Toronto Maple Leafs: Legends Row and more appropriate statues

I’m so old I remember Tim Horton before he became a pot of coffee and a box of Timbits.

rooftop riting biz card back sideWhen I heard there was big news about the Toronto Maple Leafs and a statue, my first thought was that perhaps they’d traded Dion Phaneuf.

My second thought? I sure hope he isn’t coming to Winnipeg to join the Jets.

Silly me. We all know that Jets general manager Kevin the Possum doesn’t make trades, so no worries about adding another pigeon perch to the Jets blueline corps.

As it turns out, the deep thinkers in the Leafs’ ivory tower (now there’s a contradiction in terms) plan to honor the giants of a National Hockey League franchise that long ago lost its luster. The idea is to plop a Legends Row statue outside the Air Canada Centre in the Big Smoke, and we know for certain that former Leafs’ captain Teeder Kennedy will be among the players honored. The others remain shrouded in secrecy.

Little wonder.

I mean, they’re dealing with a 30-foot slab of granite in the form of a players bench. It would take at least 10 players to fill it. A dozen at the most. How in the name of Humpty Harold Ballard are they going to come up with that many Leafs legends? They tell us Teeder and two others will be unveiled in early September. So they’re stuck at three.

That’s going to be a short bench. Sort of what current head coach Randy Carlyle has to deal with.

Cracking wise aside, there are many legends in the Leafs’ closet. Honest. There are. It’s just that all of them played before the invention of color TV. So the difficulty isn’t in compiling a list of Leafs legends—it’s finding enough hockey people in Toronto who can reflect that far back to make informed choices.

I could assist them. I’m so old I remember Tim Horton before he became a pot of coffee and a box of Timbits. I recall watching the Leafs on our family’s rabbit-eared, black-and-white boob tube during their glory years of the 1960s. I still know the players and their jersey numbers: The Chief, George Armstrong, No. 10; the Big M, Frank Mahovlich, No. 27; Davey Keon, No. 14; Bobby Baun, No. 21; Johnny Bower, No. 1; Allan Stanley, No. 26; clear the track here comes (Eddie) Shack, No. 23; Bob Pulford, No. 20; Dickie Duff, No. 9; Carl Brewer, No. 2; Red Kelly, No. 4; Tim Horton, No. 7; Billy Harris, No. 15.

No doubt some of those guys will find a spot on the bench. It would be fitting if Eddie Shack made the final cut, because the bench is usually where Punch Imlach planted him.

At any rate, by the time sculptor Erik Blome puts down his hammer and chisel, there’ll be a bench full of legends for the Leafs’ legions to gawk at and pigeons to poop on whenever they’re in the vicinity of 40 Bay St. in Tranna.

It’s a nice touch. Classy. So unLeaf-like.

I should point out that there are reports (unconfirmed) that the Leafs don’t want their younger generations of fans to feel left out, so they plan to erect a statue near the old Maple Leaf Gardens to symbolize what the franchise has been all about since the last Stanley Cup parade in 1967.

Here are some candidates:

leaf statues

 

 

Winnipeg sports media: Don’t expect the boys on the beat to be cheerleaders

Welcome to Jock Journalism 101, kids.

Today, we will discuss sports scribes, and we are here to praise them. Well, okay, we’re not going to praise them, but we shall defend them.

It seems to me that there is a school of thought that insists the boys and girls who track the trials and tribulations of professional sports outfits should be cheerleaders for the teams they accompany throughout the season. I read this constantly on the comment threads in both the Winnipeg Sun and Winnipeg Free Press.

You should be more supportive of the (Jets/Bombers),” people write.

Why are you so negative? You’re a Winnipeg writer, so you should be boosting the team, not knocking it down.”

Wrong.

Sports scribes are not paid to wear team colors. They are not paid to spice their copy with a dash of siss-boom-bah and a pinch of rah-rah-rah for good, ol’ Hometeam. They cannot possibly wave pom-poms and type at the same time. Some, of course, do that very thing (figuratively). They come across as a house organ for the team they cover. The team’s cup is always half full. Nary a discouraging word is written. It’s all sunshine, lollipops and roses and their copy reads like something straight out of the club’s communications department.

It’s also pure pablum.

The sports scribe who kowtows to a specific outfit is a shameful bit of business. He/she is in violation of the first commandment of sports scribbling: Thou shalt not cheer in thy press box. I have great difficulty with those who are in opposition to that ordinance. They are, quite frankly, a disgrace and the lepers of the sports writing lodge. I have no time for these “homers.”

Having said this, I also know that sports scribes are human beings (honest, some are) who have feelings (honest, some do), so separating the person from the hockey player can be a delicate balancing act. Especially for the beat writers.

Think of your beat writer as a music or movie critic on game day, not as a member of the team’s booster club. It’s his/her job to critique a performance. If the team soils the sheets, you write that it soiled the sheets. If a player is a minus-4 on the night, you write it. You don’t candy coat it with gooey plaudits about good, ol’ Hometeam giving it the old college try. The task is to provide readers with a fair and objective analysis of the team’s/players’ performance, good or bad.

It is the beat writer’s duty to provide the five Ws—who, what, when, where and why—on a daily basis, whether it be a game story, a sidebar, a feature or an off-day analysis piece. Toward that end, you spend as much time with the players/coaches as possible. Basically, you live with them for seven months. You travel with them, you joke with them, you swap stories with them, you sometimes eat with them or share a pint with them…you get to know them, you realize they’re good guys. Thus, on a personal level, you wish for these people to succeed. It’s only natural. You cannot, however, permit that to creep into your copy.

The main writers on the Jets beat are Ed Tait of the Freep and Ken Wiebe of the Sun. I guarantee you they have favorites among the players. If they were to tell you otherwise, their pants would be on fire. I know I had faves when I worked the hockey beat. There were guys I truly liked, both on a personal and professional level. The Swedes were my favorites, most notably Willy Lindstrom and Kent Nilsson. Willy was flat-out funny and Kenta had a dry wit that made me laugh. I was quite fond of guys like Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston, who were among the group to join the Jets from Houston for the final World Hockey Association whirl. There were many others, and you can’t avoid silently cheering for them.

As a beat writer, you tend to favor players who are go-to quote guys. You know, guys who’ll reply to your dumb questions win or lose. Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler would be examples of that with the Jets, which is why you see them staring at notepads and microphones so often post-game. It also means Ladd and Wheeler are less likely to be assailed in print. The go-to quote guys are seldom, if ever, taken to task by the beat writers.

Trust me when I tell you this: The human element comes into play, very much so, and the boys on the beat want the Jets to win. They really do. I mean, would you rather spend seven months traveling with a winner or a loser? It’s a no-brainer.

That being said, it’s the beat writer’s job to tell you what happened and why it happened, not what they wish had happened.

So don’t expect them to join the cheerleading chorus with their copy.

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.

Winnipeg Sports: I come to praise some (Arctic Ice Hockey) and I come to bury others (you know who you are)

Maybe it’s an age thing, but as I watched our Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil contest the first all-Canadian final in Association of Tennis Professionals history today, I found myself drifting off to another time and another place. A fond time. A fond place.

The same thing happened in June as I watched our Genie Bouchard in the ladies’ singles final on the lumpy lawn of Centre Court Wimbledon.

