About Captain F-Bomb and Paul F-riesen…fabulous is also an F-word, and that’s Brooke Henderson…Commish Randy’s street buskers…of Drake and Burt…annoying commercials…Pebble People ahead of the trend…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and—language advisory—today’s essay is brought to you by the letter F…

Let’s talk F-bombs, kids.

Should Blake Wheeler be telling a news snoop to “fuck off” just because he doesn’t like the tone or substance of a question?

Of course not. It’s unprofessional and rude in the extreme.

Captain F-Bomb

Yet that’s the route Wheeler, captain of the Winnipeg Jets, chose to travel scant seconds after he and his mates were issued their ouster from the National Hockey League Stanley Cup tournament on Saturday night in St. Loo.

Early in a post-skirmish scrum, he had this exchange with Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun.

Friesen: “In an elimination game, you guys probably expected your best. What happened?”

Wheeler: “Fuck off.”

How utterly offensive. Clearly, the ‘C’ on Wheeler’s jersey doesn’t stand for ‘classy’ or ‘charming,’ and it leaves me to wonder if that’s how all the workers in Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s squeaky-clean True North Sports & Entertainment fiefdom talk to guests. I mean, is there a section in the TSNE employee manual that instructs them to be foul and vulgar?

Paul Friesen

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Captain F-Bomb has a history of being a dink with news snoops. Mind you, Wheeler always stopped short of telling anyone to “fuck off” until Friesen had the (apparent) bad manners to toss the potty-mouth capitano a totally reasonable question on the heels of a totally unreasonable performance.

Fact: Les Jets soiled the sheets in an elimination joust vs. St. Loo, dropping a 3-2 verdict that looked a lot more like 7-2. Rather than deliver their best, it was their worst effort in six games.

So, ya, I wanted to hear the captain’s thoughts on the pratfall.

“Fuck off,” Captain F-Bomb snarled. “Please, come on, man. This is a tough trophy to win and, um, you know, maybe our best just wasn’t good enough today and, you know, their best was pretty darn good. Um, you know, in situations like that you look for the resolve in your group, you look for how guys fight and, um, we played to the last whistle, so…you know, that’s the way I see it.”

He couldn’t have said that without telling Friesen to “fuck off?”

Look, I understand sports and athletes. Been there, done that. So I realize that Wheeler was dealing with a raw wound. He was PO’d. But, hey, we all have bad days at the office. That doesn’t grant us license to tell the butcher, the baker and the babysitter to “fuck off.”

I don’t want to hear anything about an inappropriate question at an inappropriate time, either. That was the right time and the right place for Friesen to ask Captain F-Bomb, and others, for an explanation. It’s part of the captain’s gig to man up to the media, and if the surly Wheeler isn’t comfortable with the duty he can hand the ‘C’ to someone with a civil tongue in his head.

Paul Maurice

That’s quite the collection of salty-tongue leaders the Puck Pontiff has assembled. Paul Maurice is Coach Potty Mouth (“I can make you cry in that fucking room;” the players are “horse shit.”) and Wheeler is Captain F-Bomb. Charming men.

I know Friesen. If you don’t appreciate his scribblings, I’m partly to blame, because I spearheaded a move to pry him away from CJOB and join us at the Sun, and when we last saw each other he wasn’t holding it against me. He’s a terrific guy and terrific at his job. A lot better than Wheeler was at his job on Saturday in St. Loo. I can also assure you that being on the receiving end of Captain F-Bomb’s f-bomb won’t give Paul a moment of bother. Guarantee he’s heard worse, like from readers suggesting he perform physical acts that are impossible. So he doesn’t need me to defend him. He’s a big boy. I’m simply calling out Wheeler for what he is—a Grade A boor.

Unless I miss my guess, Friesen will make light of his exchange with Wheeler, and that’s fine. But it doesn’t address the larger picture. News snoops should be allowed to conduct their business without being bullied by boors.

Brooke Henderson

Moving on from the churlish to the charming, give or take a Kaitlyn Lawes or Tessa Virtue is there anyone on the Canadian sports landscape more totally fab than Brooke Henderson? Fabulous—now there’s an F-word worth speaking. Our girl Brooke topped the leaderboard at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii on the weekend, bringing her win tally on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour to eight, and no homebrew has ever done it better. Or with a brighter smile. Brooke’s only 21, so it’s a cinch she’ll pass Sandra Post, Mike Weir and River City’s George Knudson on the hoser all-time wins list, but I like her because she’s a delight and appears to be everything that’s right with our youth.

