The River City Renegade


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About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s playoff guarantee for the Winnipeg Jets…Festus Haggen running the Vancouver Canucks…Genie Bouchard’s hissy fit…the heavyweight boxing alphabet…and those darned kids are playing on Steve Simmons’ lawn again

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

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Interesting exchange between John Shannon of Sportsnet and Kevin Cheveldayoff before the ping pong balls went bouncy-bouncy at National Hockey League draft lottery on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna.

Shannon: “I mean this sincerely, I don’t wanna see you (here) next year.”

Chevy: “I’m not coming back.”

I suppose we can read that light-hearted bit of good, ol’ boys banter one of two ways:

1) Chevy, after half a dozen years of generally (mis)managing the Winnipeg Jets, is telling the faithful that there shall be meaningful games played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. That’s right, playoffs. You have his guarantee. No ifs, buts or maybes. It’s iron-clad.

Or…

2) Should the Jets fail to qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup tournament, Chevy is telling Jets Nation that he no longer will be generally (mis)managing the Jets. They’ll kick him to the curb.

Which of the two is it? Well, I don’t think Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman is inclined to kick Chevy anywhere, although a good, swift boot to the seat of his britches might serve a useful purpose. So, he’s guaranteeing us that the Jets will not be a lottery team next year.

Trouble is, nobody will hold him to it.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! This is your weekly reminder about how to build a playoff team. If you’ve been paying attention to the Edmonton McDavids’ postseason run, you’ll know they’ve gotten game-winning goals from Zack Kassian (two), David Desharnais, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Anton Slepyshev. All but Slepyshev were acquired in trades, Chevy. Oh, and that goalie who stole Game 2 for the McDavids in their skirmish with the Disney Ducks? That’s right. Cam Talbot was acquired in a trade, as well. But, hey, you just keep drafting and doing nothing else, Chevy.

Why do I keep reading and hearing that it will be an upset if the McDavids knock off the Ducks? Edmonton was a mere two points in arrears of Anaheim at the close of regular-season business, they racked up the same number of Ws (regulation/overtime), and their goal differential was 12 better. So how would that qualify as an upset?

Festus Haggen and Trevor Linden: Separated at birth?

That hot mess that is the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t look any prettier after they dropped three spots, to No. 5, in the draft lottery, but it won’t prevent Trevor Linden from peddling his flock a snootful of hooey. “We could get a better player at five than the top two, and that’s what we’re focused on,” the Canucks chief cook and bottle washer said. “We’re thinking about the entire draft. We’ll have six picks in the top 120 and we’re going to add to our group of prospects. That’s the message to our fans.” Which is like trying to sell mosquitoes to Winnipeg.

Yo! Trevor Linden! It’s one thing to look like you’re in the fourth month of a hunger strike, but what’s with those scruffy chin whiskers? If someone were to stick a tattered, old cowboy hat on you, we’d be looking at Festus Haggen from Gunsmoke.

Would I be out of line if I suggest someone other than Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world? I mean, I don’t see anyone better than Erik Karlsson these days, and the Ottawa Senators captain is playing on a foot with two hairline fractures.

I see our girl Genie Bouchard had herself quite the hissy fit when the Sharapova Shriek returned to the Women’s Tennis Association tour this week after 15 months of shriek freedom. Maria Sharapova, of course, had been in exile for using the banned substance meldonium, and the return of Her Royal Blondness as a wild-card entry in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Stuttgart, Germany, inspired Genie to label the former world No. 1 a “cheater and…I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.” Geez, who knew Genie Bouchard was still on the circuit?

Maria Sharapova

Yo! Genie and all you other ladies (hello, Caroline Wozniacki) who would have Sharapova grovel! Listen up. Serena Williams is away having babies. The Sharapova Shriek had been silenced. You have no star power without them. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So give your heads a shake. Of course event organizers want the tall Russkie in the main draw. That’s why she was offered wild-card entries at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. She sells. It’s a no-brainer. Will she receive a free pass into the French Open at Roland Garros? We’ll know mid-May. In the meantime, the WTA needs her as much as she needs it.

