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.

 

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B-b-b-Benny and the Jets started with Ben Hatskin, and don’t you forget it, Winnipeg

I thought we were perfectly clear on this, but apparently some people still believe Bobby Hull is the reason professional hockey came to River City in 1972 and exists today.

So, as much as I dislike repeating myself, let me say this for the 8,151st time: Robert Marvin Hull is not—repeat NOT (and, yes, I’m shouting)—the reason pro shinny arrived in Winnipeg. Ben Hatskin IS (yes, shouting again) the reason. Always was, always will be. Benny is the godfather, grandfather and father of pay-for-play hockey as we know it in good, ol’ Hometown.

Ben Hatskin
Ben Hatskin

Again, this is not a chicken-and-egg thing. We know who and what came first.

Benny and the original Jets arrived in 1967 as a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League. But Benny and a few of the boys had bigger fish to fry. They thought it would be a swell idea to form a rebel league and yank the National Hockey League’s chain. You know, poach some of its players and minor league properties. Pay them big bucks, much more than they would earn in the NHL. Thus, the World Hockey Association was born.

So, here’s your overall lineage to that point: Ben Hatskin, Junior Jets, World Hockey Association.

The next trick was to get NHL players whose contracts had expired and the paying public to take the rebel league seriously. No better way to do that than take the NHL’s glam guy hostage. Thus, Benny set his sights on Hull, who wasn’t feeling the love from Chicago Blackhawks ownership. Benny tossed some large numbers, like $250,000 per annum, at the Golden Jet. Hull basically scoffed. He could pry that out of tightwad Bill Wirtz in the Windy City.

Tell ’em to give me a million dollars and they’ve got themselves a hockey player,” Hull advised his agent, Harvey Weinberg.

Benny alerted his accomplices at the WHA ownership level that the sticker price for Hull’s good looks, charisma and 110-m.p.h. slapshot was $1 million. They might have winced at that figure, but Benny somehow convinced each of them to kick in to the B. Hull kitty. The deal was done.

Make no mistake, though. There would have been professional hockey in Winnipeg in ’72 with or without Hull. Hatskin was all in before signing the Golden Jet. What Hull’s presence did, however, was provide the Jets and the WHA with star power and staying power. Without him, the league’s shelf life would have been shorter than a Winnipeg summer. With him, they survived seven seasons and moved into the NHL.

I point all this out not to minimize or trivialize Hull’s contribution to shinny in good, ol’ Hometown. His role was immense, although I believe some people err when they romanticize his signing. Don’t think for a minute that Hull agreed to come to River City for altruistic reasons, like giving legs to a fledgling operation. He wasn’t sitting at home in the Toddlin’ Town saying, “You know, I think I’d like to spend the next 10 years of my life playing hockey in the middle of nowhere. Besides, I’ve always wanted to see how my skills stack up against Frankie Beaton and Bad News Bilodeau.”

Bobby Hull came to town because the WHA member teams and Ben Hatskin showed him the money. Period.

Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull

They kept calling and I kept telling everyone that would listen that I wasn’t going anywhere, least of all to Winnipeg,” is how Hull explained it to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on the occasion of the Jets’ 40 anniversary.

A $1-million signing bonus and a $1.75-million contract changed Hull’s thinking and the professional hockey landscape.

Who would have thought that any cowboy was worth $1 million in 1972?” Hull told Friesen. “Seabiscuit didn’t make that. No four-legged animal made that. No athlete had made a million dollars until then.”

Which is why players from back in the day still thank the Golden Jet for doubling, tripling and quadrupling their salaries. Some team owners, meanwhile, probably still curse his name.

Again, the point of this essay is not to discredit Hull. It’s to reaffirm Ben Hatskin as the starting point and the most significant figure in Winnipeg’s pro hockey lineage as we know it today. It goes like this: Ben Hatskin-Winnipeg Jets/WHA-Bobby Hull-NHL-Mark Chipman-Manitoba Moose/IHL/AHL-David Thomson-NHL/Winnipeg Jets.

It started with Ben Hatskin and there would not be an NHL franchise in River City today except for his vision and bull doggedness in the pursuit, and signing, of Bobby Hull.

(Footnote: There was pro shinny in River City pre-Jets. The Winnipeg Warriors, featuring Billy Mosienko, Ted Green, Gerry James and Fred Shero among other notables, competed in the Western Hockey League from 1955-61.)

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.

 

Weekend Wrap, Vol. 5: All about the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, tennis rivalries and quality curling coverage

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

I’m not sure what is more giggle-worthy, the puck prophets at The Hockey News reading tea leaves that tell them the Winnipeg Jets will be rulers of all they survey in 2019 or Jets Nation getting all giddy about a magazine designed to do nothing more than spike sales.

If you missed it, there shall be a Stanley Cup cavalcade on the streets of downtown River City in June 2019. The Hockey News says it will be so in their Future Watch issue, and who can we trust if not the Bible of Hockey? I mean, according to David Larkins of the Winnipeg Sun, THN is the “trusted periodical on all things hockey.” So there. If those wild-and-whacky puck prophets at THN tell us to plan a parade route, then that’s what we must do. Plan a parade route. For June. 2019.