Annoying TV Commercial 1: Is there a rule in advertising that men must come across as total tools? I realize men can be real goomers, but seriously. The guy in the ad for a Hyundai Santa Fe is made out to be the all-time nincompoop, driving his very pregnant, very in-labor wife and her mother to the hospital, and he forgets they’re in the car when he hops out and races solo to the emergency entrance. As if that’s going to happen. Well, okay, a guy might be dense enough to forget his pregnant wife is sitting in the back seat, but there’s no chance in hell he’d ever get away with leaving the dragon lady mother-in-law behind.

Commish Randy

Canadian Football League players say they’ll stay home and twiddle their thumbs if there’s no Collective Bargaining Agreement in place by May 18, when the large lads in pads are scheduled to begin grabbing grass and growling. Not to worry. Commish Randy Ambrosie, remember, spent the off-season galloping the globe and slapping palms with folks who don’t know a rouge from Rihanna, and I’m sure he’s convinced league owners that he’s discovered enough Mexicans, Germans, Austrians, Italians, Scandinavians and Frenchmen to fill their rosters. If not, he’ll just go back to Europe and round up every street busker with a valid passport.

Sarcasm aside, I’m getting bad vibes about the CFL-CFL Players Association negotiations, now on hold until the end of the month. Not sure what little games Commish Randy and the bankrolls are playing, but I don’t like it. Our home and native football needs a shutdown like Winnipeg needs another pothole.

Can you imagine the reaction across the land if there’s a CFL work stoppage? It’d be huge, front-page news in eight of the nine CFL cities. Meanwhile, in the Republic of Tranna, they’d be too busy gabbing about Auston Matthews’ chin whiskers, John Tavares’ pajamas, and the Drake Curse to notice.

That’s right, rapper Drake is now a two-sport groupie, giving news snoops in The ROT the opportunity to fawn over him at Raptors and Leafs games. But, hey, maybe that’s what we need in Good Ol’ Hometown—a celebrity groupie to attend Jets and Blue Bombers outings. Do you think we can pry Burton Cummings out of Moose Jaw? Better question: Why is a rock and roll legend living in Moose Jaw?

Annoying Commercial 2: I really wish that very angry guy in the white bath robe would quit pouting about the lady in his life sharing his Old Spice body wash. Every time I see it (which is far too often), I get the feeling they’re heading for divorce court to squabble over custody of soap or, worse, he’s about to give her the back of his hand upside the head. The ad has a sinister tone.

Linda Moore was in the booth in the 1980s.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet notes the number of female voices we now hear drifting from the Tower of Babble in men’s sports. “Cassie Campbell, AJ Mleczko in the (NHL) playoff booth, Dottie Pepper’s analysis at The Masters, Doris Burke calling NBA games, Jessica Mendoza at the ballpark, Beth Mowins calling NFL play by play,” he tweets. “The era of female sports broadcasters in more prominent roles is upon us.” Interesting, but not surprising, that Cox would ignore curling. Pebble People were about four decades ahead of the trend, that’s all. Vera Pezer and Linda Moore worked men’s games for TSN beginning in the 1980s, and now we have Cheryl Bernard on TSN and Joan McCusker with Sportsnet/CBC.

And, finally, it’s hard to believe that the Winnipeg Jets are done before Jennifer Jones, Kerri Einarson and Mike McEwen. When did curling become a 12-month sport?

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.

While Winnipeg Jets’ ownership/management fiddles, careers of older players waste away

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc.

That’s the unstoppable sound of the clock rapidly and relentlessly ticking down on the National Hockey League careers of certain able-bodied players whose bodies soon will begin to betray them, if that isn’t happening already.

Toby Enstrom will be 33 at this time next year. Dustin Byfuglien 32. Captain Blake Wheeler 31. Bryan Little 30. They were in, or about to enter, their prime playing years when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011 and the Thrashers morphed into the Winnipeg Jets. Since then, each has swallowed the Kool-Aid and put his signature on a long-term contract, convinced that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, and his obedient servant, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, would deliver on a promise of better days.

Toby Enstrom
Toby Enstrom

Well, those four men are still waiting for deliverance. Their biological clocks are still ticking. And they have every right to ask: When is when?

Except the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff won’t, or can’t, provide a definitive answer. Unlike Enstrom, Byfuglien, Little and Wheeler, they aren’t on the clock, so they simply recite the draft-and-develop mantra and add more pimples than puck sense to their roster, all the while allowing four careers to waste away.