I saw myself sitting alone in a section of bleachers bordering the har-tru courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club, where I received my baptism as a tennis scribe. I don’t recall who was playing on Court One that morning and afternoon in the opening round of the Canadian National Tennis Tournament, but I do remember grappling with the quirky method of scoring and the notion that, in tennis, love is nothing. I also remember suffering a case of sun stroke so severe that I was rendered incapable of filing my copy to the Winnipeg Tribune.

Undaunted and with a ball cap firmly in place to shield my noggin from sol, I returned the next day. And the next. And the next. I became a fixture at every significant tennis tournament—and the small events—in River City during the 1970s, covering the matches and the people for the Trib.

So as Raonic dispatched Pospisil, 6-1, 6-4, in an hour and seven minutes in their Washington, D.C., showdown, I saw the old Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club, when it was located where a sprawling Safeway now stands in Osborne Village. I saw Judy Peake and her brother, Rick Borland. I saw Ellie O’Gorman and Pierre LaMarche and Rejean Genois and Jim Boyce and Jane O’Hara and Richard Legendre and Peter Burwash and Vicki Berner. I saw the Campbell sisters, Linda and Sandy, and I saw Jim Matthews and Glen Booth. I saw the lovely Jo Brown, her hubby, Jack, and their kids, Tom and Bonny.

Those were special people. The tennis community was a special, tight-knit group. Those were special times.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE LA LA: If you’re looking for a terrific piece on the Winnipeg Jets, go to Arctic Ice Hockey and check out Dog Day Afternoon. It’s a creative, fun, light-hearted read written by Mike Fraser (bcjet), a Jets loyalist in New Westminster, B.C., just across the water from my Vancouver Island hideaway. I don’t exaggerate when I tell you it’s the sort of thing you just won’t find in either of the two River City dailies. The mainstream scribes aren’t into fun and creativity. Yet, as much as Fraser is having sport with the local hockey heroes, he’s also making a statement, one that many share…Good on the Anaheim Ducks to honor old friend Teemu Selanne when the Jets are in Mickey and Minnie’s neighborhood on Jan. 11. Nice touch for a nice guy…Ask yourself this: If Rick Dudley were generally managing the Jets, how many player-for-player trades would he have made in the past 3 1/2 years? One? Two? Half a dozen?…Was that really Ferguson Jenkins in town for the American Association all-star hijinks at the Ballyard by The Forks? It sure was. Nice of the Baseball Hall of Famer to drop by and give the event a big-league touch…I’m not sure why head coach Mike O’Shea has put the muzzle on his assistants, but I’m sure it bothers the boys and girls on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. But hands up if anyone else cares…I like the work Kirk Penton does on three-down football for the Winnipeg Sun. I’d take him on my staff…Gary (La La) Lawless broke away from his True North Toady scribblings this week to pay homage to Drew Willy after the first-year Bombers quarterback engineered a last-minute drive that carried the Winnipegs to a 27-26 victory over Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Incredibly, the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist wrote Willy is “Part Joe Montana, part Johnny Unitas, part John Elway.” Good grief. How lofty the praise if Willy actually wins a football game in November? You know, like the Grey Cup game, for example. Turn down the volume, La La. Oh, and next time you write something about a football game, mention the final score. It’s a rather significant detail.

DOUG DAYS OF SUMMER: I began reading a Doug Brown piece on the Bombers this week in the Free Press and a Miss Lonelyhearts column broke out.

Seriously, this was lame. How lame was it? Well, apparently Doug had a bowl of relationship metaphors for breakfast because he had the Bombers everywhere from the boudoir to the Palomino Club.

My personal favorite was this gem: “We’ve been on five dates with this new team, and it has only disappointed us once. Sure, it may have shown up late and drunk and got vomit stuck in its hair against Edmonton…”

THE BOW WOW BUNGALOW: Some writers never fail to fail, and Steve Simmons of Sun Media is one of them.

bow wow bungalowIn his three-dot column this very day, Little Stevie Blunder refers to former Blue Jays and current Boston Red Sox skipper John Farrell as “Benedict Farrell.” In other words, he’s calling the man a traitor for defecting from Toronto to Beantown. Hmmm.

As I recall, Simmons was a columnist and sports editor when I joined the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s. Not long after my arrival, he defected to the Calgary Herald. Yup, he left us high and dry for the opposition. And that means he was negotiating his move to the Herald while still in the employ of the Sun. Benedict Simmons then defected to the Toronto Sun.

So, it’s okay for Stevie to jump ship, but not John Farrell. Pot meet kettle.

For that, Little Stevie Blunder earns this week’s stay in the Bow Wow Bungalow.

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.

Winnipeg Jets are good to go now that TJ No Dots is on board

Boy, you can’t slip anything past our man Kevin Cheveldayoff. No sir. It’s like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster. Or a blue-eyed blonde past Tiger Woods.

No surprise, therefore, that while 28 general managers were taking a mid-summer siesta and Marc Bergevin was distracted by that pesky P.K. Subban thing, Kevin the Possum swooped in and plucked TJ Galiardi from the bones of the 2014 free-agent carcass. He sure showed that Jim Nill dude in Dallas how to generally manage a hockey team, didn’t he?

And let’s make one thing perfectly clear: There’s no truth to the rumor that the Possum actually believed he was signing T.J. Oshie, not TJ Galiardi. Our man would never get confused like that. No way. No one need tell the Possum the difference between a T.J. with dots after his initials and a TJ sans dots. The Winnipeg Jets GM knew exactly what he was doing when he added TJ No Dots to the ingredients of his Possum Stew.

So what does this development tell us?

Well, it tells us that the Jets now have the second best TJ in the National Hockey League. Not only that, it tells us that the Possum is a myth buster. Oh…yes…he…is.

It has been suggested—ad nauseam—that free agents will avoid River City like Brits avoid the dentist. Uh uh. Not true. TJ is evidence that some players really do like us, and so what if he comes from the dregs of the bin and would have been happy to see a contract offer from any outfit this side of the Kremlin. Mathieu Perreault is additional evidence of the Possum’s myth-busting chops.

I guess I’ve been wrong about the Possum all along. I mean, he somehow sold Perreault on The Forks and a non-playoff team against Disneyland and a Stanley Cup contender. Imagine that. Winnipeg, the Magic Kingdom. Again, take that, Jim Nill.

***

I don’t know if the recruitment of Perreault and TJ No Dots represents the Possum’s final touch in advance of Camp PoMo a little more than a month hence, but when I look at this Jets outfit I see…well, gosh darn, if I don’t see Don Waddell and Rick Dudley. Still. Three and a half years after the caravan from Atlanta rolled into River City.

And, to think, some people say the Possum does nothing.

(Just a thought: In a game of river hockey, which team would win? My money would be on Waddell/Dudley, even with Ondrej Pavelec in goal.)

TEAM WADDELL/DUDLEY

Dustin Byfuglien

Evander Kane

Andrew Ladd

Bryan Little

Zach Bogosian

Toby Enstrom

Ondrej Pavelec

Jim Slater

Chris Thorburn

Blake Wheeler

Paul Postma

Mark Stuart

THE POSSUM’S STEW

Mark Scheifele

Anthony Peluso

Matt Halischuk

Mathieu Perreault

Eric Tangradi

Grant Clitsome

Keaton Ellerby

Adam Pardy

Jacob Trouba

Michael Hutchinson

Michael Frolik

TJ Galiardi

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.

