to talk about coddled? During my time in the media we received free beer, free food, free books, free music, free tickets, free clothing, free merchandise, free access to back-stage gatherings, free access to doors that were closed to the regular rabble, free everything. And, hey, some might even have been pushed to the front of the queue at the doctor’s office. I can’t say what, if anything, has changed, but it’s my guess that the media Gravy Train is still chugging along.

Unlike Wiecek, I’m not interested in what Puck Pontiff Chipman has to say about MRI scans. I’m more interested in what he thinks about his general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not being able to accomplish in six years what Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton McDavids and Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in two years.

Dart Guy

This spring’s Stanley Cup skirmishing has been strange. How strange? Well, let’s put it this way: The Chicago Blackhawks are out of the playoffs after only four games and Dart Guy is still in them.

I don’t know what to make of this Dart Guy dude. I mean, he has a Maple Leafs logo painted on his face, he sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips and he becomes some kind of cult figure in the Republic of Tranna? Sometimes I wish Andy Warhol hadn’t been right about those 15 minutes of fame.

Why do broadcasters and writers insist on describing a goal with a one-handed deke “the Forsberg?” I know for certain that I saw Alexei Zhamnov of the Jets perform that very move, more than once, before I ever saw Peter Forsberg do it. I also saw Kent Nilsson do it before Forsberg.

This from Don Cherry during one of his Coachless Corner segments on Hockey Night in Canada last week: “The last Coach’s Corner, I said to you kids, ‘Don’t taunt or laugh when you’re winning.’ I said, ‘Never do that, kids.’ Kids, it’s not the Canadian way. You never laugh or taunt your opponent.” Grapes is right. The Canadian way is to give them the middle-finger salute, like Alan Eagleson and Frosty Forristall did to the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. We don’t taunt them when we’re losing, either. We break their ankles (hello, Bobby Clarke).

Guaranteed to happen in life: 1) Donald Trump will tweet; 2) Adam Sandler will make bad movies; 3) a Bruce Boudreau-coached team will be eliminated from the Stanley Cup tournament.

P.K. Subban is still playing hockey (suprise, surprise). Shea Weber isn’t. Does that mean the Nashville Predators got the better of the Montreal Canadiens in their exchange of all-world defenceman? No. It isn’t Weber’s fault the Habs’ forwards score less often than the Pope swears.

Postmedia scribe Steve Simmons, whose work often appears on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, has provided us with a tweet that serves as a shining example of the self-absorbed, Centre of the Universe mentality that exists in the Republic of Tranna: “An absolutely stacked Canadian Sports Hall of Fame class is introduced on the wrong day. Not their fault. Toronto is Leafs consumed today.” In other words, the rest of the country be damned. Stevie says any national news of significance must be put on hold whenever Auston Matthews and pals are playing a hockey game in the 416 area code. All you good people in Winnipeg, you can wait a day to learn that your speedskating golden girl, Cindy Klassen, is among the 2017 CSHofF inductees. Ditto for you fine folks in Hanna, Alta. We’ll fill you in on native son Lanny McDonald after Auston and pals have had their fun. I must say, for a guy who once called Calgary home and ought to know better, the ego-fuelled Simmons has developed into a first-class Tranna snob.

In the week’s social news, Serena Williams announced she’s preggers and Ronda Rousey announced she’s engaged. The nerve of those women. I mean, don’t they realize the Maple Leafs are still playing hockey? Nobody wants to hear about a mommy bump or a diamond ring unless Auston Matthews happens to be the father or fiance, right Stevie?

Barney, Andy and Luke Bryan.

Well, golleeee and shezam! I finally figured out who country guy Luke Bryan sounds like when he tries to sing—Gomer Pyle. I swear, when I heard Bryan perform the American anthem prior to a Nashville Predators-Blackhawks skirmish, the first thing I thought of was good, ol’ Gomer Pyle pumping gas and visiting Andy and Barney at the sheriff’s office in Mayberry. How Bryan became one of the giants of the country music industry is as much a mystery as how Donald Trump got the keys to the White House.

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

 


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About what a hockey town looks like…NHL teams that actually make trades…old man Sudsy…Coach Potty-Mouth’s smugness…a steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver…and blaming it all on Canada’s sad-sack hockey fans

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

In the department of really, really, really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”

Edmonton Oilers fans perfected the jersey toss.

Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.

I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.

Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.

And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler would excel in playoff hockey.

I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?

Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.

Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.

I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.

While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.

To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.

Blame it on the fans.

Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?

An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.

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

 


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My Hens in the Hockey House go off on the Winnipeg Jets’ latest lost season

Yes, my Hens in the Hockey House are back and one of them is in rather foul humor, not surprising given that the Winnipeg Jets have frittered away another National Hockey League season.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: My oh my, it seems like forever since we last got together to discuss our favorite hockey team. Where have you been, girlfriend?

Answer Lady: Suffering from PTS—Post Trump Syndrome. I had a bad reaction to the Donald moving into the White House. I think I’m over it now, though. The eye-twitching has finally stopped and I should be off my meds long before he’s impeached. Anyway, so much has happened since our last gabfest. Or perhaps I should say so much hasn’t happened since then.

Question Lady: What do you mean by that?

Answer Lady: Well, this entire Jets season seems like an old TV rerun to me. I mean, stop me if you’ve seen this show before: The local hockey heroes are in the playoff conversation for about five months, Kevin Cheveldayoff does nothing to enhance their prospects of joining the Stanley Cup tournament, they fade, they’re eliminated, then they do boffo business in garbage time. I’d change the channel, but it’s like a car wreck…I just have to look.

Question Lady: What did you expect Chevy to do?

Answer Lady: That’s the trouble. I expected him to do nothing, because nothing is what he does best. He does nothing during the season—unless Dustin Byfuglien hurls someone’s clothing into a tub of ice—and he does nothing during the off-season. Except, of course, at the NHL’s annual crap shoot of teenagers.

Question Lady: Ya, but you have to admire his handiwork at the entry draft, no?

Answer Lady: What, you think choosing Patrik Laine with the second overall pick last year was a stroke of genius? As if. It wasn’t Chevy who plucked Puck Finn from the pool of available talent. It was a bunch of ping pong balls. If the ping pong balls bounce the right way for him again this year, he might land Nolan Patrick in June.

Question Lady: Oh, come on. Chevy’s track record at the draft is superb. All the evidence you need can be found on the Jets’ roster—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Connor Hellebuyck. All Chevy picks. Can you not give credit where it’s due?

Answer Lady: Who do you think made those picks? It wasn’t Chevy. It was his scouts. And I’m not convinced all those guys belong in the NHL.

Question Lady: Who doesn’t belong?

Mikey One Glove

Answer Lady: Andrew Copp is a borderline NHLer and if Connor Hellebuyck is a legit starting goaltender then I’m the U.S. First Lady. And nobody’s called me Mrs. Trump lately. I could be real mean and say Hellebuyck has one thing in common with the late Michael Jackson—Jacko wore a glove on one hand for no apparent reason, and so does Hellebuyck. I mean, really, he might as well wear a dainty evening glove on his catching hand. But I’m not going to blame the kid for being fast-forwarded when he wasn’t ready for prime time. That’s down to the Fiddle-Farters Three in the ivory tower.

Question Lady: Wow, you’ve sure got the growl on this morning. What’s gotten up your pretty, little nose?

Answer Lady: Well, unlike a lot of the faithful who continue to drink the True North Kool-Aid and genuflect at the sight of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, I’ve grown weary of the Little Hockey House on the Prairie being a no-playoff zone. I’ve grown weary of a meddlesome owner, the GM’s management by paralysis, and a head coach who allows Dustin Byfuglien to run the show. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids rebuilt in two years. Ditto the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Question Lady: No they didn’t. The Oilers missed the playoffs for 10 seasons. The Leafs have been in the playoffs once since 2006. And you’re telling me they rebuilt in two years?

Answer Lady: Do the math. In the past two years, the Oilers have added a new general manager, Peter Chiarelli, a new head coach, Todd McLellan, plus Connor McDavid, Cam Talbot, Patrick Maroon, Looch Lucic and other significant pieces. The Leafs added a new GM, Lou Lamoriello, a new head coach, Mike Babcock, plus players Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Zaitsev, Frederik Andersen and other significant pieces. And they didn’t do it by drafting alone. The Oilers needed an upgrade in the blue ice and on defence, so they went out and got Talbot and Adam Larsson. The Leafs needed an upgrade in the blue ice and on defence, so they went out and got Andersen and Zaitsev. And what has Chevy done to upgrade the Jets most-glaring shortcoming, goaltending? Squat. In six years.