There is no urgency in ownership/management. The Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out every night. There’s a waiting list for season subscriptions numbering in the thousands. Many among the rabble remain in swoon, still giddy to have an NHL outfit to call their own, no matter how inferior the product. The Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment can’t sell enough $10 Jumbo Jet hot dogs, $10 pints of beer and $300 jerseys. That isn’t a hockey rink tucked between Hargrave and Donald in downtown Winnipeg. It’s a cash register.

Much of that money is, of course, funneled into player wages and, to be sure, the Jets’ on-ice workers are handsomely compensated. They draw enough pay to purchase every $10 Jumbo Jet dog ever put on the grill. But once the contracts are signed, sealed and delivered, it’s no longer about the number of zeroes behind the dollar sign. It’s about winning. Period.

Do you think Blake Wheeler is interested in a draft-and-development plan that won’t bear any fruit for another, say, four-five years? Indeed, head coach Paul Maurice spoke to that very issue last April, when he began sifting through the charred leavings of another dumpster fire that put the Jets on the outside when the real fun began in the Stanley Cup tournament.

If we put a really, really young lineup again in the Central (Division) and have a couple of tough nights, as long as those are the best guys we have then I’m all for it,” coach Potty-Mo told news snoops.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler

At the end of the day, I don’t care who’s in that lineup, we’re going to try and figure out a way to win with that group. We’re going to put that expectation in our room, instead of saying, ‘Hey, just come out and try hard and follow us and then in five years we’re going to…’ Blake Wheeler doesn’t want to hear that, he doesn’t want to play like that.

Our expectations have to be higher. The players have to be under that pressure because I think they develop faster.”

But, as in the case of when is when, how fast is fast?

I mean, the Jets commenced their current crusade with two goaltenders still on training wheels. The tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson has crashed and burned. What’s old is new again, with Ondrej Pavelec back in the blue paint. And if he doesn’t return as the second coming of Dominik Hasek, what then? Back to Hellebuyck and Hutchinson?

I doubt that rate of development is fast enough for Wheeler and the others.

It is said today that 70 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 30, but it doesn’t work that way in hockey. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, 31 wasn’t considered old in the NHL. Today, 30 is the old 35 and 35 is the old 40. (No, that doesn’t explain Jaromir Jagr, but some things defy logic.) The point is, Wheeler cannot afford many more failed experiments and wasted seasons before rot sets in. None of the ‘old’ boys can. Their clocks keep ticking while ownership/management keeps talking. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have failed them. Miserably.

Little wonder Wheeler seems to be owly much of the time.

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.

Madame Redneck sees it all before it happens…

madame-redneck2Through the magic that is Skype, I have been to the Rocky Mountain back woods, where the reclusive and mysterious Madame Redneck resides in a shanty with a dozen feral cats and a seemingly never-ending supply of Kokanee.

I have witnessed her gaze into her crystal ball, read her Tarot cards and use her bony, nicotine-stained fingers to sift through the tea leaves.

This is what the mysterious Madame says will unfold in the toy department in 2017…

* The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, will also become the Pigskin Pontiff when True North Sports & Entertainment assumes control of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Asked how much he paid for the Canadian Football League club, Chipman says, “Pay? Pay? Are you kidding me? Pay? Have you not been paying attention? They haven’t won the Grey Cup since kindly Cal Murphy still had his first heart. Bless his soul.”

* Chipman’s first order of business as a Two-Sport Pontiff will be to dismiss CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea and replace them with Craig Heisinger, because he replaces everyone with Zinger.

It’s been an unbelievable ride,” Zinger gushes after accepting his new position(s). “Not many people can say they washed Teemu Selanne’s jock and now Justin Medlock’s jock. I’ve been blessed.”

* There will be a playoff game at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry after the Bombers finish second in the West Division. Alas, the 8,298 frigid folks in attendance will leave disappointed when Medlock, who Zinger trades to the B.C. Lions, kicks a 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give the Leos a 34-32 victory.

Aha! All the smart asses in the media said it couldn’t be done,” Mike O’Shea barks from his perch as analyst on the CFL on TSN panel. “Just goes to show all those smart asses in the media that I was right last year! It can be done!”

johnny-football
Johnny Football

* Because his predecessor, Walters, left him without a quarterback under contract, Heisinger will sign National Football League washout and all-around bad boy Johnny Manziel to a five-year contract. Asked by news snoops if there is concern about Manziel’s sordid past, Heisinger is quick to prop up his new QB.