Winnipeg sports personalities get their heads examined

2 sports shrinks5

Twin sisters Dr. Patti van Puck and Dr. Patti van Pigskin are internationally renowned sports psychologists who specialize in what makes athletes/coaches/managers/owners/sports scribes/broadcasters tick.

Jocks the world over flock to their clinic, the River City Shrink Wrap, and Drs. Patti and Patti have a waiting list longer than a politician’s nose at election time. They don’t always have the right answer, but if loving the Winnipeg Jets, Blue Bombers and Goldeyes is wrong, they don’t want to be right.

Today’s group session includes Mike O’Shea, head coach of the Blue Bombers, Glenn January, offensive lineman with the Bombers, Evander Kane, left winger with the Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Jets, and Gary (La La) Lawless, sports columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press. Gentlemen, start your therapy…

DR. PUCK: “Welcome everyone. Who would like to start?”

COACH O’SHEA: “I’ll start, Doc Puck. I’m puzzled. I’m as baffled as a teenage kid trying to unhook his girlfriend’s bra for the first time. Here I am, a rookie head coach who’s taken over a team that really sucked lemons last year. I mean, they were bad and…”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Sorry to interrupt, Coach O’Shea, but exactly how bad were they?”

COACH O’SHEA: “Plugged-toilet-first-thing-in-the-morning bad. They won just three games. Out of 18! Now this year, my team has already won four games. FOUR! Out of five! But do you think we get any respect? Not so much as a sliver of respect. The fans still won’t fill the building and this bonehead sitting beside me—Lawless—writes that I need to learn how to lose. That was more than a month ago. Now he says the team’s a mirage. A mirage!”

JANUARY: “Not only that. He also wrote that the O-line sucks lemons and that I should be traded. That’s right! He says I’m the only guy on the O-line who doesn’t suck lemons, but then he says the GM oughta peddle my O-line-sized ass outta town. What’s up with that, Doc? Where’s the respect?”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Is all this true, Mr. Lawless?”

GARY LA LA: “Ya, I wrote that the Bombers are a mirage. But then they go and beat the Lions in B.C. to make me look like a complete jackass (as if I need help with that). So the next day I tweeted they might be real. Then two days later I wrote they’re gonna be champions. If they lose in Hamilton, they’ll be a mirage again. It all depends on what day it is, I guess. I just wet my finger, hold it up and see what way the wind’s blowing. Then I spend the next 15 minutes writing my column before lumbering off to my radio gig.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “And is it true that you wrote they should trade Glenn January?”

GARY LA LA: “Guilty as charged. I know he’s the best they’ve got. Without him, the O-line would really suck lemons. So maybe they shouldn’t trade him. Oh, I can’t make up my mind. I flip-flop more than a catfish someone caught at Lockport then tossed on the shore. I need help, Doc. That’s why I’m here.”

DR. PUCK: “My but there’s a lot of lemon sucking going on today? Do you have the same difficulty when you write about the Jets?”

GARY LA LA: “No way. Ask Chevy. He’ll tell you that I never lose my bearings when writing about the Jets. When they came to town in 2011, Chevy and Chipper bought me lunch. That really made me feel like I was part of the team. I wrote a column about it. Trust me, Doc, that lunch told me which side my bread is buttered on. I’ve known it right from the get-go. Right Chevy?”

CHEVELDAYOFF: “Damn straight, La La. My boots have never been so well shined. I can always count on Gary to pump my tires, Doc, whether I do something or not.”

KANE: “What do you mean if you do something? You haven’t done anything for 3 1/2 years. All you do is play with the waiver wire and draft kids who are five-foot-six and weigh 165 pounds. You never make trades to improve the team. Why do you think that blogger chick calls you Kevin the Possum? There’s no winning with you. Why do you think I want out of this two-bit town where everybody hates me?”

CHEVELDAYOFF: “I don’t make trades because I’m afraid to make trades. If I trade you, Evander, you’ll score 40 goals a season for the next 10 years and the guys I get in return won’t score 40 goals total in those 10 years. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

KANE: “So, as long as I’m in Winnipeg, we’re never going to make the playoffs, is that’s what I’m hearing you say?”

CHEVELDAYOFF: “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that as long as I’m in Winnipeg we’re never going to make the playoffs. That’s why I came here today to see the two docs. I’m hoping that they can give me the courage to make a trade for actual players, not draft choices.”

KANE: “Who the hell do you think Dr. Puck is? She ain’t the Wizard of Oz, man! Get a grip!”

GARY LA LA: “Hey, don’t talk to Chevy that way!”

KANE: “You talking to me, Lardo?”

GARY LA LA: “That’s right. I’m talking to you, punk. You should have the initials KCGGM shaved into your hair as a show of respect for your boss, the greatest GM in National Hockey League history. Everybody in this room sucks lemons except Chevy. And the two Docs, of course.”

DR. PUCK: “Gentlemen, please. Let’s keep this civil. Now, our session time is almost up, so let’s summarize. You’ve all come here for a reason—respect. That’s what you all seek. So, my twin sister and I are prepared to offer you some advice. Just remember, if loving you is wrong, we don’t want to be right.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Coach O’Shea, you seek respect for your team. Mr. January, you seek respect for the O-line and as an individual. Well, it’s obvious what you must do in order to get the respect you desire and deserve: Do exactly what Chevy and Mark Chipman did with Gary La La—buy him lunch. There’s a McDonald’s close by. Take him there when you leave and you’ll never have to shine your shoes again.”

DR. PUCK: “As for you, Chevy, the great baseball manager Tubby Tommy Lasorda once said: There are three kinds of people—those who make things happen, those who let things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Well, young Mr. Kane is absolutely correct—I am not the Wizard of Oz. I can’t give you courage. Remember this: Oz didn’t give nothing to the cowardly lion that he didn’t already have. So make things happen. And, Evander, you wish to move to a city where the fans will admire and respect you and to a team that can win. I can’t say that I blame you.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “And, finally, we come to you, Gary La La. You seek respect as a writer. The trouble is, many readers can’t see past your Jets pom-poms. We know you don’t want to be seen as a True North Toady. So, again, it’s obvious what you must do—buy your own damn lunch.”

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.

Winnipeg Jets: Here’s what they’re saying out on the street

If players and media think that Nashville hasn’t grown up as a team, I really want to know how they view the Jets. If Nashville just moved out of their parents’ house, the Jets took down their cartoon bird wallpaper and put up vintage airplanes stickers in their bedroom.

Ever wonder what others think about our hockey heroes? I do.

That’s why I went on a scouting mission this morning. I wanted to get the word on the street. You know, find out if pundits hither and yon are as gobsmacked as myself by the hypnotic, management-by-paralysis work of Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin the Possum, who, if his thumb-twiddling achieves the desired result, has positioned the Winnipeg Jets to win the Connor McDavid sweeps.

This hunt, it should be pointed out, was inspired by a Ken Wiebe piece that appeared last week in the Winnipeg Sun.

The young sports scribe went about the business of analyzing and assessing the off-season tinkering, overhauling and blow-’em-up-real-good manoeuvring of the seven outfits in the Central Division of the National Hockey League.

Wiebe rated Kevin the Possum’s work as C-, which, if I remember my grade school grading system correctly, is a passing mark. Anything above a D is a pass. Oh, woe is Ken.