Question Lady: Do you expect him to acquire a true No. 1 goalie this summer?

Answer Lady: Ya, like I expect Donald Trump to stop using Twitter. Like, hellooooo. Not going to happen. First of all, Chevy knows goaltending like I know quantum physics. Second, Chevy only makes bold strokes when someone puts the proverbial gun to his head—see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew. I’m afraid we are about to embark on Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing.

Question Lady: You’re convinced of that?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. Chevy can’t lick his lips without the Puck Pontiff’s official okie-dokie and, let’s face it, Mark Chipman is a hockey expert like a glass of raw sewage is lemonade. He’s in Chevy’s ear every day—every day!—and he’s got him convinced that there’s only one way to build a perennial playoff team or a Stanley Cup champion—draft and develop. Period. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not make trades.

Question Lady: But isn’t draft and develop how teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks got it done?

Answer Lady: It was 50/50, my dear friend. The Pittsburgh outfit that won the Stanley Cup tournament last June was basically equal parts draftee (12) and castoffs from other clubs (13). It was pretty much the same half-and-half balance for the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings when they were top dog. Draft and develop has to be the central component of the process, but that can’t be all you do. Anyone who knows a hockey puck from a pastrami sandwich can tell you that.

Question Lady: Speaking of food, I’m feeling a bit peckish. Shall we do brekky, darling?

Answer Lady: By all means. But we’re not finished this discussion. Later we’ll talk about Paul Maurice, and if you think the Puck Pontiff and Chevy have gotten up my pretty, little nose, you ain’t heard nothing yet.

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


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About Blake Wheeler and the media…the Fiddle-Farters Three…time’s a-wasting for Bryan Little…the Republic of Tranna still talking about Wayne Gretzky’s high stick…and remembering Vic Peters

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

blake-wheeler2

Blake Wheeler

Oh woe is Blake Wheeler.

Those pesky news scavengers keep squirting in his Corn Flakes, causing the frowning, scowling il capitano no end of grief at the south end of yet another National Hockey League crusade that has found his Winnipeg Jets wanting.

There he stood in the Jets boudoir Thursday night, scant moments after the local lads had aroused the rabble at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie with a stirring, come-from-behind, 4-3 extra-time victory over the Disney Ducks. One seeker of sound bites had the bad manners (at least to Wheeler’s way of thinking) to wonder aloud how the Jets might “bottle up” their late-game magic and use it going forward in what remains of garbage time.

Well…um…you know, it’s probably hard for you to understand how difficult it is to go through this again at a time like this,” began Wheeler, who now has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby in five of his six seasons in River City. “You know, the fact we’re winning hockey games this time of year with nothing to play for says a lot about the group that we have, the guys that we have…um…you know, how we bottle that up…you know, we’ve won three in a row and six of our last eight with nothing to play for, so it’s a little frustrating you ask a question like that, to be honest with you. I’m proud of our group, to play a team like that who’s trying to win a Stanley Cup, to be down 3-1 with nothing to play for, come back and win 4-3, you know, I’d expect a little more positive line of questioning next time.”

He glared hard at his interrogator.

Maybe you weren’t being too negative,” Wheeler continued, softening but still combative. “It’s just…you know, it’s just a little bit…I don’t know, a little bit undertone there, dude. Do you not agree?”

No,” came the reply from Kevin Olszewski of CTV sports. “I wasn’t trying to be negative at all.”

You asked me how do we bottle that up more consistently, which insinuates we don’t do that consistently. Am I making that up?”

No, you’re not making that up. I think it might be miscommunication, though.”

That’s fine. That’s fine. I want the message from tonight to be positive. I think our group deserves that.”

That’s the way you guys need to play. That’s what you can do. That’s what I’m saying, you can prove that you can do that to those teams, right? So how do you guys, as a group, manufacture that night in, night out on a consistence basis where you can be where teams like the Ducks are?”

Well, I think that was great. That was perfect. That was a perfect way to ask that question.”

Well, thank you Blake Wheeler for that crash course in Creative Communications 101. Perhaps you can land a teaching gig at Red River College while the rest of your teammates tee it up in another week or so.

