About the WHA Jets vs. les Canadiens…B. Hull still ragging on Fergy…remember Benny and the Jets…a roster of rejects isn’t fair?…newspaper wars…meet the new Leafs GM, Harry Potter…Kypreos has ‘no idea’…Daren Millard and a smarmy guy on Hockey Central…Evander Kane’s wish list…dirty, rotten Darian Durant…fashionista Phil…boxing’s jail break…the greatest cheater…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.

If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.

So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.

But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.

Peter Young, Ulf Nilsson, Kathy Kennedy, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Sod Keilback.

The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.

Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”

Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”

Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”

Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”

Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”

So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.

It would have been a boffo series, though.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson in the good, ol’ days.

Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”

Ben Hatskin

As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.

Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.

It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubs competing in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.

kyle dubas3
Harry Potter lookalike Kyle Dubas

I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?

Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.

Daren Millard

Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.

Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”

Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”

Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”

Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”

Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”

Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”

Cox: “I was giving you an example.”

Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”

Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”

Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.

Evander Kane

Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.

Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing: “I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?

Darian Durant

I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.

Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.

Phil Mickelson

Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.

The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.

Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.

 

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About defining ‘Sedin stuff’…the toughest Swedes, Hedberg and Nilsson…two Swedes, one face, but not the face of hockey in Western Canada…cheering in the Winnipeg press box…Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston and a WHA title…Damien Cox scores a boffo Twitter burn on Randy Turner…talking up a Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna…lesbians on Hometown Hockey…an ace of a moment for grandpa and grandson Nicklaus…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Initially, a great many folks didn’t think Daniel and Henrik Sedin could pull it off.

They were too soft. Too timid. Too unsure. Too Swedish, which, for the less enlightened—like the xenophobic gasbag who occupies the bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada—was North American shinny code for cowardly.

Sedin twins

Indeed, after Braydon Coburn declined an opportunity to exchange knuckles with a rag-dolling Brandon Prust during a Tampa Bay Lightning-Montreal Canadiens 2015 playoff match, Don Cherry used his Coachless Corner soapbox to align the Swedes’ name with cowardice, saying, “I will never, ever, want one of my players acting like Coburn here. This is Sedin stuff.”

Well, okay, now that the twins have left the building, let’s try to define “Sedin stuff.”

Admittedly, I only observed them from a distance, but certainly the National Hockey League was better for having Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who took their final bow on Saturday night in Edmonton. They played the game as it’s meant to be played, the same way Jean Beliveau and Wayne Gretzky did. The same way Connor McDavid does, with an emphasis on finesse and flash over fists and felony. That’s “Sedin stuff.” Those who know them best, including news snoops tracking their every mirrored move through 18 years and 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, tell us they were better people than hockey players. Tall praise, given that the Sedins are Art Ross, Hart, Ted Lindsay and King Clancy Trophy recipients. That, too, is “Sedin stuff.”

What really should be celebrated is their strength, a commodity that is not one-size-fits all. Different athletes show it in different ways, some through brawn, others with their brain.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

The two mentally toughest players I ever met and covered were the Winnipeg Jets most-celebrated Swedes, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. They arrived together in the mid-1970s to join les Jets when the World Hockey Association was, on a certain level, a lawless frontier. Animosity born of xenophobia ruled the day and mayhem ensued on the ice. Hedberg and Nilsson were bludgeoned fore and aft by the heavy, wooden weapons wielded by envious, ill-mannered foes with an unreasonable dislike for foreigners. Their battered bodies featured every color of the rainbow, but the bruising wasn’t rainbow pretty. Through it all, Hedberg and Nilsson, both a class act, said nothing of the savagery, at least not on public account. They soldiered on, unwilling to acquiesce to the bullies and thugs and the BS. These were no “chicken Swedes.” They championed a cause and became champions.

Similarly, the Sedin twins have had to put up with a lot of crap, although from a different pile.

The masculinity of Daniel and Henrik often has been brought into question by rivals whose level of humor is on par with schoolyard adolescents, broadcasters who ought to know better, and fans who no doubt are devotees of Adam Sandler’s buffoonish movies.

Dave Bolland, then of the Chicago Blackhawks, called them “sisters” who “probably sleep in a bunk bed” in a radio interview. Not to be outdone, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars took to the airwaves and suggested the Sedins’ relationship was incestuous. Former New York Islanders general manager and TV talking head Mike Milbury called them “Thelma and Louise.” Denis Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenceman working in the Florida Panthers tower of babble-on, labelled Daniel a “lowlife.” During one post-match dustup, Potvin said, “The Sedins are pointing fingers now. Normally they only use those fingers to lick the peanut butter off their bread.” (What the hell does that even mean?) Fans would arrive at the rink wearing t-shirts that read: SEDIN SISTERS 2 GIRLS NO CUP. A Finnish media outlet, Ilta-Sanomat, ran a tasteless piece that featured Sedin Sisters paper doll cutout figures with dresses and high heels. Etcetera, etcetera.

