About Jennifer Botterill breaking into the old boys club and lighting the way for young female hockey players in Manitoba…old friend Barry Bonni from The Bronx in the Hall of Fame…and old friend Vic Grant getting the last laugh about Bobby Hull

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

Bathgate, Broda, Belfour and now Botterill…as in Jennifer Botterill. Female. Alongside the giants in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. As a player.

Step aside, boys, your old club ain’t what it used to be.

Jennifer Botterill

The historic significance of Jennifer Botterill’s nomination as the first female inductee to the MHHofF’s players roll call seemed lost on Tuesday when the class of 2017 was introduced. The focus was on Michael Gobuty. And for just reason.

Gobuty, to be enshrined in October as a builder, is a very nice man who long ago secured his place in local shinny lore by a) tossing the Winnipeg Jets a $250,000 lifeline when the World Hockey Association flagship franchise was about to go glub, glub, glub, and b) assuming one of the lead roles in the Jets’ move from the WHA to the National Hockey League.

Quick digression: We’re duty bound to point out that Gobuty, a mover and shaker in the local rag trade back in the day, also is the man who looked a gift horse in the mouth and balked at spending another quarter of a million dollars (chump change in today’s inflated market) on a scrawny kid named Gretzky.

Wayne spent two days in my house,” Gobuty was saying on Tuesday. “I had the opportunity to get him.”

Except Rudy Pilous, a learned man with a rich pedigree that included coaching Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup champions, wasn’t keen on this Gretzky kid. Believed him to be “too skinny.” Thus, the Jets general manager counseled Gobuty to consider better ways to spend $250,000. D’oh! We all know how well losing Wayne Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers worked out for the Jets. But, hey, let’s not be too hard on ol’ Rudy. I mean, someone at Decca records once rejected The Beatles, so there’s been at least one bigger gaffe.

So we won’t hold the Gretzky thing against Gobuty, who, not for the first time, also debunked the folksy myth that he lost the Great One at a backgammon table.

We played backgammon,” he confirmed in recalling a rendezvous with Nelson Skalbania during which the Indianapolis Racers bankroll offered up Gretzky for the sticker price of $250,000, “but it was not for Wayne.”

Anyway, as much as Gobuty’s tales make for terrific copy and get gums flapping, it’s about Jennifer Botterill.

I’d like to say that the Harvard honours grad (psychology) and much-decorated member of our national and Olympic women’s shinny side is keeping great company with legends like Andy Bathgate, Turk Broda, Ed Belfour, Bobby Clarke, Mosie and the rest of the boys who’ve been inducted since the creation of the MHHofF in 1985, but it must be said that they are in great company, as well.

Jen Botterill’s bonafides are exceptional:

* Five times a world champion.
* Three times an Olympic champion.
* The only two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female player in NCAA hockey.
* National champion with Harvard.
* MVP at the 2001 and 2004 women’s world hockey championship.
* Best forward at the 2001 women’s world hockey championship.
* Leading scorer in the 2007-08 Canadian Women’s Hockey League season.
* Manitoba’s female athlete of the year in 2001.

The Botterill induction in October won’t be all about the trinkets, decorations and records, though. It’s a message. The Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame no longer is an old boys club for players. It’s an anybody’s club. And young girls playing hockey in Manitoba can follow Jen Botterill’s path. She lit the way for them.

It should be emphasized that there are other female members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Referee Laura Loeppky, for example, is enshrined in the Officials wing, while Dianne Woods and Jill Mathez are honored as Builders. Jen Botterill, however, is the first to go in based purely on her playing cred.

Barry Bonni (front row, third from right) and the 1981-82 MMJHL champion River East Royal Knights.

So pleased to see old friend Barry Bonni get the nod in the MHHofF Builders category. Both Barry and I froze our tootsies more than once on the outdoor freezes at Bronx Park in East Kildonan, but we survived to tell tales about Dunc the Rat and other oddball characters in The Bronx. Barry went on to build a dynasty with his River East Royal Knights in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.