We don’t think Johnny Football is a risk at all,” Zinger assures one and all. “Johnny Football comes to us a humble, rehabilitated man. Johnny Football could have demanded the moon from us, but Johnny Football didn’t ask us to show him the money. All he asked for is a chance and a six-pack of Labatt’s Blue as a signing bonus. Off the record, we were willing to go as high as a two-four of Blue to sign Johnny Football. Just don’t tell him.”

* The Winnipeg Jets will not qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and, when asked to provide an overview of his club’s season, head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t mince words.

What did you expect to happen?” he mutters. “Our young men just played 82 games in less than six months. That’s a lot to ask of these young men. There’s only so much you can ask of these young men.”

Reminded that the other 29 outfits in the National Hockey League also played an 82-game schedule in six months and 16 of them will carry on to participate in as many as 28 more playoff skirmishes, Maurice snaps.

I don’t appreciate you questioning our young men,” he bleats. “I can make you f%*&ing cry.”

auston-matthews
Auston Matthews

* Jets Finnish sensation Patrik Laine will finish second behind Auston Matthews in NHL rookie-of-the-year voting, prompting GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to offer a rambling response on behalf of Puck Finn.

Clearly, this was the result of an eastern bloc bias,” Chevy says. “Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs are using a better draft-and-develop model than us? I don’t think so. Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs have a better process than us? Again, I don’t think so. Does this mean Auston Matthews is a better player than Patrik? I don’t think so, but I suppose that’s for others to argue. Sometimes these things happen and, with Patrik, it happened. We didn’t want it to happen, but I recall reading somewhere that Bobby Hull never won the rookie award, either. So it happened to Bobby as well. We like where Patrik is and where he’s going, just like we like where all our young players are and where they’re going. Sometimes there will be hiccups, but I don’t look at this as a hiccup. I look at it as confirmation that our process is working and that the playoffs are right around the corner. How far away that corner is, I can’t tell you. But, as I’ve been telling you for six years now, I know there’s a corner out there somewhere and we’ll turn it one day, hopefully with Patrik and all our young players showing us the way to that corner.”

The Two-Sport Pontiff, meanwhile, echoes his GM’s comments and adds, “I’m just glad we don’t have to pay Patrik the rookie bonus. That doesn’t mean we operate on the chintz. It just means that I can tell Chevy to spend that money more wisely. Like by re-signing Chris Thorburn.”

sun* Someone at Postmedia will finally notice that there are only three people left to buy out or force out of the Winnipeg Sun toy department, so it will attempt to hire freelancers to put some flesh on the tabloid’s bones and combat the nine bylines that appear regularly in the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages.

It’s either that or shutter all the doors and windows,” a Postmedia mouthpiece says. “Now that Kirk Penton is gone, I don’t know how Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Ken Wiebe can compete with the Drab Slab if we don’t give them some help. Know anyone who’ll write for free?”

Recognizing that the Sun is ripe for the picking, True North Sports & Entertainment will swoop in with an offer Postmedia can’t refuse. Postmedia agrees to let TNSE take the tabloid off its hands for $1 plus applicable tax.

Can you believe it? It cost us more to buy this two-bit rag than the Bombers,” says Puck, Pigskin & Paper Pontiff Mark Chipman, who now owns everything in River City except the Winnipeg Goldeyes and the Disraeli Bridge, “but I think it’ll be worth all 100 pennies once we brainwash the appropriate people and show them how to do things the True North way. Friesen, Wyman and Wiebe can all keep their jobs, but they’ll be house organs who write nothing but puff pieces.”

Asked what will happen if they refuse, the Triple P Pontiff says, “I’ll get Paul Maurice to make them f%*&ing cry.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.

Winnipeg Jets: A personal ‘best of this and best of that’

I’m not fond of all-time greatest lists because they’re too often compiled by people who are not all-seeing.

Take, for example, the recent anointing of Dave Keon as creme de la Toronto Maple Leafs. As someone who witnessed the wonder that was Keon, initially on the family’s black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and then live and in living color with the New England/Hartford Whalers, I offer no quarrel with the salute to the diminutive, balletic centre-ice man. More to the point, I endorse it. Fully.

ducky3I wonder, though: How many among the 30 “experts” and 300,000 fans who gave voice to the Keon coronation actually saw him perform? How many can say they watched Syl Apps or Teeder Kennedy, who finished second and third, respectively, in balloting to select the greatest of the greats who have worn Maple Leafs linen in the past 100 years?

Syl Apps retired in 1948, two years before I was born. Teeder Kennedy hung ’em up in ’57. I don’t have the vaguest memory of him.