A mark of C- for Kevin the Possum is clearly a hometown score. I’m not accusing Wiebe of being a True North Toady, but his credibility certainly has taken a bit of a hit because giving GM Kevin Cheveldayoff a passing grade is like giving Tiger Woods a gold star for fidelity.

Wiebe submits that the Jets “have improved slightly.” Sorry, but I don’t see it. Which is why I sought outside input. Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets out on the street, kids. (Caution: Offensive opinion if you’re a hard-core fanboy or fangirl.)

Harrison Mooney, Puck Daddy: The more I look at the Winnipeg Jets, the more I’m left to wonder what Kevin Cheveldayoff actually does all day. It’s as though Cheveldayoff doesn’t know trading is an option. He’s been an NHL GM since June 8, 2011. He’s never made a player-for-player trade, ever.

The Tennessean: With the exception of the Winnipeg Jets, every Central team made major improvements in hopes of unseating Pacific Division power Los Angeles, the Stanley Cup champion.”

David M. Wilson, Defending Big D (a Dallas Stars blog): So after finishing seventh in the Central Division, seven points back of a playoff spot, what do the Winnipeg Jets need to step into the sphere of being legitimate contenders? Well. Whatever it is, it’s unlikely they got it over this offseason. No, they didn’t exactly do nothing, but their summer moves are more of the yawn-inducing variety than anything else.”

Allan Muir, SI.com: “Meanwhile in Winnipeg, Cheveldayoff numbly soldiers on with a core that has no idea how to win, a tent-pole star who doesn’t want to be there and arguably the worst starting goalie in the entire league. What does Chevy do this summer? He picks up Mathieu Perreault to replace Olli Jokinen, waffles on the continuing Evander Kane situation and does nothing to support or replace Ondrej Pavelec, despite the availability of an abundance of keepers with starter potential in free agency. But what else to expect from a man whose boldest move in the last three years was swapping Johnny Oduya for a pair of draft picks?”

Scott Burnside, ESPN: Mathieu Perreault? That’s the answer? Hmmm. If the question was, ‘How do we keep our streak of never winning a single playoff game alive?’ then the Jets seem right on track. While every other team in the Central Division has made a step forward, the Jets seem content to maintain the status quo in the hopes that somehow, someway their young players—and there are some good ones like Jacob TroubaMark Scheifele and Blake Wheelerwill miraculously take this team by the throat and guide it into the playoffs. Last season they finished 14 points back of fourth-place Minnesota and seven back of Dallas, which snared the second wild-card spot in the West. No way are they that close now.”

Dan Bradley, On the Forecheck: The Jets are becoming masters at being just good enough to not get a top-3 pick, but not being good enough become relevant. It’s a cycle that’s pretty cruel to the city and its fans (who are some of the best in the league). The fans and media aren’t too fond of Evander Kane. They’re paying Ondrej Pavelec wayyyy too much money when he’s statistically one of the worst in the league. There’s some decent talent here, but unless a trade to bring in some legit scoring happens OR the team is bad enough to tank towards a top-3 pick, the Jets will continue to be a haven for young players looking to join a contender. If players and media think that Nashville hasn’t grown up as a team, I really want to know how they view the Jets. If Nashville just moved out of their parents’ house, the Jets took down their cartoon bird wallpaper and put up vintage airplanes stickers in their bedroom.”

Josh Clark, Blackout Dallas:  Better or worse? There’s absolutely no way around it: the Jets will decline this season. Winnipeg finished last year at 15th in the goals-for department and 21st in the goals-against department. With the rebuild phase imminent and draft picks galore filling their future, they just won’t be able to compete in the tough Central Division full of six playoff caliber teams now. With the current players on the roster, they will be able to straggle along, but will not find a way to punch their ticket to the postseason.”

Hockey Blog in Canada: “The first guy I have to ask about is Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. The Jets have yet to make the playoffs since arriving in Winnipeg, and look like they are going to miss the playoffs again this season. Yes, I can boldly make that prediction in July because I’m not sure what Cheveldayoff is being paid to do on a daily basis.”

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.

MY WINNIPEG: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

Does Winnipeg get a bad rap, or are the good citizens of River City a tad too touchy? Lord knows we have a fragile psyche, because we get our knickers in a knot at the mere suggestion that our burg is not fit for man, beast nor professional athlete. Well, here’s one person’s four-part take on what makes Pegtown tick.

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

 

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

It was the winter of 1998 and I was standing beside Ross McLennan in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom.

We peered out the window as an angry winter storm began to bare its fangs and growl, and we both knew that if we didn’t leave the building in the next half hour, or so, there existed a very real probability that we were hunkered in for the night.

“Ross,” I said to him as I stared at the white stuff swirling about outside, “why do we live here?”

“I don’t know,” he answered.

There was a pause for silence. We just stared at the snow.

“You know something,” I finally said, turning to my right and looking up at Ross. “We don’t have to live here. No. We don’t have to live here.”

So I don’t. Live there. But I do. Live there.

I have come to realize, you see, that I don’t live where I live. I live where I used to live. Where I’ve always lived. Where I always will live.

It’s just that I’m now approximately 2,300 kilometres to the left of Portage and Main. I have an ocean view. And a mountain view. There are palm trees, 365 days of golf, a wet rather than a white winter, nobody plugs in their car, and I’ve discovered uses for my arms other than swatting at mosquitos 24/7.

I hang my bonnet in Victoria, but, trust me, I live in Winnipeg.

I mean, I’m ashamed to admit this (and probably shouldn’t admit it), but I can’t tell you the name of Victoria’s mayor. I believe it’s Dean Fortin, but I’m not positive. Yes, I agree, shame on me.

The thing is, I not only can name the (soon-to-be former) mayor of Winnipeg, I know him. Personally. Mind you, I never was particularly fond of Sammy Katz, nor his smarmy smile. Always thought he was a bit like a soccer injury. You know, phony.

I figure Sammy for one of those soccer players who has been mortally wounded by a kick to the left shin bone, yet, as play continues to swirl about him as he lay clutching at his face, he’s peeking through his fingers to determine if the referee will go to his pocket and produce a red card.

The red card is, of course, the miracle cure of futbol. It has the healing powers of Jesus’s hands. The moment a mortally wounded lad is secure in the knowledge that his assailant has been shown a red card—and thereby banished from proceedings—he makes a Lourdes-like recovery and springs back into the fray with renewed vigor and an exaggerated limp that vanishes the very second play is whistled in. To me, that’s Sammy.

But I digress…

My point was/is, I know Sammy Katz is mayor in River City and I even know the names of some of those who would be mayor come October. Like Gord Steeves, who claims to know how many pot holes it takes to fill the streets of Winnipeg, because, by gosh, he’s going to fill ’em all.

I know these things because I left good, ol’ Hometown 15 years ago, but I never left.

I mean, when I make reference to the “local” paper, I’m talking about the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, not the Victoria Times Colonist or Victoria News. My first order of business each morning is to call up both the Sun and Freep. I need to know what’s happening. Where it’s happening. When it’s happening. Why it’s happening. I need to know who’s happening and who isn’t happening.

I read it all. News, entertainment, sports, arts, Miss Lonelyhearts. Everything. I even stop by Mr. Sinclair Jr.’s neighborhood in the Freep on occasion, just to check out Gordo’s most recent exercise in name-dropping self-indulgence. (Quick question: Does Gordo ever eat at home with his bride, or does he always eat out with somebody who’s a somebody?)