And how did the Sedins respond? By playing hockey. By beating foes the honest way. The Hedberg-Nilsson way. It’s the Swedish way. And that is “Sedin stuff.”

From the department of He Doesn’t Have A Freaking Clue, I give you Frank Seravalli. In an ode to the Sedins, the TSN senior hockey reporter describes the Swedes as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Good grief. Quick, someone give the man a copy of Western Canada for Dummies. I mean, there is no known word to describe that level of ignorance. It’s as daft as saying Don Cherry is the voice of Russian hockey. Yes, that dumb. As far as I can tell, (from the experience of living 99.9 per cent of my 67-plus years in Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria) there’s just one commonality between the rabble on the B.C. coast and the Prairie provinces—a healthy distrust of, and dislike toward, the Republic of Tranna. Otherwise, what happens in Vancouver stays in Vancouver, because few Prairie folk gave a rat’s patoot about the Sedins before they declared their intention to retire last week. They gave them a warm sendoff Saturday night in Edmonton, because that’s the way Prairie folk are, but make no mistake: The Sedins never were the face of the Oilers, Flames or Jets, and last time I looked each of those outfits is based in Western Canada.

Frank Seravalli

If you’re wondering how a TSN reporter could make such a “D’oh!” statement, be advised Seravalli is not of us. He’s an American, born in Bucks County, Pa., just north of Philadelphia, and he was schooled there and in other eastern U.S. outposts. Clearly, he didn’t major in Canadiana. Still, that’s no excuse. I mean, the City of Brotherly Love remains his home base, and I’m guessing no Philly guy, including him, would be so dense as to suggest Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins are the faces of northeastern U.S. hockey. Seravalli’s been to Western Canada. He knows the good people of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton identify with their own players, not two guys on the La La side of the Rocky Mountains. Get with the program, man.

This is rich. In the breezy Say What?! banter between Winnipeg Free Press sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, the former accuses Hockey Night in Canada gab guys Jim Hughson and Scott Simpson of being “homers” and waving blue-and-white Maple Leafs pom-poms when les Jets visited the Republic of Tranna last weekend. “Come on guys, try to refrain from cheering in the press box will ya?” Lyons scribbles. Yet his own guy, Wiecek, has become guilty of shameless pom-pom waving. He writes this of the Jets as they prepare to embark on the Stanley Cup crusade: “Yeah, we want the Cup. More than most, I’d venture. But what we need first is a playoff win. And then another. And another.” He’d like the Jets’ playoff run to last “hopefully weeks.” And “for once it feels like the sporting gods are working in favor of the locals instead of against us.” Us? Us? That isn’t a good look for a sports columnist. Nor for a sports editor who condemns others for cheering in the press box even as his writer does that very thing in print.

Look, I get it. Sports writers are human. Honest, some of them are. They have their favorites and it’s a more enjoyable gig when the locals are successful. I confess now that I wanted the Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a terrific bunch of guys. But the “we” and “us” and “hopefully” stuff has to be left to the rabble and blogs like Arctic Ice Hockey. Or even this blog. Mainstream scribes covering the team, on the other hand, are expected to operate from a platform of objectivity. Well aren’t they?

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Speaking of the WHA’s last act, in which the Jets delivered a championship to River City, this is what sometimes happens when people who weren’t there write history: Mike McIntyre of the Freep scribbled a lengthy piece about past Jets’ post-season activity and mentioned they received “contributions from the likes of Willy Lindstrom, Morris Lukowich and Peter Sullivan” in beating the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Gretzkys in the spring of 1979. While true, no review of the Jets’ third WHA title can have the ring of credibility without the mention of Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston. They were the driving forces. Ruskowski, who basically played the final vs. the Gretzkys with one arm, was an emotional force and led the team with a dozen assists, while Preston, a penalty-killing demon, provided 13 points and was saluted as playoff most valuable player. McIntyre’s failure to acknowledge them is a glaring omission on what went down that spring.

I’m still liking Jets captain Blake Wheeler and his 91 points to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. I have, mind you, slightly revised my personal top five: Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Blake Wheeler, Taylor Hall and Sidney Crosby.

Randy Turner: Burned

Really enjoyed a fun Twitter exchange between Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet and Randy Turner of the Freep.

Turner: “Personally, I’m rooting for a #NHLJets-Leafs Stanley Cup final just so Toronto fans can finally get some much-needed publicity for their hockey team.”

Cox: “Plus it’ll give Winnipeggers a chance to see what the Grey Cup looks like if they come to town for the series.”

Total burn for Cox. Brilliant. Love it, and I’m from Pegtown.

Dumbest headline and article of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “Thinking about past, and future, Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parades.” The piece is written by former Leafs general manager and Sportsnet chin-wagger Gord Stellick, a great guy who never should have been GM of the Leafs and never should have written that article.

Julie Chu, Caroline Ouellette and Liv

The best from Sportsnet came in the form of a lovely Hometown Hockey feature on same-sex couple Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, and their baby Liv. I’d say we’re making progress when a national sports network doesn’t shy away from talking about married lesbian hockey players/coaches. It was a beautiful bit of work that dampened my eyes.