Time passed is the flaw in the all-time-greatest ointment, and it explains how a thug like Tie Domi can find himself on the same list as Dave Keon. I mean, seriously? Tie Domi belongs in the same company as Dave Keon? Ya, like I belong in the same ballet as Sophia Lee.

All of which brings me to the Winnipeg Jets. (Yes, I agree, the mention of Domi and ballet in the same breath serves as a rather odd, if not odious, segue to a discussion about the local hockey heroes, but work with me, kids.)

The creaky, old boys and the not-so-creaky Teemu Selanne will be back in town this week to participate in True North Sports & Entertainment’s genuflection to the Jets’ gloried past in the World Hockey Association and its limited achievements during the first go-round in the National Hockey League. Many of them, no doubt, shall arrive in River City greater of girth and with hairlines in rapid retreat, but hopefully old habits kick in when they take time away from the mirth and merriment of their reunion to play some pond hockey with the creaky, old Edmonton Oilers.

Slow-motion cameras won’t be a requirement, of course, because the actual-time speed is apt to be in super slo-mo—save for Selanne—but I’m guessing the Alumni Game on Saturday has as much appeal power as the Heritage Classic featuring the present-day Jets and Oilers on Sunday. (For those of you inclined to place a friendly wager on Team Hawerchuk in the old boys’ skirmish, be certain you get favorable odds because Team Gretzky has them out-Hall of Famed, 5-1, with one inductee-in-waiting.)

Anyway, this gathering of the clan puts me in mind of the best of the best, Jets version.

Many of my vintage can say we’ve seen them all, from the original Jet, Norm Beaudin, to today’s current flavor of the month, Patrik Laine, and some of us can say we saw more than most because we had the good fortune of an insider’s view home and away. That doesn’t make me an expert. It simply means I saw the Jets from a different vantage point.

It’s with that in mind that I submit some personal “best of” Jets lists…

peter-sullivan2My Favorites to Watch

1. Kent Nilsson: Pure magic. The most-talented player to wear a Jets jersey. Bar none.
2. Peter Sullivan: Silky smooth. I don’t care if he was defensively deficient. He was dazzling with the puck on his stick.
3. Anders Hedberg: The Swedish Express. His acceleration off the right wing was unparalleled.
4. Teemu Selanne: Ditto what I said about Hedberg.
5. Alexei Zhamnov: Spectacularly subtle. Perhaps that’s a contradiction in terms, but he was supremely skilled without a shred of flamboyance.

Most Grit

1. Ulf Nilsson: The punishment he absorbed and endured in the WHA was barbaric and criminal.
1a. Anders Hedberg: See above.
1b. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: See above.
1c. Ted Green: How he played so well in so much head pain is a mystery. I used to cringe watching the Seed hobbling on and off buses and airplanes, knowing he was in crippling pain.
3. Terry Ruskowski: He finished the 1979 WHA final with one arm.

Most Fun

Tom McVie: He’d always spice his interviews with comments like, “I’ve been fired more times than Al Capone’s machine gun” or “If life made sense, it would be men who rode sidesaddle. Think about it.”
Willy Lindstrom: The great prankster. He always made a pit stop at a joke store on our visits to Quebec City, then would toss stink bombs and sprinkle sneezing powder on our flight out of town.
Gary (Suitcase) Smith: Smitty seemed to take life with a wink and a nod.

jimmy-mann2Moments of Madness

1: Mike Smith: Comrade Mikhail, as I called the Jets GM, sold Kris Draper to the Detroit Red Wings for $1 (U.S. currency, one presumes) and used nine of his 12 selections at the 1992 NHL entry draft to claim Russians, the first of whom was the legendary Sergei Bautin. Smith’s make-work-for-Russians project fell flat. Little wonder Dale Hawerchuk got out of Dodge a couple years earlier.
2. Jimmy Mann: The sucker punch that shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw was every bit as bad as Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore.
3. Tom McVie: Taking his teeth out and trying to fight coach Al MacNeil of the Atlanta Flames was comedy gold.
4. John Ferguson: Punching a hole in the wall of his bunker at Winnipeg Arena? Check. Dumping a bucket of ice on to the Buffalo Sabres bench? Check. Kicking a hole in a dressing room door? Check.