At any rate, I care about Winnipeg. I care about its people. I am, after all, of them. Born and raised. Spent the largest segment of a 30-year career in jock journalism there.

That, however, doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to do the rah-rah, siss-boom-bah thing about all that is River City, and neither are the professional athletes we adopt.

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

None of us wishes to be where we don’t want to be, and there are hundreds—correction: thousands—of people living and working in Pegtown who don’t wish to live and work in Pegtown. Some of those people edit copy at a newspaper. Some flip cheese nips at The Sals. Some serve tables in pubs. Some are university profs. Some collect your garbage. And, yes, some are in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

There is mounting suspicion that Evander Kane is among those people. That he wants to hop on the next stagecoach out of Dodge. Well, the Jets left winger should know that it’s okay if he doesn’t like us. It’s okay if he wants out of Winnipeg. That doesn’t make him O.J. or Willie Pickton or Paul Bernardo any more than it makes me Karla Homolka because I dialed up a new area code in 1999.

And it doesn’t make our burg Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Calgary’s or Vancouver’s arm pit, either. So who gives two dumps if an athlete doesn’t like us?

 

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

Winnipeg has many favorable qualities to offer. A self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of them.

Winnipeg is…it’s…well, it has Napolean Complex. Small man syndrome, if you will. Its skin is thinner than the margin of error on an Angus Reid poll.

A space cadet like Ilya Bryzgalov makes a flippant statement about our burg’s parks, the frigid climes and no Russian playmates for his kids and it’s as if he’s climbed atop the Legislature building and gelded the Golden Boy. Or replaced it with a bronze statue of Joseph Stalin.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull
Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Shane Doan is tarred and feathered (figuratively) for saying he doesn’t wish to uproot his family from Phoenix when the possibility exists that the Coyotes are about to become buzzard bait in the Arizona desert. Not once does Doan utter a disparaging remark about Winnipeg, though. Nary a discouraging word. He says he doesn’t wish to move his family anywhere. Not to Vancouver. Not to Calgary or Edmonton. Not to New York or Chicago. Yet many in Thin Skin City get their knickers in a knot, in part because of a jingoistic media that includes at least one prominent True North Toady who misrepresents Doan’s feelings in a column that falsely accuses the Coyotes captain of slander.

Dieter Brock cracks wise about the Assiniboine Park Zoo three decades ago and, to this day, there are many among the rabble who would lock him in a cage with the rest of the skunks.

We get our frozen noses out of joint at the slightest suggestion we aren’t where it’s at, don’t we? How dare these filthy rich, pampered ingrates not like us. The nerve. Don’t they know we have The Forks, Folklorama, the French Quarter, Festival du Voyageur, a thriving arts and entertainment community that includes a world-renowned ballet and symphony orchestra, the Museum of Asper, affordable real estate, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda?

And, hey, it’s the Slurpee capital of the planet. No place sucks like Winnipeg. Literally. So if you slag our city, no Slurpees for you!

I can’t say with absolute certainty when we developed our Napolean Complex, but I do believe we should point an accusing finger at Humpty Harold Ballard. And the Molson family.

When I was a kid, you see, Winnipeg didn’t have an inferiority complex, even though we didn’t have a National Hockey League team to call our own. Only Toronto and Montreal did. No big deal. Besides, there was no need to feel like the ginger-haired stepchild because we had a football club that could kick big-city butt. And that’s what the Blue Bombers did. Every year.

So everything was cool.

It even got better when Ben Hatskin hijacked Robert Marvin Hull. We still didn’t have an NHL franchise, but we had the Jets and the World Hockey Association. More significant, we had Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet. The most dynamic player north, south, east and west of Boston was ours. We could turn in any direction and go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

Our smugness rapidly turned to anger, though, because the hockey establishment refused to play nice. First, they went to court to prevent our Bobby from joining the Jets. Next, they refused to include our Bobby on the Team Canada side that faced off against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. They spent the next seven years pooh-poohing our product as paperweight, even as the Jets iced an outfit that could lay a licking on 90 per cent of teams in the NHL. Eventually, most parties realized there had to be a ceasefire between the NHL and WHA, for financial sanity. There were merger talks. And a show of hands on the NHL inviting Winnipeg, Quebec City, Edmonton and New England to the party. The tally was 12-5 in favor, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which landed an NHL franchise in 1970, Boston and Los Angeles on the nay side of the vote. That was enough to defeat the merger.

8-harold-ballard-worst-moments-in-maple-leafs-history
Humpty Harold Ballard

The loudest anti-acceptance voice, that with the most huff, puff and bluster, belonged to Humpty Harold Ballard, resident felon and bankroll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I feel so elated,” Ballard brayed in celebration. “It’s like the North beating the South in the Civil War.”

“As far as Harold was concerned, Winnipeg didn’t exist,” Jets part-owner and governor Barry Shenkarow recalls in the Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.

So, Ballard and his buddies in Montreal and Vancouver were telling us we weren’t big enough. We weren’t classy enough. We weren’t sexy enough. We weren’t sophisticated enough for the NHL.

Well, we were big enough and old enough to drink beer.

The WHA teams needed one NHL outfit to change its vote. Just one. Ballard, ever the curmudgeon, never would be swayed from his position, not as long as it meant receiving a smaller slice of the Hockey Night in Canada pie. So the Molson family, owner of Club du Hockey Canadien, became the target. We stopped swilling their beer. Not just in River City. In Edmonton. In Quebec City. In Calgary. In Vancouver.

The power of the pint won the day and Humpty Harold’s happiness was replaced with a harrumph when Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City and New England were absorbed by the NHL.

I’m convinced, however, that residue remains from that 1970s scenario. It’s why we get our backs up and go all bantam rooster at the mere hint that we can’t run with the big dogs. And, of course, our fragile psyche took a massive wallop when the original Jets loaded up the truck, lock stock and jock strap, and departed hockey’s high country for the Arizona desert in 1996.

But Winnipeg shouldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks or says of us. We can, and should, feel good about what we see when we look in the mirror.

We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves, either. We’ve got our quirks. I mean, we want people to love us. To experience us. Yet we build a perimeter highway around our city just so people can avoid us as they make their way across the country. Go figure.

 

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

Carbon dating confirms that I am a relic. A fossil. I am a drawing on a cave-dweller’s wall. The amateurish sketch depicts me sitting in the old barn on Maroons Road in the 1950s, watching Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors.

bowlingWe all loved Mosie. He authored an admirable career in Chicago, where he played on the Blackhawks’ famed Pony Line with the Bentley brothers, Doug and Max, and the highlight for Mosie arrived on the final night of the 1951-52 NHL season when he tallied three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. It remains an unassailable feat of scoring fury.

It wasn’t just his time in the NHL, nor his name in the record book, that endeared us to Mosie, though. He was a local boy who made good, then came home to us in 1955 to lead the Warriors to a Western Hockey League title. And he never left.

There’s now a hockey rink that bears his name. Also a tournament. And, of course, Mosienko Lanes continues to thrive at the corner of Redwood and Main in the gritty North End.