Once upon a time, a heavyweight title bout was the biggest sports story of the day. Heavyweight champion of the world was the most exalted position in all of jockdom. Today? Dispatches on the title tiff between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium in London didn’t even make it on the front page of the Sportsnet website (I guess they couldn’t work a Toronto Maple Leafs angle into the story) and it made the bottom of the page on TSN’s site. For the record, Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts) stopped Klitschko in the 11th round and he now owns two of prize fighting’s alphabet belts—the IBF and WBA. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champeen and Joseph Parker holds the WBO title. No word on the three champions going dukes up to sort out boxing’s alphabet, but if they do fight I’m sure Sportsnet won’t care.

Grandpa Steve Simmons is in the Bow Wow Bungalow again.

Oh, dear me, those pesky kids are playing in Grandpa Steve Simmons’ front yard again. The Postmedia columnist tweets: “Shouldn’t playoffs be enough to get people excited? Why this need for blaring noise and screaming half hour before Raptors game?” Shhhhhh. You kids keep it down out there! Grandpa Stevie has to get in his nap before tipoff.

Just wondering: Is there a Canadian Football League rule that Chris Jones hasn’t broken since taking over Gang Green. The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mr. Everything has been levied fines totaling $116,500, which could buy him a backup quarterback, a rookie O-lineman and a fine to be levied later.

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 Mathieu Perreault’s loose lips…Toby Enstrom doing the Winnipeg Jets a favor…the NHL coaching carousel is spinning…and so long to Sudsy Sutherland

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

Mathieu Perreault

Either Mathieu Perreault is the most brutally honest player in the National Hockey League, or the filter between his grey matter and tongue is on the fritz.

I mean, it isn’t often that you hear someone label a teammate “selfish.” Perreault did. It’s equally rare in the team-first culture of hockey for a player who is not without his own flaws to cast stones of disapproval and blame at colleagues. Perreault did.

There he stood before a gathering of news scavengers on Sunday, less than 24 hours after he and the Winnipeg Jets had put another failed crusade to bed. His dark eyes at times hidden in the shadows from the peak of a black ball cap, the scruffy, bearded winger delivered bon mots about his season (“When I was playing my best, I feel like the team always had a better chance of winning.”), a possible future in Las Vegas, the Jets’ talented youth and…goaltending.

I think,” he submitted, “if we can get some saves…that was kind of a bit of a struggle for us. There’s no team in the playoffs that isn’t getting saves, so we’re gonna definitely need some saves.”

So there you have it, kids. If you’re looking for Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchinson or Ondrej Pavelec today, you’ll find all three in a mangled mess under a transit bus. That’s where Mathieu Perreault tossed them.

It’s not that Perreault is off base about the oft d’oh-like work of the much-maligned men who stand in the blue ice. Puck-stopping surely is among the main reasons the Jets have conducted early exit interviews for the fifth time in six seasons. Here’s the question, though: Was he wrong to say it for public consumption?

Naturally, if you’re a collector of sound bites, you love Perreault. In a world of mostly bland, cookie-cutter quotes, his loose lips are manna. His candor is refreshing. He is, as they say in the rag trade, “good copy.”

If, on the other hand, you’re a teammate and he’s branded you “selfish” (hello, Jacob Trouba) or he’s got you pegged as the reason you aren’t participating in Stanley Cup skirmishing that commences this week, you might have to resist the urge to volunteer to sew those loose lips together and perhaps threaten to administer a painful noogie or two just to emphasize your point.

What Perreault said was blunt but true, and I can’t imagine any member of the Fourth Estate wanting him to bite his tongue. But, it’s understandable if the goaltenders are miffed, if not flat-out PO’d, because their accuser was MIA for the first three-quarters of the season.