On the subject of getting teary-eyed, I thought bean counter Scott Foster playing 14 minutes of goal for the Chicago Blackhawks and shutting out the Winnipeg Jets would be the feel-good sports story of the year, but G.T. Nicklaus’s ace on No. 9 in the Masters par-3 tournament has moved to the front of my scorecard. Caddy G.T.’s ace brought grandpa Jack Nicklaus to tears. It was a magic moment.

Apparently, fighting fool Conor McGregor did something really stupid this week. In other news, dog bites man.

Wayne Gretzky

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: In a Twitter exchange with Heather Marginet re the NHL Hart Trophy, Simmons displayed a shocking lack of knowledge for a national sports columnist.

Marginet: “The 79-80 Oilers finished with 69 points. Significantly worse than this (current) Oilers squad. Gretzky was the Hart.”

Simmons (being sarcastic and dismissive): “They were so bad they played 13 playoff games that year—basically announcing their arrival as a team to reckon with.”

As numerous people eagerly pointed out, Simmons was totally out to lunch. The Oilers, in fact, played just three playoff games that year, not 13. All were losses to the Philadelphia Flyers. And, the Hart Trophy is voted on prior to the Stanley Cup tournament, so his playoff point was moot.

About open season on NHL goaltenders…no news is still news for Johnny Manziel…the write stuff from Jeff Hamilton…Box Car Bill Belichick’s biceps…the return of Mr. Carrie Underwood…routs at the Scotties…the PC Police…Grandpa Simmons shaking his fist at clouds again…fresh Stanley Cup odds…and a whine and cheese party in South Korea

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The scene of the crime.

It was Groundhog Day on Friday. I woke up, stared at my TV screen and saw 4 1/2 more months of bad goaltender interference calls ahead.

Seriously. There are three things in life that I do not understand: 1) goaltender interference in hockey; 2) goaltender interference in hockey; 3) goaltender interference in hockey.

Well, okay, there are more than three things I don’t understand. Pass interference in football is another. And exactly where do socks disappear to when you’re doing laundry? (The socks thing I’ve remedied. I no longer wear them. I don’t even own a pair. For the record, I wear tights in winter and go barefoot in summer.) But this goaltender interference thing is more baffling than the National Hockey League hiring Kid Rock to sing.

I mean, I swear I saw James Neal of the Vegas Golden Knights go all lumberjack the other night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in Winnipeg, breaking his twig in two with a Paul Bunyanesque wallop to the masked face of Jets ‘tender Connor Hellebuyck. It wasn’t ruled goaltender interference. Not even after a coach’s challenge and video review that, in the opinions of the two men wearing orange arm bands, validated a Vegas score.

Huh?

You whack a goaltender across the face with a two-hander and that isn’t interference? If not, it surely is a slashing penalty (like, five minutes and a game). Whistle blows. No goal. But not in today’s NHL, where reason has fled the building and logic is only a step behind.

The good news is, NHL deep-thinkers have time to put this part of their house in order before it corrupts the Stanley Cup tournament. The bad news is, they’re the same deep-thinkers who hired Kid Rock to sing.

Charlize Theron

Aside from Michael Sam, who became famous for being gay, has any football player generated more headlines by not playing football on this side of the north-south divide than Johnny Manziel?

The Canadian Football League remains a Manziel-free zone (for now), yet this frat boy who would play quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats very much remains a hot-button topic. According to TSN, Manziel and the Tabbies are further apart on money than Bill Gates and a panhandler. His reported sticker price is half a million bucks. The Tabbies are offering in the neighborhood of $150,000.

“Nahhh,” tweets Manziel. “We asked for a fair deal, that’s it.” But then he added: “Has there ever been a rookie that will sell more money in jersey sales and season tickets than his entire two-year contract would be worth? OK good talk…Humble as can be. Just stating FACTS sorry you don’t agree.”

Yo! Johnny! The Ticats played to 97 per cent capacity at Timbits Field in The Hammer last season. They need a woman-beater like you to sell tickets and garments like Charlize Theron needs a makeover.

Johnny Manziel and Colleen Crowley

Lengthy but excellent read from Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press on domestic violence as it relates to Manziel and the CFL. The most startling revelation in the article: In performing their “due diligence” on Manziel, no one from the CFL or the Tiger-Cats contacted Colleen Crowley. She’s the young woman the former Cleveland Browns QB beat up a couple of years ago, leading her to file for, and be granted, a restraining order against him. You’d think seeking a victim impact statement would be a no-brainer.

Some quality journalism last week about mental illness, and I never saw or read anything better than Darren Dreger’s TSN feature on Paul Ranger, whose battle with inner demons cost him his NHL career. It was a gripping, touching piece. Boffo work.

All power to Ricky Ray, who, at age 38, will give it another whirl as starting QB with the Tranna Argonauts. The worry, of course, is that he’ll end his Canadian Football Hall of Fame career on the back of a Gator cart, because he has all the mobility of an ATM and he’s as brittle as a piece of burnt toast. Fingers (and toes) crossed for him.