Ken Ploen is another former athlete we love. Unlike Mosie, he’s an adopted son, coming to us from tiny Lost Nation, Iowa, in the late 1950s to play an unparalled role in the golden years of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Grey Cup parades became commonplace once Ploen arrived to play defensive back and quarterback, and there isn’t a River City athlete, past or present, more revered than No. 11. He is our humble hero. He is to Winnipeg football what Jean Beliveau is to Montreal hockey. His affection for us is genuine. Real. It is not pasted on to gain sway. Once here, he, like Mosie, never left.

“I think when you look back at things, you say do you second guess yourself. I think it was a great decision I made back then and I certainly don’t ever regret that,” is what he said when inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s been a great place to live. One of the reasons I stayed in Winnipeg was warm people.”

He echoed those sentiments when the great Bombers squads of 1959 and ’62 were celebrated by the MSHOF.

“I thought about it a lot today and I said how fortunate we were to play in a city like Winnipeg, with the fans that we had. It was always a great feeling to represent the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. I think a number of times because of that support we were able to pull off victories that maybe we wouldn’t have pulled off in another circumstance. It was a thrill representing the Blue and Gold, it was an honor wearing their uniforms and we look back at it with nothing but fond memories.”

Young people unfamiliar with Ploen would be shocked to learn that the great QB actually snubbed the National Football League to ply his trade on the lonesome prairie, in part because the Bombers offered him more money than the Cleveland Browns. I know, that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The Browns were willing to give Ploen a $500 signing bonus and a $5,000 yearly stipend to play DB. The Bombers went all-in with $3,000 and $9,000 as a DB/QB.

Ken_PloenAs an added bonus, Ploen heard that the “hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

Winnipeg prefers its sporting heroes to be a product of the Mosienko or Ploen template. Feet firmly on the ground. Genuine. Blue collar work ethic. Confident, not cocky. Community awareness. Little, if any, bling.

And we don’t care about their roots.

For example, Winnipeg probably holds European hockey players closer to the heart than any market in North America, although Mikhail Smith soured us ever so slightly on Soviets/Russians with his ill-concieved and failed attempt to transform Portage and Main into Red Square. We love Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two of the many Scandinavians who brought titles to River City before departing for Gotham. The super Swedes have not forgotten us, nor we them. Ditto Teemu Selanne, the fab Finn who took us on a magic carpet ride in his NHL rookie season.

It helps to win, of course. Mosie won. Ploen won. Chris Walby won. Bob Cameron won. Hedberg and Nilsson won. Had Dieter Brock brought the Grey Cup home, we’d talk more about what he did on the football field than what he said about the zoo. Hell, we’d let him pull a Kramer and hurl banana peels at the zoo monkeys.

Win and there’s a chance that some will forgive, or look beyond, your trespasses.

Bobby Hull’s name has been, and still is, linked to spousal abuse, which is a most loathsome bit of business. His ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery. She has spoken of him beating and bloodying her head with the steel heel of her shoe. He has been convicted of assaulting a Chicago police officer. He had a DUI arrest. He drank excessively. But, hey, Robert Marvin Hull put Winnipeg on the pro hockey map. There would be no NHL franchise if not for the him. Thus, many eyes look beyond, or are blind to, his violent, off-ice nastiness.

Personally, I acknowledge what the Golden Jet did for good, ol’ Hometown as a hockey player. Only Ben Hatskin has done more. But Hull the man was a cad.

I don’t harbor any warm and fuzzies for him, but a great many in River City do. And always will.

 

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

This isn’t a news bulletin to anyone who’s spent more than a month in the Manitoba capital, but it must be mentioned: Winnipeg is not Shangri-La.

Let’s ignore the usual suspects of winter, mosquitos, crime, spring flooding, middle-of-nowhere location, etc., because every city has acne (have you ever been to Buffalo?). Let us, instead, focus on sports. Explain to me, in 25 words or less, why a free agent hockey or football player would want to pitch his tent in Pegtown, or why those currently under contract would wish to stay? And, no, a lifetime supply of Slurpees is not enticement enough to lure prime jock stock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie or Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Above all, athletes want to win. Well, a championship parade in River City is as rare as a green winter. Our burg has been a Grey Cup-free zone since Wade Miller was knee high to Buzz and Boomer (come to think of it, Wade’s still only knee high to Buzz and Boomer). Meanwhile, the management-by-paralysis stylings of Jets GM Kevin The Possum means our hockey heroes are always first to the tee box each April.

When a number of the Jets core players (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane) inked long-term deals, they expressed a fondness for the city, the True North organization and confidence that the club was headed in the right direction.

I do not, however, think they anticipated the general manager going completely comatose.

Winning is not part of the hockey equation in Winnipeg. That, alone, makes the acquisition of Grade A free agents remote, if not impossible. At best, our city and the Jets will land a Grade B player, but the likelihood is that River City is the preferred destination of Grade C and D players. Like Mathieu Perreault, who stands as The Possum’s sole free-agent signing to date this off-season.

Many are geeked up about the arrival of Perreault, who replaces Olli Jokinen. But ask yourself this: Why would Perreault rather be the No. 3 centre on a non-playoff team than the No. 3 centre on a Stanley Cup contender?

Whatever, I don’t think Perreault makes the Jets better. Just younger.

So, again, why would someone like Kane wish to remain in Winnipeg? If he’s going to be a much-maligned man, why not go where he’ll cash a playoff cheque for his trouble?

At any rate, the fact that top-quality players steer clear of Pegtown does not make our city unique. John Elway wanted no part of Baltimore. Eli Manning didn’t dig San Diego. Eric Lindros snubbed Quebec City, which, in my experience, is the most beautiful burg in North America. Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo wanted out of Vancouver. Josh Gorges turned his nose up at Toronto. James Reimer wants out of Toronto. Ryan Suter left Nashville. Patrick Roy forced his way out of Montreal. Jason Spezza spurned an entire country.

The reasons, of course, vary, but the sentiment is the same: Nobody wants to be where they don’t want to be.

This all reminds me of the title of a song written by one of our favorite sons, Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That’s what the outside world thinks of River City. But we know better, don’t we? River City is more like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

I wonder if Evander Kane knows that.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Jets: Dale Hawerchuk is revered, Evander Kane is reviled and Kevin Cheveldayoff is The Possum

Dale Hawerchuk had street cred as a hockey player and, perhaps more important, as a citizen. His street cred was borne of a 53-goal season. Six 40-plus goal seasons. Half a dozen 100-plus point seasons. A Calder Trophy. And he married a Manitoba farm girl, Crystal.

Okay, it’s agreed that Evander Kane is Public Enemy No. 1 in River City.

The guy is about as welcome as mosquitos at a picnic table. He probably couldn’t get himself a free lunch at a soup kitchen. Heck, Kane likely couldn’t score a pint on the house if he bellied up to the bar with Mike O’Shea and Drew Willy as his wing mates on a Friday night at the Palomino Club.

Ya. I’m told it’s that bad.

So here’s what I would like to know: What is Kane’s crime?

There’s a school of thought, of course, that suggests he wants out of Winnipeg. That he feels as if playing hockey in River City is the equivalent of cleaning up after the circus elephants. We’ve been hearing that since he arrived with the National Hockey League club’s caravan from Atlanta in 2011. Well, to the best of my knowledge, we’ve never heard any such words fall from Kane’s tongue. When asked about it point blank, he acts like a ninny and skates around the issue without providing a yes or no answer.