I doubt they’d share their thoughts with the rabble, though. That would be too much like airing dirty laundry in public, which is Perreault’s shtick.

Sudsy Sutherland

I’m sorry, but unless Toby Enstrom has a burning desire to live in Glitter Gulch (which, apparently, he does not), there’s no reason why the veteran defenceman should waive the no-movement clause in his contract and, thus, allow the Jets to expose him to the Vegas Golden Knights in this summer’s expansion draft. To suggest he ought to do this out of some sense of loyalty to the team is daft.

And so it has begun. Lindy Ruff is out in Dallas, Tom Rowe is out in Florida, Willie Desjardins is out in Vancouver, Darryl Sutter is out in Tinseltown. Would you want any of those defrocked head coaches behind the bench for the Jets? No, no, no and…hmmm. Sutter is an intriguing possibility. But Paul Maurice isn’t going anywhere, despite what was hinted by one of the natterbugs on TSN’s The Reporters with Dave Hodge last week. Bruce Arthur suggested that “Paul Maurice is maybe in a little bit of trouble in Winnipeg.” Ya, Coach Potty-Mouth is in trouble like Alec Baldwin is the real Donald Trump.

So sad to learn of the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, former player, coach and general all-around good guy with the Winnipeg Jets. Spent many hours with Sudsy on the team bus, in the team hotel, at the rink and even made a couple of side trips with him from Philadelphia to the casinos in Atlantic City. A wonderful man.

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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Hens in the Hockey House talk turkey about the Winnipeg Jets, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele

Before my two Hens in the Hockey House put the bird in the oven for Christmas dinner, they’re talking turkey about the Winnipeg Jets. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Finally, a chance to take a deep breath and chill. No hockey until Tuesday. Do you need the break as much as I do?

Answer Lady: Actually, there is hockey. The World Junior Championship starts on Boxing Day.

question-lady-and-answer-lady2Question Lady: You mean the “nobody cares except TSN tournament” don’t you?

Answer Lady: People care. Maybe not overseas, but we care in Canada. At least I think we do. I guess we’ll know by television ratings.

Question Lady: It’s hard to believe that Patrik Laine could be playing for Finland in that tournament. If defencemen and goaltenders in the National Hockey League can’t stop him, how much damage would he do playing against a bunch of kids?

Answer Lady: Puck Finn would be scary good. But so would all the other age-eligible players who are in the NHL. Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner could be playing for Canada. Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski and Matthew Tkachuk could be wearing the Stars and Stripes. Jesse Puljujarvi is another eligible Finn. There’s a lot of missing star power. It’ll be terrific hockey, but it’s watered down at the top end.

Question Lady: You surprised at how well Laine is doing in his rookie season with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Yes and no. I thought the over/under for Puck Finn was 20 goals. I just didn’t think he’d get there so soon. I thought he’d have an electric start, then go into a bit of a swoon. Hasn’t happened. Nineteen goals in 36 assignments is heady stuff. Everything about his game is lights-out impressive. Even his own goal—his selfie—was impressive. And I like his cockiness.

Question Lady: I think the Jets lead the league in selfies. Nikolaj Ehlers scored one, too.

Answer Lady: That was a goaltending gaffe. Michael Hutchinson went all Rip Van Winkle on the boys. Overtime is never a good time for a goalie to take a nap.

Question Lady: Who do you like more, Laine or Ehlers?

Answer Lady: That’s like asking me if I’d rather listen to Sinatra or Tony Bennett. They’re both brilliant. I kind of like Ehlers, though. I call him Twig because that’s how he’s built. He was snake-bit around the net for the longest time, but he discovered his goal-scoring mojo just before the break. Twig is a quick-strike kind of guy. He’s now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t fast. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finished the season with more points than his linemates, Puck Finn and Rink Rat Scheifele. Remember that. You heard it here first.

Question Lady: The question is, how long will head coach Paul Maurice keep those three together?