Also pleased to know another old friend, Winnipeg Tribune colleague Vic Grant, will be enshrined in the Media category in October. Whenever I think of Vic, I retreat to the spring of 1972, when he’d arrive in our sports department bunker on the fifth floor of the now-vanished Trib building in downtown River City. He was usually wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jacket, a gift from scout Jimmy Walker I believe, and he’d advise us that Ben Hatskin was about to take Bobby Hull hostage and sign him to a Jets contract. We guffawed. As history records, however, Vic had the last laugh.

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.

Winnipeg Sun sports: Still punching above its weight class after all these years.

It has been said of the 1960s that if you remember them you weren’t really there.

I sort of feel the same way about my dozen or so years working at the Winnipeg Sun—overwhelming evidence supports the notion that I was there during the 1980s and ’90s, but I’m not convinced that I was there.

I must have been there, though. If not, Paul Friesen wouldn’t be there now. Nor would Mark Hamm.

Oh, yes, I’m responsible for Friesen. If you enjoy his sports column in the Sun, all praise to him. If you don’t enjoy his column, blame me. I got him the gig. Correction: I got him the gig that led to the gig.

True story…

I was standing in the queue at one of the checkout counters in the Osborne Village Safeway store when Friesen stepped behind me. A young and bright, top-drawer reporter with radio station CJOB at the time, he had once confessed to me that he harbored career yearnings that leaned more toward the print division of journalism.

“Are you still interested in becoming an ink-stained wretch?” I asked him.

“Ya,” he confirmed. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Why do you ask?”

“Because something might be happening at the Sun. I can’t tell you what, but something’s going down. Let me talk to some people.”

So I did. I talked. To some people. They talked to Friesen and hired him. That was 1997. He’s still there. I think he’s grateful, but I suppose that depends on the ever-changing temperature of the sports columnist gig, which tends to run hot and cold on a day-to-day basis.

It was also in the summer of 1997 that I decided to make a one-day whistlestop in Kenora, a lovely, little resort getaway not far removed from the Manitoba-Ontario border. I mentioned my escape to one of the mucky-mucks who made all the decisions of loft at the Sun.

“While you’re there,” he said, “maybe you could meet with a young guy named Mark Hamm. He’s applied for a job here and you can do the interview.”

I did. In a pub. Then returned home to report my findings.

“I like him,” I advised the mucky-mucks. “Nice, young guy. Enthusiastic. Wants to get ahead. I got a good vibe.”

“Would you hire him?” the mucky-muck asked.

“Yes. I think he would fit in nicely.”

Apparently, it’s still a nice fit. Eighteen years later, Hamm is the Sun’s editor-in-chief.

Much has been said of the Winnipeg Sun since its presses started rolling 35 years ago this week, not all of it favorable. The Sun has been maligned, mocked and ridiculed. Scorned, battered and dismissed as a trashy, tits-and-ass tabloid that once attempted to make rock stars out of panda bears. Through it all, though, there has been one constant source of pride: The sports section.

From the formative days in the claustrophobic, cramped confines of a makeshift newsroom on Garry Street, with Vic Grant cranking out Winnipeg Jets copy and Jim Ketcheson holding the maestro’s baton, to the present, we punched above our weight class. We played Rocky to the Winnipeg Free Press’s Apollo Creed. Always and forever the underdog. Always and forever the scrappy, iron-willed fighter who could give as good as take. We embraced that role. We wore it.

No doubt we hit the canvas a few times, but we were always standing at the end of 12 rounds. And we scored a good many knockdown blows of our own.

I think of wonderful writers like George (Shakey) Johnson and Ed Willes (now the main sports columnists at the Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province, respectively) and Ed Tait (beat writer/columnist at the Freep) who gave their gift to the Sun sports pages. And that’s not to ignore creative layout people like Ketch, Dave (Homer) Connors and Dave Komosky, who, by the way, ought to be in the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honor.

The Sun is still a middleweight fighting a heavyweight. Whereas it seems as though the Freep has three or four scribes for every beat, the Sun gets the job done—and they really do get it done—with a skeletal stable of one columnist and two beat guys—Friesen, Kirk Penton and Ken Wiebe.

They’re fighting the good fight…always and forever.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.