Howard Stern

You wonder why so many people believe journalists are lower than the bowels of hell? Alex Reimer is a reason. Howard Stern is a reason.

Reimer, a gab guy with WEEI in Boston, established new standards for tacky when, commenting on the Tom Brady Facebook feature Tom vs Time, he described the quarterback’s five-year-old daughter Vivian as “an annoying little pissant.” Hey, take shots and Brady and his New England Patriots if you like. That seems to be a national pastime on either side of the U.S.-Canada border. Just leave his kids alone, right?

But wait. Let’s let another juror weigh in.

I’ve got to stick up for radio guys, because number one, you’re on the air and it’s not like there’s a script,” Serius XM radio gasbag Howard Stern huffs and puffs. “But for godsakes—Tom Brady should know better. If you’re going to put your young child on a TV show, on the Internet, you’re putting her out there for comment.

It’s really Tom’s fault. And I don’t know Tom—I’m a great admirer of his physical prowess and his football ability—but don’t put your kid up on an Internet show and then get pissed when people comment on her behavior. You’re putting it out there for people to comment on. That’s what a TV show is.”

Instant analysis: Who knew Howard Stern was still a thing?

Box Car Bill Belichick

This week’s notable quotable is from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, on New England Patriots head coach Box Car Willie Belichick: “(He) has a thing for wearing sleeveless shirts, which is a serious problem that does not get enough attention.” Either Kelly’s tongue was in his cheek, or he’s totally lost the plot. I mean, I can think of a number of “serious problems” with the National Football League (like, when is a catch a catch; when is a concussion a concussion?), but Box Car Belichick’s bare arms are not among them. Would Kelly have him drag a brush through his hair as well? Maybe ask him to spray on some cologne? C’mon man.

Mr. Carrie Underwood and his bride, Carrie Underwood.

Interesting that Mike Fisher is ending his retirement to rejoin the Nashville Predators for their Stanley Cup push. Guess being Mr. Carrie Underwood and a stay-at-home papa isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Whatever, the well-seasoned centre’s return makes a hard-to-play-against Predators outfit harder to play against.

I agree with Michelle Englot, the Team Canada skip at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton: People should “chill out” about the new format. True, no one wants to see the Canadian women’s curling championship reduced to an ant-squishing competition, but lopsided scores are commonplace at the Scotties. Consider these results:

2018: 12-2, 11-1, 12-5, 10-4, 14-1, 10-3, 11-5, 13-4, 10-4, 12-4.
2017: 11-6, 10-5, 10-5, 12-6, 11-5, 10-2, 11-5, 10-4, 10-4, 11-5.
2016: 12-5, 10-2, 10-4, 11-5, 10-3, 10-3, 11-4, 9-3, 9-4, 8-2.
2015: 10-5, 10-2, 10-5, 11-5, 10-4, 11-2, 9-1, 9-4, 9-3, 9-3, 8-1.
2014: 15-3, 12-2, 10-3, 10-3, 12-2, 10-5, 10-3, 10-4, 10-5.
2013: 11-5, 12-5, 10-5, 10-4, 12-2, 11-4, 10-3, 10-2, 9-1, 9-2.

Michelle Englot

In other words, it’s been same old, same old at this year’s Scotties and the new format isn’t the reason for blowouts in Penticton—it’s the have and have-not dynamic. You have Grand Slam curlers sharing the same pebble as club curlers. That usually won’t end well.

And don’t run off with the notion that routs are an element particular to curling. It happens in both women’s and men’s hockey as well.

2016/17 women’s world hockey championship: 7-0, 8-0, 11-0, 8-0, 8-1, 8-0, 9-0.
2016/17 men’s world hockey championship: 7-2, 10-1, 8-1, 7-2, 7-2, 6-0, 7-0, 10-1, 7-1, 8-0, 7-2, 6-0.

So there.

Pedro Martinez

This week’s nasty Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is directed at Pedro Martinez, one of this year’s inductees to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. According to Grandpa Simmons, the Martinez appointment is “ridiculous” because he only spent four seasons with the Expos in Montreal. “Pedro Martinez does not belong here. Makes the Hall look cheap,” Simmons tweets angrily. “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in the Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Well, let’s see: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson spent only four winters in Winnipeg, yet they’re in both the Jets and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Do they belong? Absolutely. Doug Flutie spent only two seasons quarterbacking the Toronto Argonauts, yet he’s in the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Two Grey Cup titles says yes. Gale Sayers played the equivalent of 4.25 seasons (just 68 games) for the Chicago Bears, yet he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Ya think? I wish people would stop dropping Grandpa Simmons on his head.

Sifting through The River City Renegade archives, I note that on Sept. 14, 2017, I provided odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought. Here was my morning line:

Edmonton McDavids: 3/1
Winnipeg Jets: 5/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Montreal Canadiens: 20/1
Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

February update! February update! February update!