Ignore the fact that those same shinny swamis pegged Team Peg to finish dead last in the Central Division of the National Hockey League this season. Hey, sometimes the tea leaves are tough to read. So cut ’em some slack.

Just know this, Jets Nation: A Stanley Cup parade is coming to a downtown intersection near you—assuming you live in the vicinity of Portage and Main—because your Winnipeg Jets are bringing hockey’s holy grail to good, ol’ Home Town. In June. 2019. Book off work. Skip school. Strike up the band.

This is big. This is colossal. I mean, it’s been a quarter century since River City last held a downtown parade that didn’t include Santa Claus. Or a bevy of Ru Paul wannabes.

What I like best is that THN has given us advance notice. Four years worth. That’s plenty of time to put some spit and shine on our ol’ girl, Peg. Why, once we’ve scraped all the hobos off the streets and shuttered them away in the background so as not to ruin the optics we’ll be sending out to all those losers in locales like the Republic of Tranna, we can have ol’ Peg looking like a million bucks.

Oh, what fun this will be for the kids. For the entire family.

We wish we could give you an exact date for the parade, also a route, but the THN shinny swamis didn’t have the good manners to tell us if our local hockey heroes would be winning the Stanley Cup final in four, five, six or seven games in June 2019. Doesn’t matter. We can work out the details later. For now, they assure us that the Jets shall be NHL champeens. In June. 2019.

Be there.

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT? Watching good, ol’ Home Team dismantle the Nashville Predators in Music City on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but wonder who among the current crop of Jets will be part of the large celebration. In June. 2019.

I mean, you think Lee Stempniak is going to be riding in a convertible when the Stanley Cup motorcade lurches toward Portage and Main in late June 2019? Jiri Tlusty? Jay Harrison? Mark Stuart? Drew Stafford? Anthony Peluso? Ondrej Pavelec? Jim Slater? Michael Hutchinson? Chris Thorburn?

Well, okay, maybe Thorburn will be part of the parade. Apparently he has dicey pics. Thus, the Jets no doubt will double down on his existing pact between now and Nirvana. Or just grant him a contract for life. But those other guys? Not so much. They’ll probably be playing their hockey for the woeful Las Vegas Crap Shoots. The parade will pass them by.

HITHER ‘N’ YAWN: Interesting that True North Sports & Entertainment plans to bring its American Hockey League affiliate home to Winnipeg. Can’t see much fan lure there, other than affordability compared to the tariff for Jets matches. Seems to me a Western Hockey League outfit would be an easier sell…Don Cherry has become so irrelevant that I didn’t even notice what he was wearing during his Curmudgeon’s Corner rory1gig on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night…So quiz me this: When Tiger Woods has a hissy-fit on a golf course and swears or spits or slams a club into the ground, it’s boorish behavior. It’s deplorable. Entire forests are plowed to the ground in order to provide enough newsprint to satisfy the needs of sports scribes who spend the next month cutting Woods a new one. Yet, when Rory McIlroy has a hissy-fit, hurling his 3-iron into a water hazard at Doral, it’s greeted with a shrug and a ho-hum. Why the double standard?…Couldn’t believe what I heard tripping off Hazel Mae’s tongue late last week when the Sportsnet talking head previewed the Davis Cup tie between Canada and Japan. She actually compared the rivalry between Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori to those of tennis legends Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe, Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras, among others. Good grief. Apparently, research is an option Hazel doesn’t exercise…When it comes to tennis rivalries, there has been none greater—ever—than that produced by Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert. Between 1973 and ’88, they met 80 times. More than 25 per cent of those matches (22) came in Grand Slam events and 14 were Grand Slam finals. Nothing compares to that. For the record, Navratilova held a slight edge overall, 43-37.

CUE THE CURLING: Totally selfless act by John Morris to demote himself from skip to third on the Team Canada outfit that won the Brier on Sunday. Can’t imagine many curlers doing that…Although the Johnny Mo team was wearing the Maple Leaf at the Saddledome in Calgary, let’s not lose sight of the reality that another Alberta squad has won the Canadian men’s curling championship. They play out of the Glencoe Club in Cowtown, so Wild Rose Country teams have now won nine Briers this century…Department of Better Late than Never: Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press killed it at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw last month. When a scribe is on assignment out of town, I want her or him to take me to their locale. I don’t want to simply read the final score and a stream of quotes. I want to see and feel what the writer sees and feels. What the fans see and feel. Martin delivered. She took me to Moose Jaw with some wonderful anecdotal insight and spot-on reporting that allowed me to join Jennifer Jones and her Buffalo Girls for every step to the Scotties title, a fifth for Jones. It was boffo work…It pains me to say the Winnipeg Sun wasn’t served as well as the Freep at either the Scotties or Brier. They never had one of their own on the scene. Don’t blame sports editor Ted Wyman, though. That had to be a corporate call. But a Winnipeg daily should always, always, always have their own scribe at the two main bonspiels on the curling calendar…