Answer Lady: Sometimes I think Maurice is a bit of a basket case. He keeps trying to fix what isn’t broken. The Lickety-Split Line should stay together until the end of time, but I’m sure Maurice will go into his street busker routine shortly after the Christmas break and start juggling his forwards with no rhyme or reason.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice, aka Mr. .500.

Question Lady: Could that explain why Maurice is a career .500 coach?

Answer Lady: Player deployment is probably one of the reasons.

Question Lady: There’s been plenty of speculation about Maurice’s future with the Jets. Do you think he should be fired?

Answer Lady: No. Not now. This season is Maurice’s mulligan. But going forward into next season, I agree with what TSN analyst Craig Button said about coach PoMo the other day—“(He) is going to have to do a much better job.” Maurice needs to up his game. But can a career .500 coach who’s made the playoffs only five times in 18 seasons do that? I have my doubts. Any lump on a bar stool can tell you that the Lickety-Split Line should never be torn apart, but, as sure as Don Cherry likes good Canadian beer, Maurice will be fiddle farting around with those three lads inside a fortnight.

Question Lady: Fiddle farting isn’t a very lady-like term, my dear.

Answer Lady: Sorry, but that’s what Maurice does. He fiddle farts.

Question Lady: What’s the biggest disappointment with the Jets to date?

Answer Lady: Mathieu Perreault. I mean, two goals and seven points? That’s what $4.5 million buys you these days? I realize he isn’t pulling in that much coin right now, but that’s his sticker price next season and $4 mill per annum after that. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff clearly had a moment of madness when he agreed to that deal. Either that or Perreault has incriminating photos. Chevy gave the guy a four-year extension at that inflated wage for what? Perreault has never had a 20-goal season. He only scored nine goals in 2015-16. He’s brittle…he’s never played a full, 82-game season. Perreault is probably the most overpaid worker in the NHL. I’m guessing Chevy would probably like a do-over on that contract. Or maybe he’s hoping the Las Vegas expansion franchise will take that fat-cat contract off the Jets’ books next summer.

Question Lady: What’s your take on Dustin Byfuglien?

Answer Lady: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? One minute he’s a jaw-dropping delight, the next he’s back to his d’oh boy ways. Buff is Buff. An asset and a liability. I don’t drink the True North Kool-Aid, so I can take him or leave him.

Question Lady: You don’t buy into the Jets’ heavy schedule as an excuse, do you?

Connor Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck

Answer Lady: Seven NHL teams have played 36 games. Six of them are in a playoff position at the Christmas break. The only team below the line is Winnipeg. Conclusion: The schedule as an excuse is lame. You know why the Jets are on the outside looking in right now? Coaching, inconsistent play, dumb penalties and goaltending.

Question Lady: You include goaltending among the flaws?

Answer Lady: It’s been moderate. Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck need to be better. We already knew that Hutchinson wasn’t a No. 1 ‘tender, so Hellebuyck was the mystery. He’s had his moments. I suppose the jury is still out, but I don’t see him as a No. 1. It’s one of those things I’d like to be wrong about, but I don’t believe the Jets braintrust recognizes talent in the blue paint.

Question Lady: What do you expect during the back half of the season?

Answer Lady: Much of the same. It’s a toilet-seat season—up and down, up and down. This Jets outfit is very much like big Buff’s game. Bad and brilliant.

Question Lady: Still think they’ll miss the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Yup. But I’ll enjoy watching Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat do their thing. If, that is, Maurice lets them.

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.

 


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About Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice’s job status…No. 3 centre Mark Scheifele…too much ice for Big Buff…too much whinging about the schedule…and a Grey Cup for the Stampeders

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

What’s that chirping I hear? Crickets? Nope. It’s the natterbugs.

They’ve begun to make noise about Paul Maurice, who, should the Winnipeg Jets’ current funk stretch beyond five games, soon will be described as a much-maligned man. No surprise there, really. I mean, the Jets went 0-for-the road last week, so it must be the head coach’s fault. Surely, his best-before date is about to expire.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

Well, you can put the pitch forks and torches away. Pa Ingalls isn’t going anywhere.

When Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his College of Yes Men headed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff chose to go all-in on the greening of the Jets at the commencement of this National Hockey League crusade, they were telling us that their expectations vis-a-vis the playoffs were low and, short of mutiny, nothing was going to move Maurice from behind the bench. Ownership/management were giving him a Mulligan before he took his driver out of the bag.

Think about it. They saddled the guy with a gaggle of greenhorns. By my count, there were half a dozen rookies at the start of business. More youth joined the fray due to various owies. What did you expect would happen?

This is the nature of the youth beast: All-world one night, all-woe the next five.

The same scenario is unfolding in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs tease then torment the rabble, and in Buffalo, where the Sabres show promise then perform a faceplant, all the while wondering if the other shoe will drop on Evander Kane. And, of course, we watched it in Edmonton, where the Oilers were a decade-long, class-action joke and remain erratic, even with Connor McDavid on board.

So get used to it, Jets Nation. This season will have more ups and downs than the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist for Maurice. I’m not. It’s just that I believe he’s been set up to fail this season. The Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men went younger by design, and I don’t think they expect the Jets to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Is the goaltending Maurice’s fault? I doubt Cheveldayoff would recognize elite puckstopping if Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur were playing pond hockey in his back yard. How, then, can ownership/management or anyone else lay the blame at the coach’s feet? They can’t. Thus, he stays.

None of this is to say Maurice is fault free. He juggles his forward lines like he’s a street busker. His unwavering faith in, and reliance on, Chris Thorburn remains as much a mystery as how they get the caramel inside a Caramilk chocolate bar. Mark Stuart belongs on an NHL roster like Don Cherry belongs on the cover of a Moscow tourism brochure. Then there’s coach Pa Ingalls’ adopted son, Alexander Burmistrov. Can we not send him back to the Russian orphanage?

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele

I don’t know about you, but I often detect a whiff of haughtiness in many of Maurice’s chin-wags with news snoops. There’s just something about his way with words that suggests a self-declared upper-crustacy. But can he really be the smartest man in the room when he spouts the kind of nonsense he delivered on the heels of a recent loss to the Carolina Hurricanes? “Bryan (Little) played four shifts for us this year, so our No. 1 centreman is out,” he said. “Matty Perreault’s been gone for a while, that’s our No. 2 guy.” Either Maurice thinks we’re stupid, or he’s actually the dumbest man in the room. If he truly believes that Mark Scheifele, the NHL’s leading point collector at the time, is his third-line centre and will be slotted as such once Little and the do-nothing Perreault return from the repair shop, he should be fired immediately.

If Dustin Byfuglien is this bad in the first go-round of his five-year contract, how bad will he be in the 2020-21 season, at which time he’ll be 36 years old and likely weigh about 300 lb.? It’s clear that Byfuglien is getting far too much ice time from Maurice, who, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, treats Big Buff with kid gloves. Sit him down, for cripes sake. He’s not Bobby Orr. Give the top-pairing minutes to Jacob Trouba.

I’ve heard enough whinging from Maurice and the rabble about the Jets horrible, unfair, cruel, hardship, blah, blah, blah schedule. Yes, it’s a grind, but no more so than what the Calgary Flames or Edmonton McDavids are dealing with this month. The Flames will play 16 games in November, 11 on the road and four back-to-backs. The McDavids play 15 games, 10 away from home. The Jets will be 16 and 10. The Dallas Stars play 16 games. So, don’t talk to me about the schedule. It’s a copout.

Does Sportsnet know that the 104th Grey Cup game will be played this afternoon in the Republic of Tranna? There were exactly zero stories about the Canadian Football League title match on the front page of the Sportsnet website when I brought it up at 5 o’clock this morning. Zero. There were more than a dozen on the TSN front page.