Winnipeg Jets: 1/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Edmonton McDavids: 25/1
Montreal Canadiens: Not in my lifetime.
Ottawa Senators: Not in my grandchildren’s lifetime.
Vancouver Canucks: Not even when the Sedin twins are playing on a forward line with one of their grandchildren.

No more Walk-On Girls at darts events in the U.K.

Does anyone remember what sports was like before the Politically Correct Police mobilized? I mean, Chief Wahoo soon will be gone from the Cleveland Indians unis. Formula 1’s Grid Girls are gone. The U.K.’s professional darts Walk-On Girls are gone. Next thing you know, Postmedia’s tabloid newspapers across the land will be ordering their Sunshine Girls to cover up the cleavage.

Get ready, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the bitch-a-thon is about to commence. That is to say, the flowers of Canadian sports journalism are on their way to South Korea for the Winter Olympic Games, and the moment they touch down in PyeongChang they shall commence to feeding us a steady diet of whine with their cheesey commentary about poor facilities, poor food, poor shuttle service, poor accommodations, poor travel connections, and poor port-o-potties. Trust me, they’ll deliver more complaints than a Republican watching CNN.

 

 

About the Winnipeg Jets being gobsmacked at the NHL entry draft…mama’s boys…a boy with two mamas…Wheat Kings and Flin Flon Bombers power…and everything’s just Ducky

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

Every time I watch the National Hockey League’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, I think of John Bowie Ferguson, the cigar-chomping, one time maestro of a long gone, but not forgotten Winnipeg Jets franchise that actually made the playoffs.

John Ferguson

It didn’t matter which player Fergy and his scouts had plucked from the entry draft pool, first round or fifth. The same words would gush from his mouth: “We couldn’t believe he was still there.”

It was Fergy’s way of telling us that he and his bird dogs had pulled one over on every other outfit in the NHL. How could all those teams have been so blind as to overlook so-and-so? D’oh!

And so it is with Kevin Cheveldayoff and shinny sleuths in the employ of the present-day Winnipeg Jets, whose sole playoff experience in six years was like bad speed-dating. You know, one and done, don’t call me I’ll call you. GM Chevy and underlings would have us believe that their prize catch in Friday night’s auction of teen talent, Kristian Vesalainen, was among the select group of players they had targeted with their original pick, No. 13 overall. So, imagine their gobsmacked disbelief and delight when the Finn “was still there” at the 24th shout-out.

We were surprised he was there,” insisted director of amateur scouting Mark Hillier. “There were certain guys we were targeting at 13 and then 24, but he would have been in the mix at 13. We were happy to get him for sure at 24.”

It’s worth noting that Hillier’s pants weren’t on fire as he spoke, so I’ll play along and accept that he was telling the truth.

The question then becomes this: Why was Vesalainen still available to Cheveldayoff on his first trip to the podium at the United Center in Chicago? Has the kid got leprosy? The cooties? Beats me. I suppose we’ll have to ask GMs and bird dogs in Las Vegas, Tampa Bay, Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Boston, San Jose, St. Louis, New York, Edmonton and Arizona, because they’re the D’oh boys who took a pass and left the big Finnish forward to Chevy’s pleasure.

So, if we are to take the Jets’ braintrust at their word (and we all know that hockey people never, ever, ever tell fibs), here’s what they pulled off in the past week or so: They convinced veteran defenceman Toby Enstrom to waive his no-movement clause to shield one of Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, Tyler Myers and Andrew Copp from the clutches of the Vegas Golden Knights; they surrendered 11 places in the entry draft queue (No. 13 down to 24) and a third-round pick to protect Enstrom and/or Marko Dano in the Vegas expansion draft; and they still—still!—landed the guy they would have chosen at No. 13.

That’s pure genius, craphouse luck or someone’s nose is growing.

Here are 11 names to keep in mind for future reference: Nick Suzuki, Callan Foote, Erik Brannstrom, Juuso Valimaki, Timothy Liljegren, Urho Vaakanainen, Joshua Norris, Robert Thomas, Fliip Chytil, Kailer Yamamoto and Pierre-Olivier Joseph. We’ll never know what Cheveldayoff would have done had he held on to the 13th choice, because he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman don’t make their business our business, but if any one of those 11 players chosen in the 13-23 slots has a better NHL career than Vesalainen, then flipping positions with Vegas to preserve a non-playoff roster must be judged a mistake. Unless, of course, Vesalainen scores a Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2020. Then it’s pure genius.

Apparently, hockey players are a bunch of mama’s boys, because mom almost always gets the first hug after her son’s name is called at the entry draft. And I think that’s wonderful.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan with his two moms, Fran and Nancy.