Most Frustrating

1. Andrew McBain: We called him “Fergy’s son” or “Fergy’s kid” because we couldn’t think of any reason he was on the team, except that he must have been GM John Ferguson’s illigitimate kid. Beaner fooled us, though, with 32- and 37-goal seasons before leaving the Jets.
2. Scott Campbell: Asthma did poor Scotty in. His was never able to tap his full potential.
3. Ray Neufeld: Not because he underachieved, but because I silently cheered for him to succeed more than any other Jet. He became a fan whipping boy due to the Dave Babych trade, and I wanted Neuf to be a star. Never happened.

Best Quote

1. Dave Babych: Always gave thoughtful answers.
2. Terry Ruskowski: Honest, emotional, passionate.
3. Dale Hawerchuk: Ducky was the face of the franchise for so many years and he always delivered the goods.
4. Andrew McBain: No matter how hard the media rode him, Beaner didn’t balk on interviews.
5. Eddie Olczyk: I didn’t talk to Eddie O a great deal, but I could tell he had a future in talking.
5b. Barry Melrose: Friar Nicolson and I called him Kelvington after his home town in Saskatchewan. He loved talking into a microphone or tape recorder.

He’s Got Gonads

1. Tom McVie: Anyone who would bench Bobby Hull, one of the team owners, for arriving at the rink late has size XXXL gonads.
2. Morris Lukowich: A bantam rooster with a tiger in his tank. Luke never picked on anyone his own size, because they were all bigger than him.
3. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Built like Barney Rubble, the Little General shied away from no man, not even Bad News Bilodeau and the rest of the cement heads who would run him through the boards in the WHA.

laurie-boschman2Good Guys

1. Laurie Boschman: So belligerent on the ice, so soft-spoken and genuinely nice off it.
2. Dave Babych: A big, friendly bear of a man.
3. Terry Ruskowski: A good Canadian Prairie boy.
4. Barry Melrose: Fun guy, always joking with Friar and I.
5. Jude Drouin/Pierre Hamel: They took care of me after I collapsed on a flight home from Toronto.

Curmudgeons Before Their Time

1. Randy Carlyle: Mostly it was an act (I think), but Kitty played the role of the two old farts on The Muppets.
2. Mario Marois: Forever bitching about the heat on the bus.

Most Underrated

1. Teppo Numminen: I think he was only appreciated in Winnipeg. Had he played in Toronto or Montreal, they’d still be talking about him.
2. Ron Wilson: Dawg: Subtly efficient.

What Were They Thinking?
(When they Drafted this Guy)

1. Sergei Bautin: Still hard to believe that comrade Mikhail Smith squandered a first-round pick on this pylon.
2. Jimmy Mann: Strike one against Fergy.
3. Hannu Jarvenpaa: Scored four goals in an exhibition game. Scored 11 the rest of his career.
4. Evgeny Davydov: Mikhail was kidding, right?
5. Ryan Stewart: Three games, one goal. Say no more.

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.

About Bobby Hull pooping on his own party…fallen heroes…the CFL not on TSN…and Rod Black losing the plot

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

Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull

True North Sports & Entertainment put itself in a non-winable position with Bobby Hull.

Once the decision had been made to create a Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame and salute players as far back as the World Hockey Association, TNSE had no choice but to include the legendary left winger and every piece of soiled laundry and excess baggage that he drags along with him.

That, in turn, meant howls of protest would arise, because not everyone can separate the fabulous hockey player from the flawed man who sometimes roughed up women.

So Hull will poop on his own party.

Nobody in officialdom is saying exactly why Hull has advised True North that there shall be no need to set a place for him at the table when the National Hockey League club honours the Golden Jet and his two Hot Line accomplices from the WHA—Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson—as the initial inductees to the team Hall of Fame on Oct. 19. We’re told it’s for “personal reasons.”

At first blush, I thought perhaps Hull was ill. There is, after all, considerable age around his eyes and he’s done some hard living and hard drinking in his 77-plus years. If it’s a health issue preventing Hull from traveling to River City, I suppose his desire might be to keep it on the QT, but we wouldn’t need to know the gory details. The Secret Society that is TNSE need only tell us that he’s not in fine fettle and leave it at that. So strike illness off the list of possibilities for Hull pulling the chute on an appearance.

What then?

Domestic violence. That has to be the elephant in the room.

I doubt Hull wishes to arrive in River City and open a newspaper, or tune in to talk radio, and read/hear another story about splitting his second ex-wife Joanne’s head open with the stiletto heel of one of her shoes. Or threatening to hurl her off a balcony. Or threatening her with a shotgun. Or the family’s former nanny telling tales about him ripping a telephone off the wall with one hand while yanking on Joanne’s hair with the other. He doesn’t need to hear another recital of some off-handed remarks he might or might not have made to a Moscow newspaper about Adolph Hitler’s swell ideas.