Jeff Stoughton
Jeff Stoughton

Interesting take by Freep scribe Paul Wiecek on Reid Carruthers’ wonky, unManitoba-like record (4-7) at the Brier. “The job description as the curling writer for a paper that has covered every Brier since the first one in 1927 says I’m supposed to rip Carruthers in this space today,” he writes. “He let down his team, he let down the province etc. But my heart’s not in it. Carruthers knows better than anyone what went wrong this week. And no one feels worse about it than he does. He’s a good guy, who had a very bad week. I’m giving him a pass. You should too.” Good for Wiecek…Now that Jeff Stoughton has retired, I suppose it’s time to confirm his status as the greatest curler ever produced in the Keystone province. Who else could it possibly be? Here’s my top-five list (since I began watching and writing about curling in the very early 1970s): 1. Stoughton; 2. Jennifer Jones; 3. Don Duguid; 4. Kerry Burtnyk; 5. Connie Laliberte; Honorable Mention: Vic Peters.

 

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.

 

 

Teemu Selanne: A beacon of goodness still shining bright after all these years

My first memory of watching a live sporting event in Winnipeg is colored in a dozen shades of vagueness.

I can see myself sitting in the pews of the old barn on Maroons Road, as Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors whirled about the local freeze. I do not, however, recall their foe that evening, or which side won, which side lost or if the skirmish ended in a stalemate. I don’t recall the year, just the vintage. It was sometime between 1955 and ’60. I can’t say if the popcorn was good or bad, although I imagine it was scrumptous because when you’re a sprig of less than 10 years popcorn is generally good. And I can only guess that I attended the Western Hockey League match with family members, most likely my father and older brother.

I do know this, though: After that experience, I was hooked on hockey.

It wasn’t just the game itself that left me spellbound. It was the atmosphere, as well. I had never sat among so many people. Excited people. Loud people. Mostly, they were men, a large percentage of them wearing hats and neckties. I remember feeling so tiny, like a speck of sand on a beach of humanity.

Odd thing is, when I picture that scene in my mind’s eye, it’s in black and white. Not color.

Why that is, I cannot explain. I mean, I know the Warriors wore gold with black trim and their opponents that night surely were adorned in jerseys of some colorful hue. Yet it is a black-and-white memory, slightly grainy and somewhat drab, like a freeze-frame from 1960s Moscow.

imageWhatever, I find myself in retreat to that evening more than a half century ago because of Teemu Selanne, who was to call that same old barn, the Winnipeg Arena, home from the autumn of 1992 until the frigid days of February 1996. And it occurs to me that in more than 50 years of watching hockey, also scribbling about hockey for two River City newspapers, I cannot think of a shinny star whose sheen has remained so intense for so long.

What’s that you say? Bobby Hull? Nope. Don’t wish to go there. All that glitters is not the Golden Jet, mainly due to the tarnish of off-ice improprieties. Domestic violence is never a favorable selling point and tends to serve as a dimmer switch on one’s legacy, so Hull, while still adored by thousands, is loathed by many.

A case, of course, could be made for Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg. The passage of time has not been unkind to our favorite Swedes, who, almost 40 years after they spurned Pegtown for the glitz and glam of Gotham, remain hockey deity. Like Selanne, they were not with us for a long time. Just four years. But they helped usher in a different, more artistic, swashbuckling way of playing the game and produced two World Hockey Association championships for the Winnipeg Jets.

The adulation directed toward Selanne, however, is otherworldly.

It’s one year shy of 20 since the Jets general manager of the day, John Paddock, peddled the Finnish Flash to Anaheim in exchange for a string of beads named Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky, yet Selanne still is a rock star. When they raise his No. 8 to the rafters tonight at the Honda Center prior to the Jets joust with the Disney Ducks, no small squadron of River City rooters will have made the pilgrimage to Orange County, Calif., to witness the ceremony.

So, what makes Selanne so special? Why travel halfway across a continent to watch some hokey jersey-raising salute to a guy who played just four of his 22 National Hockey League crusades in Jets linen?

welcome-home-teemu-selanne-from-winnipeg-jets-fans-12-17-111Well, it’s about those 76 goals in his rookie season…unthinkable. Unparalled. Never to be matched. Ever. Perhaps the singular, greatest achievement in the history of River City sports. Any sport. So, that would be the starting point in any attempt to explain Selanne’s immense and enduring appeal.

I believe it to be more than numbers, though. Much more. I think it’s as basic as this: Teemu Selanne is a good guy. No…he’s a great guy.

Many of us have become jaded by the blight of boorish behaviour of pro jocks. We see their names on police blotters and court dockets every day. They’re thugs, cheats, liars, murderers, con artists, rapists, wife beaters, child abusers, drug abusers, racists…name the crime, they’ve done the time.

That’s one reason I believe what most people see foremost in Selanne is his ample goodness. His earthiness. His one-of-usness. To us, he’s still that ever-smiling, unassuming, freshly scrubbed Finnish lad who likes us as much as we like him.

He remains a beacon for that reason, and none shine brighter.

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.