Speaking of moms and wonderful, Jaret Anderson-Dolan has two wonderful moms, Fran and Nancy, and it’s a wonderful story. Drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings, the Spokane Chiefs forward has been subjected to anti-gay comments and roadblocks (some Western Hockey League clubs wouldn’t touch Anderson-Dolan because of his family makeup), but the Kings were having none of that. “If anybody had a problem with his family situation, they should go screw themselves and find another job,” L.A. director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t care if it’s two moms, I don’t care if it’s two dads. What I know is the reason he is the kid he is, is because of his upbringing. It’s that nature versus nurture thing. We certainly weren’t scared off by it. You see where we took him. For me it’s nothing. It’s a matter-of-fact thing. It’s just a detail. It was nothing we ever discussed. He has two loving, wonderful parents that raised him to be a certain way, which is why he is the player he is today. We got a kid we coveted and I’m happy that he was raised the way he was and I’m happy he’s the player that he is.” Amen to that, brother Mark.

Bobby Clarke, Nolan Patrick and Ron Hextall.

My favorite visual during the entry draft was the sight of one Brandon Wheat King standing on stage with another Brandon Wheat King while a Flin Flon Bomber looked on approvingly. I refer, of course, to former Wheatie Ron Hextall, the Philadelphia Flyers GM who selected Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick. If young Nolan develops into the second coming of Flin Flon’s Bobby Clarke, the Flyers will be a force.

I don’t know who chooses the inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame (I imagine the Puck Pontiff has the final say), but whomever certainly got it right with Dale Hawerchuk. Ducky goes into the Hall later this year, joining Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the ingrate Bobby Hull, who refused to attend his own party last year. Next up should be Ben Hatskin and Lars-Erik Sjoberg. What say you, Mark Chipman?

I swear, I heard a talking head say one of the kids drafted Saturday morning in Chicago weighs 141 pounds. One hundred and forty-one pounds! Cripes, man, Dustin Byfuglien’s late-night snacks weigh more than that.

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

 

Sports Santa delivers the goods to the naughty and nice in toyland

santa-crapping-2016Sports Santa is back in town and the jolly, ol’ boy isn’t so jolly this year. He’s actually in a bit of a snit. So tell us, Sports Santa, what do you have for the girls and boys in the toy department, a large lump of coal or a nice gift for those who scored big in 2016?

COAL: Mike O’Shea. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach deserves the entire coal bin, not just a lump or two. Where do we begin? It took him five games to realize that Drew Willy was a complete washout as a starting quarterback, he shows nothing but contempt for the media, he made an epic, boneheaded blunder that cost the Bombers any chance of winning the only Canadian Football League playoff game he’s coached in three seasons, then he went on record as saying he’d make the same epic, boneheaded blunder again if given the opportunity. Sigh.

GOAL: Justin Medlock. The guy hoofed 60 field goals, a CFL record, but he’ll be remembered as the victim of O’Shea’s playoff brain fart. Asked to kick a 61-yard FG in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium to preserve the Bombers’ Grey Cup aspirations, his attempt fell seven yards short of the target. He doesn’t take the rap, though. O’Shea does for asking his kicker to do the impossible.

GOAL: Matt Nichols took the ball that O’Shea was ordered to hand him and ran and passed it all the way to the playoffs, putting together a 10-3 record after taking over from Willy as the starting QB.

COAL: I put plugs in my ears, so someone please tell me that Paul Maurice has finally stopped squawking about the Winnipeg Jets’ schedule. The head coach provided his workers with a built-in excuse for failure with his constant, oh-woe-is-me carping about the grind foisted upon them by National Hockey League schedule-makers. Coach PoMo’s pity party was pathetic.

GOAL: What’s not to like about the Jets’ Lickety-Split Line of Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele, or as I call them Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat? The Lickety-Split Line should be terrorizing NHL defenders and goaltenders for the next dozen years. Mind you, with Maurice pulling the strings behind the bench, forward combinations last about as long as a Grade One kid’s attention span. He might have them split up before New Year’s Eve.

COAL: When Jacob Trouba and his agent went public with their trade request and the young defenceman chose to stay home rather than attend Jets training camp, teammate Mathieu Perreault branded him “selfish.” Perreault should flap his gums less and do more of what he’s paid to do—produce points. The overpaid and underachieving forward has a whopping seven points (two goals). Stop my beating heart.

christmas-stocking-coalCOAL: He’s among my favorite scribes, but Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press totally lost the plot with what came across as a personal attack on Trouba, rather than reasoned analysis. Among other things, Wiecek called him a “malcontent” and “impetuous” and “the biggest loser” and chided him for his “petulance” in requesting a trade and holding out. Well, excuse me, but Trouba was merely exercising his bargained-for right as a restricted free agent. It’s fair to question his decision, but we can do without the schoolyard insults. Wiecek is better than that.

GOAL: I’m told Kirk Penton is riding off into the sunset. The best CFL beat guy in the country, Penton leaves the Winnipeg Sun at the end of the year, and that’s a huge blow to the tabloid. No word on where Kirk is headed, but he’ll be a success wherever he lands.

GOAL: He didn’t appear in the Sun sports pages often enough, but the now-retired Cam Cole of Postmedia will be missed. His copy was golden.

COAL: Postmedia has ransacked the sports writing biz in Canada, with its non-stop stream of force-outs and buyouts of people like Cole, Penton and George (Shakey) Johnson, among others. Postmedia has also left the country with exactly one two-newspaper town west of the Republic of Tranna. That would be Winnipeg, where the Sun and Freep still try to beat the other guy to the story.

COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia said Kevin Durant had “no spine” and it was “gutless” of him to sign with the Golden State Warriors. He told both pro golfer Brooke Henderson and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman to “grow up.” He repeatedly has called people “idiots” and engaged in childish hissing contests on his Twitter feed. Seems to me that there’s a soon-to-be 60-year-old sports scribe who should take his own advice and “grow up.”

GOAL: Bravo Desiree Scott. The Winnipeg-born midfielder.made her 100th appearance for Canada in international soccer in February (the 15th woman to do so) and she helped our Olympic side earn a bronze medal at the Rio Summer Games. Desiree and her gal pals beat Germany, France, Australia and Brazil, all ahead of them in the world rankings.

GOAL: Executive director Mo Glimcher retired after 41 years with the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. I remember dealing with Mo when I worked at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. Great guy.

GOAL: Although she was wearing Alberta colors, Chelsea Carey did Manitoba proud when she skipped her Wild Rose Country team to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title. Chelsea, the daughter of Dan Carey, was groomed on the curling rinks of Winnipeg.

COAL: Evander Kane simply cannot stay out of trouble. Or court.

christmas-stocking-goodGOAL: A tip of the bonnet to the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, for bringing the Heritage Classic to Winnipeg and linking the current Jets franchise to the roots of professional hockey as we know it in River City.

COAL: The Puck Pontiff blew it when he didn’t make original Jets franchise founder Ben Hatskin the first inductee to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. The late, great Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who wore the C during the Jets glory years in the World Hockey Association, also should have been among the first group to be enshrined.

COAL: Bobby Hull refused to join Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson at a ceremony to salute the first three members of the Jets Hall of Fame. What a drip.

GOAL: Kyle Walters did boffo business in the CFL free-agent market, purchasing seven free agents at the opening bell. Justin Medlock was the pick of the litter.

GOAL (posthumously): We lost curling champion Vic Peters in March. A wonderful person.

GOAL: Old friend Ed Tait bolted from the Winnipeg Free Press toy department to the Blue Bombers, where he’s made the CFL club’s website sing with his fine prose.

GOAL: Mr. Everything with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelly McCrimmon, moved to Las Vegas, where he sits at the right hand of general manager George McPhee with the NHL expansion outfit.

GOAL: Winnipeg Goldeyes are rulers of all they survey in baseball’s American Association. The local nine has brought two titles to River City this decade.

COAL: Goldeyes owner Sam Katz took a cheap shot at the Bombers and Jets for their lack of success. Such a shame to know you’re still a total drip after all these years, Sammy.

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.

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.

Winnipeg Jets: Their victory over the Soviets was the signature moment for an undervalued team

Perhaps because a broad brushstroke of hockey nostalgia is about to sweep across Good, Ol’ Hometown, I find myself reaching back to distant times and a shinny barn long ago reduced to rubble.

I couldn’t begin to inventory the number of days and nights I spent in the Winnipeg Arena during my three decades writing about hockey in River City, but I confess that the large majority of the games I witnessed have faded to black, lost in the foggy moors of my ever-eroding memory. Mostly, they come back to me in vignettes. A highlight here, an incident there.

There are, however, three matches that remain indelible: 1) The Winnipeg Jets’ victory over the Soviet Union National team; 2) Game 6 of the 1979 World Hockey Association championship; 3) the first Tuxedo Night.

jets-sovietsThe latter two I recall because one carried historical significance, in that it was the WHA’s final act and the local lads took permanent ownership of the Avco World Trophy, while the other was noteworthy for its marketing quirkiness and behind-the-scenes madness that brought closure to Bobby Hull’s career in Jets linen. Poor Bobby was all dressed up with no place to go on Tuxedo Night, and his clumsy exit is a humorous, oft-told chapter of folklore that I’m certain will be recited and embellished when the old boys gather for their Heritage Classic hijinks this week.

That’s strictly Sideshow Bob stuff, though, when measured against the caging of the great Russian Bear. That was the defining moment for a team and its players whose accomplishments often were pooh-poohed by the hockey establishment because of the company they kept. The WHA and its member teams, you see, were looked upon like the Canadian dollar is today—not up to par. Devalued. Or so the prevailing logic went.

But wait. Don’t talk to us about second-class citizens. The Jets beat the Soviet National side, dammit!

I can still see Ulf Nilsson delivering a short, delicate pass to Dave Dunn, a big, lumbering defenceman with a square, planter-like pot for a helmet. No one had ever mistaken Dunn for, say, the smooth-as-silk Peter Sullivan or Kent Nilsson. More to the point, his was a hunch-shouldered, laborious skating style that evoked imagery of a beast of burden pulling a milk wagon. Yet there was Dunn, suddenly with some lickety-split in his stride as he departed the neutral zone and navigated his way into enemy territory.