True North wouldn’t have any appetite for any of that either.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.
Jets original owner Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull the day the legendary left winger signed his WHA contract at Portage and Main.

The inaugural Hall of Fame function, which is part of the Heritage Classic festivities next month, is meant to be a celebration of hockey and the glory days, when the Jets were rulers of all they surveyed in the WHA. And many will tell you that that’s all it ought to be about. I mean, the Chicago Blackhawks made it all about hockey when they erected a statue of Hull outside the United Center and put him on the payroll as an ambassador. Domestic violence be damned. So why shouldn’t TNSE act in kind, right?

If only it were that simple.

It could be that the fine folks in Winnipeg are a bit more sensitive to the notion of men whacking women than those in the Windy City. I don’t know. I’ve never lived in Chicago. Just visited while on assignment. I do know this, though: There is no wrong time for a conversation about the scourge of domestic violence.

If Hull is a no-show, are his non-hockey trespasses less likely to hijack the headlines next month? Perhaps. Then again, his absence might bring spousal abuse into greater focus.

This is a fine mess TNSE has gotten itself into and the owners are named Chipman and Thomson, not Solomon, so this baby is being cut in half.

It’s a most unfortunate circumstance, and the great irony is that the man who crusaded so vigorously against violence in hockey couldn’t keep his hands to himself away from the rink. More’s the pity, Bobby Hull.

I recall making my way down to the Jets changing room after a game one night at the old barn on Maroons Road when a young fellow stopped me to say how much he admired Bobby Hull. More than anything, he wanted to meet his hockey hero. “Kid,” I told him, “sometimes our heroes aren’t who we think they are.” I left it at that. I heard from that “kid” last year. He advised me that he went home and asked his dad what I might have meant. What ensued was a father-son, fireside chat about domestic violence and he said it had a “positive impact” on his life. Like I said, there’s never a wrong time for that discussion, even if it brings one of our heroes down from the pedestal.

In a perfect world, Hull would show up for his party and address the elephant in the room by telling younger people “don’t make the same mistakes that I made,” then get on with swapping lies and tall tales with the boys.

Mark Chipman
Mark Chipman

If Mark Chipman hadn’t caved in to the demands of the rabble and named his NHL franchise something other than Jets in 2011, would we even be having this conversation about Hull? Not likely. Had Chipman called the current outfit Falcons or Monarchs or Polar Bears, there’d be no compulsion to link to the past. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Okay, enough of B. Hull. I’d like to know the name of the genius who decided to show beach volleyball and fast car racing on the main TSN channel Saturday afternoon instead of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Toronto Argonauts skirmish. Seriously. Some of us live in poverty and can’t afford to subscribe to all five of TSN’s channels. It’s sad when you live in Canada but have to turn to an American streaming website to watch a Canadian Football League game. Put the CFL on the main channel, for gawd’s sake.

At times during the Bombers-Argos joust, I wondered if TSN play-by-play voice Rod Black was watching with his eyes shut. Like after Quincy McDuffie of the Bombers returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Old friend Blackie prattled on about a “punt return.” He really lost the plot later when suggesting that the Bombers inserting of Matt Nichols at quarterback was “a stroke of genius.” Oh, pu-leeze. It was nothing of the sort. It was an act of desperation to save the season and head coach Mike O’Shea’s job. Those geniuses knew Nichols was the best bet at QB coming out of training camp, but it took them four losses in five games to correct their blunder.

The Winnipeg Free Press has dispatched columnist Paul Wiecek to the Republic of Tranna for the cash grab known as the World Cup of Hockey, and I’ve been enjoying his stuff. I particularly got a kick out of his take on the media: “The tournament will be played at the Air Canada Centre and all the teams are staying at a nearby hotel within walking distance. It quickly becomes apparent from a walk through the hotel bar that the biggest egos at this event won’t be the players but rather the insufferable national media that covers hockey in this country. There is an unavoidable reflected glory that comes with covering hockey in a rabid country like Canada—and way too many media people who think that means it’s about them.” That won’t win Wiecek many friends on press row, but he’s spot-on.

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.

 

About the Winnipeg Jets spending more big bucks…the Blue Bombers’ winning formula…”gutless” comments…and other things on my mind

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

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.
Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

It’s no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets have tossed top dollar at Mark Scheifele.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Jets operate on the chintz. In any payroll search of National Hockey League clubs, you’ll always find the locals nearer the bottom of the heap than the top. This is a “budget” team.