I know it’s the easy pick, but I’ve got to go with the Calgary Stampeders in the large football match this afternoon. I’m thinking it’ll be a whupping, and only garbage points by the Ottawa RedBlacks in late-game skirmishing will make it seem closer than the reality of a rout. Calgary 32, Ottawa 19.

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.

 


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The two Hens in the Hockey House deliver the goods on the 2019 Stanley Cup champion Winnipeg Jets, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Sideline Sara, the Lickety Split Line and much more

We’re slightly more than a month into the Winnipeg Jets 2016-17 crusade, which means it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House.

Take it away, ladies…

question-lady-and-answer-lady2Question Lady: The good times are rolling for our favorite team. The Jets really gave the Chicago Blackhawks a nasty wedgie on Tuesday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Four-zip. Bravo. And now they’re second in the Western Conference and Central Division. Did you see this coming? Is it sustainable?

Answer Lady: Well, if you recall when we last talked, I said there was as much chance of the Jets qualifying for the Stanley Cup tournament as there is of me filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert. Maybe I didn’t read the tea leaves accurately. Maybe I should clear my throat, do some vocal cord exercises and go to a thrift store and buy some 1970s outfits and big hair. I might have a singing gig come springtime.

Question Lady: So what are you saying now? That they will make the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Whoa, Nellie. The National Hockey League season is a marathon. But I will say this: It appears that the Jets will be in or near a playoff position by American Thanksgiving weekend and that means they ought to be in the conversation deep into the season. I still believe they’ll fall short, though. But that’s okay. It’s about the big picture for the Jets.

Question Lady: Meaning what?

Answer Lady: Meaning the 2019 Stanley Cup champions are beginning to look like—wait for it—like the 2019 Stanley Cup champions. Just as Ken Campbell of The Hockey News predicted. I was reminded of Campbell’s forecast after the Jets gave the Blackhawks that 4-0 paddywhacking. It appears that the local lads most assuredly have two of the three essential ingredients for your basic Stanley Cup stew: A stud centre-ice man, Rink Rat Scheifele, and a stud defenceman, Jacob Trouba. And they’ve added a stud winger into the mix, Puck Finn.

Really, the only box left to check for the Jets is stud goaltender. That might be Connor Hellebuyck, whose blanking of the Blackhawks is the high-water mark of his ongoing audition. It might be Eric Comrie, who’s on the farm. It won’t be Michael Hutchinson in the blue paint and it never was going to be Ondrej Pavelec, who, if he catches a late-career break, could find himself playing out the string in Glitter Gulch.

Jacob Trouba

Jacob Trouba

Question Lady: There’s just one thing wrong with that analysis…Trouba wants out of Winnipeg. Doesn’t that leave the Jets one stud short of a barn wall?

Answer Lady: Winning is a cure-all. Trouba isn’t going to bail if the Jets are knocking on hockey heaven’s door.

Question Lady: Don’t you think his plan to force a trade failed miserably? Do you think he’s learned his lesson?

Answer Lady: Jacob Trouba wanted a trade. He didn’t get it. In that sense, he failed. But because he signed for only two years rather than five or six—and for much less money than market value—doesn’t mean he failed. Maybe money isn’t as important to him as you think it should be. If he’s happy with $2.5 million and $3.5 million a season, who is anyone to criticize him and label him a failure? If he doesn’t want to commit to the Jets for more than two years, how does that make him a failure? Trouba’s negotiating tactic failed on one point and one point only—he didn’t get his trade.

Question Lady: So you’re saying he’ll still be around for a Stanley Cup parade in 2019?

Answer Lady: That’ll be up to the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men, headed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. They’ll have to convince Trouba that this is the place to be. And there’s only one way to do that—win. If the Jets are genuine Stanley Cup contenders, Trouba will stay until he’s traded or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Then he’ll be looking at us in his rear view mirror.

Question Lady: There’s no chance of Scheifele leaving us is there?