Looking up from the end boards, Dunn spied Hull standing at the lip of the crease, and he dished a backhand pass to the Golden Jet, who flicked the puck past Vladislav Tretiak. Game, set and match. The Jets had beaten the Soviets, 5-3.

It is the irony of Dunn’s daring, as much as Hull’s three scores and Ulf Nilsson’s four points, that revisits me when I ponder the events of Jan. 5, 1978.

I recall watching from on high, in the Arena press box, as Dunn accepted Nilsson’s feed and began his foray along the right wing boards and into a corner. I thought it totally out of character for him to be so ambitious. Dunn’s technique and skill level were directly at odds with the shock-and-awe swagger of his playmates, Nilsson, Hull and Anders Hedberg. Not to mention the three Soviet forwards on the freeze at that moment—Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov. Dave Dunn belonged in that group like Don Cherry belonged in the Kremlin.

This can’t possibly end well,” I muttered to myself.

It did, though, and the Jets had their signature game, the one match we can point to after this great passage of time and say “that’s how good those guys were.”

***

This wasn’t a championship skirmish. It was, as soccer people are wont to say, a “friendly.” A pleasant interlude of sporting pleasure to perhaps soothe the sting of another long and dreary Winnipeg winter.

Yet any frolic with the Soviet National side during the Cold War, circa 1970s, carried political overtones, if not intrigue, plus the promotional wallop of a heavyweight tiff.

Dave Dunn
Dave Dunn

And so it was when the Jets, with their blend of smooth Swedes and good, ol’ bent-nosed Canadian boys, engaged the best of Mother Russia. None among the combatants arrived at the rink to make nice. This was a “friendly” like Winnipeg is New York City.

Few beyond the walls of the Jets’ changing quarters expected the WHA’s marquee team to topple the comrades. Even the most rabid of the rabble would have told you victory was less likely than Cherry taking a mail-order Russian bride.

I mean, this was the creme de la borscht of Soviet shinny. It was one thing to whup a club side from Mother Russia, like Wings or Dynamo or, yes, even the National team’s doppelganger, CKSA, more commonly known as the Central Red Army. A few WHA and NHL outfits already had been there and done that. But beat the communist colossus? Nyet.

To further underscore the enormity of the task, the Russkies already had given the Jets three wedgies in “friendlies” in Tokyo, Japan—7-5, 4-2, 5-1—prior to the comrades’ arrival on our shores (at which point Ivan promptly administered a 7-2 paddywhacking to the Edmonton Oilers).

So, yes, the Russian Bear was in full-throated growl.

The Jets, however, were not without bark and bite of their own.

Although appropriately respectful of a foe that collected World and Olympic championships like little boys collected bubble gum cards, the Jets delighted a gathering of 10,315 eye witnesses by laying waste to the Soviets early, building a 4-0 advantage on two goals each from Ulf Nilsson and Hull. Shortly thereafter, taskmaster Viktor Tikhonov removed Aleksandr Sidelnikov from the Soviets’ goal and replaced him with Tretiak.

As if on cue, the great Russian Bear stirred, making it 4-2 before the second period had expired, both goals coming off the stick of diminutive and unsmiling Boris Alexandrov. Vasily Pervukhin then supplied third-period drama, beating Jets goaltender Joe Daley two minutes and 43 seconds in. A collective murmur rumbled from the pews to the rafters in the old barn on Maroons Road. Fans feared the worst.

The Jets quelled the Russian uprising, though, guarding their one-goal advantage with Scrooge-like stinginess until Hull converted Dunn’s pass into his third score and the Jets’ fifth, eight seconds from time.

Never before had the Soviet National side been beaten by a club team.

***

Scant seconds after the fact, those of us with pens, notepads and microphones were granted access to the locals’ lair, where we discovered half the players still fully adorned in their Jets livery and the other half already baring well-sculpted chests, abs and arms. Some roamed to the four corners of their cramped quarters, smiling and slapping broad-shouldered backs and tousling the stringy, matted-down hair on sweat-soaked heads. A few sat in silent reflection, giving ponder to a job well done and nursing post-work refreshments.

Ulf Nilsson
Ulf Nilsson

They were properly pleased and proud, these Jets, also weary to the marrow.

They seemed in unspoken agreement that the early after-moments of their conquest of the CCCP was a time for softened celebration, rather than unrestrained revelry, and it is their muffled merriment and a quiet quote from Ulf Nilsson that I also remember about the goings-on of that magical night.

“The Russians are so hard to play against…I don’t think I ever beat them before tonight,” offered Nilsson, a native of Nynashamn who along with fellow Swede Hedberg and Hull combined to outscore the Soviets’ fabled forward troika of Mikhailov, Kharlamov and Petrov 10 points to zero. “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

That sentiment worked both ways, that night and so many others for the Jets and their flock.

(Footnote: To put the Jets’ victory in perspective, the Soviets went 5-0 against five other WHA outfits on that tour, beating the Oilers (7-2), Quebec Nordiques (6-3), Cincinnati Stingers (9-2), Indianapolis Racers (8-3) and New England Whalers (8-4) for a combined score of 38-14).

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.