Chris Thorburn

Here’s what Wheeler fails to grasp: Few fans or media appear to have any quarrel with the team captain and his accomplices wearing Jets linen (the notable exceptions being whipping boys Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart and anyone who has stood in the blue ice). Their beef is with the Fiddle-Farters Three—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice, whose glacier-like pace in piecing together a playoff-worthy outfit has the rabble in a fit of pique. The faithful see outfits in Edmonton and Toronto rebuilt in two years while, in Winnipeg, the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have been trying to get this thing right for six years, without success. That’s the rub.

Here’s something else Wheeler would be wise to bear in mind: This is garbage time for the girls and boys on the beat, too. They’re expected to make these meaningless games—and the days between—sound interesting and significant, which these games most assuredly are not. News snoops aren’t paid to wave pom-poms and report at the same time, but most of what I’ve read—about the players—in the past few weeks of a lost season has been ultra-positive. Wheeler ought to find another tree to bark up.

Let me make something perfectly clear: I’m a Blake Wheeler fan. He’s very good at hockey. Love his intensity and determination. And, hey, any 30-year-old who can name all four of the Beatles is okay in my book. I just wish he would back off on the angry-young-man shtick. It’s an ugly look.

Veteran centre Bryan Little delivered a most-telling statement once the Jets had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.” I wonder if the Fiddle-Farters Three are listening.

Dustin Byfuglien

What’s the over/under on Dustin Byfuglien’s fat-cat contract becoming an anchor to the Jets? One year? Two? If the Jets are in the same position next season, they have to unload him. If, that is, someone is willing to pick up the $7.6-million tab for a rogue rearguard with little to no regard for structure.

Will the long-suffering wretches in the Republic of Tranna ever get over the Missed Call? Apparently not. TSN this week ran a nine-minute, 15-second feature on Wayne Gretzky high sticking Doug Gilmour in Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference final between the Los Angeles Kings and Maple Leafs, with former player Jeff O’Neill interviewing the culprit, the victim and the guy who missed it all, referee Kerry Fraser. According to TSN, O Dog O’Neill “solved the mystery of what really happened the night of May 27, 1993.” Excuse me, but there was no mystery to solve. Fraser copped a plea to blowing the call in an article he wrote for the Players Tribune last summer. Time to move on, Tranna.

It was a year ago this week (March 27) that we lost one of the all-time great people, curler Vic Peters. I still think of Vic whenever I watch curling. He truly was a lovely man.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Postmedia’s top-100 NHL players: If you never saw them play, how can you rate them?

I recall lying on our living room floor, watching a playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1950s.

The red light behind the Leafs goal was flashing (in black and white, of course) and, not surprisingly, Doug Harvey, who breathed the rarefied air that only the National Hockey League elite enjoyed, had been the mastermind behind the Habs’ successful venture.

doug-harvey2I hate Doug Harvey,” I muttered to my dad scant seconds after les Glorieux had secured a victory, which was the rule rather than the exception in Stanley Cup skirmishing back then.

Why do you hate Doug Harvey?” he wondered.

Because he always has the puck.”

Like most Canadian kids in the ’50s, my eyes would be glued to a black-and-white TV screen every Saturday night during the winter, and every second night during the Stanley Cup tournament, which did not drone on into June. In the case of this particular Habs-Leafs joust, I would have been seven or eight years old at the time. I root, root, rooted for the Leafs. Disliked les Canadiens with an irrational intensity.

At that age, my hockey knowledge was limited mostly to the players’ names and sweater numbers. In terms of grading the skill level of those players, the eye test was far from fully developed. How could it be at such a young age? Oh, I knew Doug Harvey was supreme because, as I lamented, he was loath to share the puck with the other team. Every time he hopped over the boards, the game unfolded at Harvey’s whim and tempo. He was the maestro. He was doing the Savardian spinorama when Serge Savard was still in middle school.

There were others whose skills I recognized and admired. I delighted in the daring of Habs goaltender Jacques Plante, who didn’t glue himself to the goal crease, and the Leafs’ young Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was something to behold, his skating stride longer than a Winnipeg winter. Gordie Howe always seemed to have his way with everyone, even the tough hombres, and I remember Maurice Richard as a dashing sort, but he was in his hockey dotage and always seemed grumpy. So I didn’t like him.