Thus, it’s all gossip. Innuendo. Rumor. Kane, himself, has yet to approach general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff and request a trade. Not for public consumption, anyway.

Why, then, is the young Winnipeg Jets left winger so disliked?

I mean, Dale Hawerchuk demanded his ticket out of Dodge, yet he is revered in River City.

The difference, of course, is that Ducky had street cred as a hockey player and, perhaps just as important, as a citizen. His street cred was born of a 53-goal season. Six 40-plus goal seasons. Half a dozen 100-plus point seasons. A Calder Trophy. And he married a Manitoba farm girl, Crystal.

One other thing: There was no belief that Ducky considered his adopted hometown the crotch of the country.

Ducky wanted a new postal code for one reason: GM Mike Smith.

Some of you might not be old enough to remember comrade Mikhail, who generally (mis)managed the Jets in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He was, shall we say, a different head of lettuce. Rumpled in a slept-on-the-street sort of way and an egghead who viewed hockey not so much as sport but science, he had a degree in Russian studies and a fascination, if not a fetish, for players whose names ended with the letters ‘ov’. Under comrade Mikhail’s watch, the Jets had more Ivans and Igors and Sergeis and Vladimirs than the Kremlin. Or the Moscow phone book. Winnipeg was Red Square West. That’s why I called them the Central Red Jets back in the day.

Anyway, Hawerchuk was caught up in, and eventually swept away by, the undertow of comrade Mikhail’s diabolical plot to paint the town red.

As with the Kane scrutiny, gossip abounded about Ducky being dispatched hither and yon. Chicago Blackhawks coach Iron Mike Keenan and his Jets counterpart, Bob (Mud) Murdoch talked about a one-for-one swap: Denis Savard for Hawerchuk. Prior to the 1989 NHL trade deadline, there was discussion of a deal that would have sent Ducky to Philadelphia for Dave Poulin, Scott Mellanby and one of their the Flyers’ No. 1 picks.

“And three of Bobby Clarke’s kids,” was comrade Mikhail’s cheeky reaction to the reports. “And two of Jay Snider’s cars.”

To that point in time, Hawerchuk had made no trade request or demand. He was, however, wavering.

“I would accept a trade more easily now than I would have a year ago,” he said. “I’m tired about reading bull in the papers. I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”

Both Hawerchuk and comrade Mikhail were singing from the same sheet in the songbook by the end of that season.

“He basically would like a change,” the GM told reporters. “He’d like an opportunity to go to another team and play in another organization.”

Shortly thereafter, Ducky was shuffled off to Buffalo in barter for Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and an exchange of first-round draft picks (the Jets chose Keith Tkachuk). It was a favorable deal for the Jets, certainly the best return anyone could have expected.

Despite his defection, Hawerchuk is revered and considered hockey deity in River City. And rightly so.

Kane, meanwhile, is reviled.

I still don’t know what crime Kane has committed, other than he enjoys yanking everyone’s chain. I do know this, however: Dale Hawerchuk earned the right to request a trade because he earned his street cred through his deeds. To this point in time, Evander Kane has done and earned squat.

You know, just like The Possum, whose management by paralysis has paralyzed the Jets.

(FOOTNOTE: I invite your comments. I do not, however, welcome some of your comments. If you believe what I’ve written is the natterings of a nincompoop and belongs at the bottom of a bird cage, let ‘er rip. Tell me why. I enjoy healthy debate. That can be fun. If, on the other hand, your idea of a critique is to attack/insult me about my gender or sexual orientation, then we aren’t going to get along. Let’s put it this way: It is permissible to question the size of my IQ, but not the size of my boobs. Bottom line: I don’t get paid to write this crap, so play nice, kids.)

Red Cards and Yellow Cards to you, you, you and my own self

Evander Kane and Kevin (Takethedayoff) Cheveldayoff need to spend some time on Planet Pinocchio.

rooftop riting biz card back sideThe World Cup is in the rear view mirror, but that doesn’t mean we have to put away the red and yellow cards. Matter of fact, I’m going to my pocket because there are some people who need to be carded…

RED CARD: To Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun/Sun Media.

I have often red-carded Little Stevie Blunder because he is, perhaps, the most red-cardable jock journalist in the land. To err is human, but this Sun scribe is never wrong. Just ask him.

I did that very thing once upon a time. Little Stevie had written that the Minnesota Vikings never were champions of the National Football League. I sent him an email, suggesting he might be mistaken.

“The Vikings have never won the Super Bowl, but did they not win the final NFL title prior to the merger with the American Football League?” I inquired. “I’m looking at the official NFL record book as I write, and it lists Minnesota as the 1969 NFL champion. Is the official NFL record book wrong, or are you wrong?”

Well, didn’t that just ruffle his not-so-pretty plummage?

Little Stevie’s response was quite snotty. Basically, he told me I was a ditz who didn’t know pigskin from porcelain and I shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of his high-and-mighty huffing and puffing. Without saying the NFL record book was wrong, he said it was wrong.

So now we have Little Stevie playing loose with history once again, this time in Major League Baseball.

Sitting to the host’s right on TSN The Reporters with Dave Hodge this past Sabbath, Little Stevie went into full bluster and told us this about Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers sensational southpaw: “His last eight starts, two no-hitters, five earned runs.”

Kershaw has one no-hitter in his entire career, not two in eight starts.

Normally, a foul of this nature would warrant only a yellow card, but Simmons gets a red card because he’s so arrogant.

pegsunRED CARD: To the Winnipeg Sun.

Why does PegSun run Little Stevie Blunder’s three-dot columns on Sundays? Too much of it is Toronto-centric. In his most-recent piece, Simmons offered 14 opinions on Tranna athletes/issues compared to just one about Winnipeg. Does anyone in River City actually care about the Raptors and the naming of a Scarborough street after Peter Zezel?

Why doesn’t PegSun have one of its own people do the column? Like Paul Friesen. Or a freelancer who’d make the thing more Peg-centric.

RED CARD: To Kevin Klein, grand poobah of MyToba.ca.

I’m sure Klein has some boffo ideas, because the MyToba.ca website is quite good. But his campaign to have Dancing Gabe Langlois inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame is not among his boffo notions. It is, in fact, a really, really dumb idea.

Klein made his plea in a May column on MyToba.ca, and asked folks to sign a petition in support. Two months later, he has 157 of his targeted 10,000 signatures.

Take the hint, Kevin: Take the story down from your website.

YELLOW CARD: To Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Gary La La engaged Dave Reid in one of those staged, to-and-fro chin-wags in which both voices talk loud and, often, at the same time on TSN’s That’s Hockey. Their debate focused on the merits of having either Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets or Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators as the centrepiece of your National Hockey League franchise.

“Leadership?” Gary La La said in summation. “You could slap the C on Jacob Trouba in Winnipeg right now and no one would blink.”

Yo! La La! I’m pretty certain Andrew Ladd would blink as they ripped the C off his sweater.

Jets GM Kevin Takethedayoff
Jets GM Kevin Takethedayoff

YELLOW CARD: To Jets left winger Evander Kane and general manager Kevin (Takethedayoff) Cheveldayoff.

These two need to spend some time on Planet Pinocchio. Here’s why: When Kane arrives at training camp (on time but probably not soon enough for the naysayers), the news scavengers will be circling, They will be hungry. They will be prepared to pick at his bones. This will be their first volley:

“Do you want to be here in Winnipeg, Evander?”