Yet the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment contradicts itself. That is, it is not a big spender, yet it has never been shy about spending big.

I mean, any outfit willing to compensate a lowly foot soldier like Chris Thorburn to the tune of $1.2 million per annum isn’t afraid to chuck the change around. Co-bankroll David Thomson likely found enough to pay Thorbs’s salary hidden behind and beneath the cushions of his sofa.

The point is, stuffing $49 million (US) into Scheifele’s piggy bank doesn’t represent a seismic shift in how True North does business. The Jets have a history of showing a willingness to deliver term and top-market compensation to those they deem their most valued workers. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Earlier this year, the Jets committed $38 million to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Two days ago, it was $16.5 million for Mathieu Perreault, a generous stipend for a guy who might be playing third-line minutes. None of this is chump change. Nor was the $93.1 million they doled out to three players—Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—three years ago this month. Thirteen months before that, they agreed to pay Ondrej Pavelec $19.5 million over five years (ignore the reality that it was money not wisely spent on their much-maligned goaltender).

So no one should be surprised that the Jets went all-in with an eight-year, $49 million contract for Scheifele. It wasn’t a debunking of a “cheapskate tag,” as the Winnipeg Free Press suggests. It’s what they’ve done and will continue to do. Nothing has changed.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler

I have one question about the Jets signing of Scheifele: Why didn’t they name the 23-year-old centre team captain at the same time? While prevailing sentiment suggests Wheeler ought to wear the C, Scheifele will be doing his thing at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the next eight winters. Wheeler, whose birthday cake next month will feature 30 candles, won’t be.

In Florida, owners of the Panthers talk about winning the Stanley Cup. “They expect a Stanley Cup and we have a duty to bring the best team possible to our fans,” general manager Tom Rowe says of owner Vincent Viola and vice-chairman Doug Cifu. In Winnipeg, meanwhile, His Holy Hockeyness, Mark Chipman, and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, talk about a “process.”

Nice to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally found a winning formula—play a team that will commit six turnovers. That’s what went down when the Bombers bettered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-24, Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. The trick now, of course, is to find a few more teams as inept as the Tabbies.

On that note, who stole the real Hamilton Tiger-Cats and what have you done with them? Not to discredit the Bombers, who’ll take Ws in any shape or size, but the Tabbies were gawd awful and aren’t even a reasonable facsimile of the outfit that has been a Canadian Football League force since Kent Austin put his hands on the till. Yes, I realize the starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, is in sick bay, but that’s no excuse for the Keystone Kops routine.

Just wondering: Did South African High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa give her “fallen hero” Oscar Pistorius a hug and a kiss before shipping her “broken man” off to jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or did she settle for an autograph?

fish wrapCathal Kelly is among the finer wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism, but I fear he’s lost the plot when it comes to tennis. Scribbling in the Globe and Mail, he mentions “the golden era of Canadian tennis” and cites Genie Bouchard’s march to the 2014 ladies’ final at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic advancing to the gentlemen’s semi-final round before bowing to Roger Federer that same summer. That’s Kelly’s idea of a golden era? One fortnight on the lumpy lawns of the All England Club? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing “golden” about one exceptional-yet-unsuccessful run at a tennis Grand Slam, then operating on the periphery of the sport’s elite. I would suggest that if Raonic topples Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning, we can begin talking about a “golden” era of Canadian tennis. But not before he’s actually won something of note.

Shame on Steve Simmons, Postmedia sports columnist and TSN gab guy who this week on The Reporters with Dave Hodge advised us that Kevin Durant has “no spine” and his signing with a stacked Golden State Warriors outfit was “gutless.” In case we didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated his reckless “no spine” insult in his weekly three-dot column. Yo! Stevie! I’ll tell you what takes “no spine” and is “gutless.” Sitting in the shelter of a faraway TV studio or in your home office and slandering one of the top five performers in the National Basketball Association. Stand on a chair, look Durant in the eyes and then say he’s spineless and gutless or don’t say it at all.

I’m liking two new features in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department: 1) Paul Wiecek’s Sticks and Stones column (a string of brief opinion blurbs can make for a bright and breezy read; 2) TV columnist Brad Oswald’s take on the sports shows we watch. I’m anxious to see if Oswald will critique sports scribes freelancing as broadcasters or treat them like sacred cows. I’m betting it’s the latter, because people in the toy department don’t tend to eat their own.

It’s about that Trivago guy who shows up in all those commercials during sports programs: Someone has to tell him to stop dancing. He’s smooth like JLo is ugly.

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