The point is, I can say I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s, but as much as I witnessed the great Rocket Richard, I didn’t witness his greatness. His signature 50-goal season was in the rear-view mirror when Hockey Night in Canada became a ritual for me on what many kids also knew as bath night. Thus, I cannot possibly rate him as a player. I was too young and he was too old.

I give ponder to such matters this morning because Steve Simmons of Postmedia has compiled a top-100 list in recognition of the NHL’s centennial, which arrives in 2017.

Bobby Orr

Bobby Orr

While an admirable undertaking, his is a fool’s errand.

The most obvious and greatest flaw in someone picking the top 100 players in NHL history is not in choosing Bobby Orr over Wayne Gretzky, or vice versa, atop the list. Or anointing Dominik Hasek the greatest goaltender of all time. Or including only three Russians among the fab 100. The flaw, as I see it, is in the person doing the ranking. Precious few are qualified to do it. Simmons does not walk among those precious few. Age disqualifies him.

Simmons was born in 1957. He’s seven years my junior. As little as I can recall from the 1950s NHL, he cannot possibly have any first-hand knowledge of hockey from that era. Zero. Bupkus. Unless he was some sort of child hockey savant, which I doubt, his ability to grade players with any acceptable level of expertise wouldn’t have kicked in until the latter part of the 1960s, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there.

Yet, by his own accounting, he has listed two dozen players from the 1950s and beyond. He never saw 25 per cent of his personal top 100 play hockey. Forty of his players are pre-1967, when he was 10 years or younger. Or not yet drawing oxygen.

I’m not prepared to pan Simmons for any of his choices. That’s a mug’s play. I’ll leave it to the Twitter trolls to pummel him (many have; others not so much). I do, however, submit that he doesn’t have the chops to compile such a list, based on his age. Indeed, his comment on Maple Leafs legend Syl Apps, whom he slid into the No. 36 slot, underscores his lack of expertise: “My dad told me he was the greatest Leaf he ever saw.”

Well, my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles told me stories, too. Look, I need not have seen Babe Ruth swing a Louisville Slugger to know that he was among the greatest hitters of a baseball. But, for me, it’s all about the eye test when it comes to hockey rankings. It isn’t what I read about a player in the record book, or what I see on grainy, black-and-white film on YouTube that has three or four different speeds, or what mom and pop told me. It’s what I’ve seen.

My point of reference is 1957—the year Simmons was born. I didn’t realize you could watch hockey from the womb. Apparently, that’s what he did.

As I said, admirable undertaking, fool’s errand.

***

I find it interesting that, on his Twitter page, Simmons gets snooty about age vis-a-vis his overall top pick, advising dissenting followers that “If you’re not 45-50, you never saw (Bobby) Orr play. If you’re not over 50, you didn’t see him at his most dominant.” In other words, how dare the younger generations question his judgement about Orr being No. 1? He’s seen both Orr and Gretzky, don’t you know? You young whippersnappers haven’t. So no one under 50 can make an educated, first-hand comparison between Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

rocketFine. But by that reasoning, if you’re not over 65 you didn’t see Doug Harvey at his most dominant. If Simmons saw Harvey play, he was a 44/45-year-old, dog-eared defenceman whom the expansion St. Louis Blues had dug out of moth balls when Simmons was in Grade 6.

Yet that didn’t prevent a 59-year-old Simmons from ranking Harvey No. 8 on his all-time list, second among defencemen behind only Orr. How can he possibly compare Harvey to Orr or, say, Nicklas Lidstrom? Meanwhile, he ranked the Rocket at No. 6. Never once saw him play. So how can he compare him to Guy Lafleur or Teemu Selanne?

***

My grandfather would tell us Rocket Richard was the greatest player ever. My dad would say Gordie Howe. I’d say Bobby Orr. My eldest son would likely say Wayne Gretzky. His kids are apt to say Sidney Crosby. It’s a generational thing that we should acknowledge and respect, not pooh-pooh or dismiss with a pompous grunt.

***

Simmons writes this of Joe Sakic: “Top five wrist shot in history.” He would know this how? Bernie Geoffrion popularized the slap shot in the 1950s. Prior to Boom Boom, most everyone used the wrister. Since Simmons never saw hockey in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, how can he compare Sakic’s wrist shot to all those old-time players? He can’t rate what he’s never seen. But he does and condemns others for doing that very thing. Go figure.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.