This will be the central theme throughout training exercises—and into the NHL season—unless the polarizing player and the pulseless GM stop talking in circles about Kane’s life expectancy with the Jets.

Kane and Cheveldayoff need to do what most hockey people do—lie. The next time Kane is asked if he’s happy in Pegtown, he must say, “Yes.” When Cheveldayoff is asked if he is attempting to peddle his sometimes petulant player’s posterior to the highest bidder, he must say, “No.”

You and I will know both their noses are growing and their pants are on fire, but their big, fat fibs ought to curb the controversy. We then can move on to more pressing training camp issues. Like the size of Dustin Byfuglien’s girth.

YELLOW CARD: To local newsies for sticking their microphones and notepads under Dale Hawerchuk’s nose to get his take on the Kane situation.

Exactly what did the scavengers expect Ducky to say? That Winnipeg is a cesspool? That Kane should run for the hills?

There’s no suggestion that the Jets legend was anything less than sincere when he endorsed good, ol’ Hometown as a swell place to spend an NHL career, but come on, people. That’s not a fresh slant on a touchy issue. It’s not news. It’s True North propaganda.

YELLOW CARD: To my very own self because of what I scribbled about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for The Huddle Magazine last September.

“Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. Here’s why. What transpired at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Friday night might have been a preview of the 2014 Canadian Football League season.

Keep in mind that your Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be keeping company with B.C., Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatchewan next year, so the 53-17 paddy whacking the B.C. Lions laid on the locals could become the rule rather than the exception.

Scary thought, isn’t it?

I mean, if you’re the bottom feeder in the CFL East Division, what’s going to happen when you’re running with the big dogs in the West Division? Well, here’s a hint: The Bombers are 1-6 vs. West outfits in 2013 and they’ve been outscored 238-145 for a per game average of 34-20. So batten the hatches and hide all the women and children.

Oh, I suppose a lot will change between now and next July. Maybe the Bombers will find a general manager. Maybe they’ll find a head coach who knows where the Xs and Os belong on the offensive side of the football. Maybe they’ll find a quarterback who doesn’t give the ball away like candy on Halloween. Maybe they’ll find some large lads who can pass block. Maybe they’ll find some receivers who don’t have alligator arms in traffic. Maybe they’ll find someone who can kick a field goal.

And maybe I’ll be Miss Grey Cup 2013.”

Well, our football heroes are 3-and-oh and atop the Canadian Football League West Division standings.

D’oh!

(FOOTNOTE: I invite your comments. I do not, however, welcome some of your comments. If you believe what I’ve written is the natterings of a nincompoop and belongs at the bottom of a bird cage, let ‘er rip. Tell me why. I enjoy healthy debate. That can be fun. If, on the other hand, your idea of a critique is to attack/insult me about my gender or sexual orientation, then we aren’t going to get along. Let’s put it this way: It is permissible to question the size of my IQ, but not the size of my boobs. Bottom line: I don’t get paid to write this crap, so play nice, kids.)

Young Eddie Tait: My ‘pizza boy’ is a slice above the rest of the River City sports scribes

If there’s a more respected sports scribe in Winnipeg than Ed Tait, I don’t know who it might be. He’s the best of the best, whether he’s writing about the Winnipeg Jets, the Blue Bombers or something on the periphery. No one in Pegtown does it better than Young Eddie.

rooftop riting biz card back sideNot always, but often when I read a quality piece of scribbling by Ed Tait, like his work in today’s Winnipeg Free Press, I think of pizza. A $10 pizza.

It was during the 1990s, you see, when I carried the burden and misfortune of being sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun. Actually, upon reflection, I suppose it wasn’t all that bad, because I had young Eddie and a couple of other good foot soldiers on my staff, but it was a burden, nonetheless.

Anyway, I had dispatched Young Eddie to North Dakota (the specific assignment escapes me, but I believe it was either high school or college hockey). It was a weekend gig, and his first road trip. Ever. He was geeked up, understandly so because this is a significant and signature moment in the life of a greenhorn sports scribe. I don’t recall giving him extravagant or detailed directives, other than to get the story, enjoy himself and come home safely.

“And keep your receipts,” I emphasized. “You’ll need them for your expense report.”

So I’m sitting at the desk in the closet-sized cubbyhole that passed for my office on the second floor of the Sun building when Young Eddie returned from the fray.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Great,” he answered with the enthusiasm and innocence of freshly scrubbed youth and his boyish charm. “Had loads of fun.”

“Nice. Very nice. You did a great job. We’ll have to get you on the road again. When you’ve got time, fill out your expense form and make sure you include your receipts.”

He left and, scant seconds later, Young Eddie was back in my bunker.

“Here,” he said, handing me the lid from a pizza box.

“What’s this?” I said as I stared at a rumpled piece of cardboard with tomato sauce stains.

“That’s what I ate.”

“That’s it? That’s all you ate for the entire weekend? One pizza?”

“No, but…”

“How much did it cost?”

“Ten bucks.”

“You spent $10 for the entire weekend? Just $10?”

“No, but…”

To this day, I have no notion what else Young Eddie shoved down his throat that weekend, but I have my suspicions that a few bags of chips and Big Gulps were on the menu. He probably splurged on two or three packs of bubblegum, too.

“I remember,” he told me in an email exhange this morning. “My expense reports have changed since then. Steve (Freep sports editor Lyons) has told me I don’t need to put in the receipts from 7-11 for all the Doritos, Gobstoppers, etc.”

Too funny.

I don’t tell this story to bring any level of embarrassment to Young Eddie. I loved working with him. He made my two tours of duty as sports editor palatable and, on those occasions when we collaborated on out-of-town assignments, he was an absolute joy and a boffo traveling companion. We had a great many guffaws.

If there’s a more respected sports scribe in Winnipeg than Young Eddie, I don’t know who it might be. He’s the best of the best, whether he’s writing about the Winnipeg Jets, the Blue Bombers or something on the periphery. No one in Pegtown does it better than Young Eddie. And I’ll tell you something else about him: As good a sports scribe as he is, he’s even a better person. I’m sure his bride, Kathi, and their lads, Wyatt and Finn, would agree.

So you want to read his terrific piece in today’s Freep about Matt Dunigan’s 713-yard passing game with the Blue Bombers 20 years ago. Like Dunigan in that match vs. the Edmonton Eskimos, Young Eddie is at the top of his game.

Dunigan, of course, is the centrepiece of the article, but Eddie tracked down some of the QB’s accomplices and he includes a delightful anecdote from Chris Walby, who was honored for participating in his 200th Canadian Football League game in Bombers linen that night at the ol’ ballyard on Maroons Road.

It’s the sort of feature stuff I’d like to see more often in both the Freep and the Winnipeg Sun.

(FOOTNOTE: I invite your comments. I do not, however, welcome some of your comments. If you believe what I’ve written is the natterings of a nincompoop and belongs at the bottom of a bird cage, let ‘er rip. Tell me why. I enjoy healthy debate. That can be fun. If, on the other hand, your idea of a critique is to attack/insult me about my gender or sexual orientation, then we aren’t going to get along. Let’s put it this way: It is permissible to question the size of my IQ, but not the size of my boobs. Bottom line: I don’t get paid to write this crap, so play nice, kids.)