Answer Lady: None. Nada. Zilch. There will be no Scheifele Shuffle out of Dodge. The Rink Rat is a lifer. And he’s the real deal. I wouldn’t have said that two, three years ago. Heck, I wouldn’t have said it a year ago. You remember what he was like. He got knocked down more often than a head pin in a bowling alley. He was on all fours more than the Best of Show winner at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Some of us called him Bambi. Now he’s Rambi, a combination of Rambo and Bambi—solid as a brick outhouse but little, old ladies like me still want to pinch his cheeks.

Question Lady: Seriously? You’re telling me Scheifele is tough like Rambo?

Answer Lady: Naw. I’m saying opponents can’t knock him over anymore just by farting in his direction. The dude isn’t leading the NHL in scoring just because his skill set has improved. The dude’s a physical specimen, thanks to Gary Roberts and his boot camp.

Question Lady: I guess Patrik Laine is the real deal, too, right?

Sideline Sara doing her thing with Blake Wheeler.

Sideline Sara doing her thing with Blake Wheeler.

Answer Lady: Does the Pope wear a pointy hat? Is Donald Trump orange? If Puck Finn isn’t the real deal, Hillary Clinton has never told a fib. Which reminds me, I’ve got a bone to pick with Sara Orlesky.

Question Lady: How so? Are her pants on fire?

Answer Lady: No, but Sideline Sara stood in front of a TSN camera last week and told her audience that “no one predicted this kind of start” for Puck Finn. I did. I said Patrik Laine would have 11 goals by the time Trouba came crawling back to the Jets. Well, Trouba returned on Nov. 8 and Puck Finn scored his ninth, 10th and 11th goals that very night. So, either Sideline Sara doesn’t read the crap I write or she’s a Blogger Snob.

Question Lady: What’s a Blogger Snob? It sounds like something you cough up or wipe away with a Kleenex when you have a nasty cold.

Answer Lady: A Blogger Snob is a member of mainstream sports media who looks down his or her nose at bloggers. I hate to say that about Sideline Sara, because she strikes me as a delightful, young lady, but I call ’em like I see ’em.

Question Lady: What did you expect her to do, tell her viewers that you’re the only person in this entire country who knew Laine would take the NHL by storm? Are you really that vain?

Answer Lady: Naw. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read the crap I write.

Question Lady: Okay, get over yourself and let’s get back on topic. Let’s say the Jets had first shout rather than second choice in last June’s NHL entry draft. Who do you think GM Chevy would have taken, Patrik Laine or Auston Matthews?

The Lickety Split Line celebrates another goal.

The Lickety Split Line celebrates another goal.

Answer Lady: Puck Finn. No doubt. He already had his stud centre in Rink Rat Scheifele, so he’d have gone for Laine. I bet he felt like a kid at Christmas when the Toronto Maple Leafs passed on Puck Finn and took Matthews. And look how it’s worked out. The line of Rink Rat, Puck Finn and Nikolaj Ehlers is doing boffo business. I call it the Lickety Split Line.

Question Lady: What was your take on the ‘own’ goal that Ehlers scored in overtime in that loss to the Avalanche in Colorado the other night? His fault or Michael Hutchinson’s fault?

Answer Lady: Hutch wears the goat’s horns for that one. He dozed off. Coach Pa Ingalls called it right when he said that puck has to be stopped. Hutch’s fault. Totally.

Question Lady: Why do you call Paul Maurice Pa Ingalls?

Answer Lady: Because that’s the only way to explain how Alexander Burmistrov is still on the team. The coach must have adopted him when they were both in Russia.

Question Lady: Last question…is Chris Thorburn adopted, too?

Answer Lady: Naw. Thorbs is Chris the Cockroach. Try as you might, you just can’t get rid of him. But he’s become kind of like the family pet.

Question Lady: Okay, see you in about a month, just before Christmas.

Answer Lady: It’s a date. We can give out our annual goal or coal gifts for the naughty and nice. Should be fun.

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.


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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.