Let’s talk about riding off into the sunset after scribbling about the sports scene in Good Ol’ Hometown for (not quite) half a century

I wasn’t going to post this essay until June 14.

That date, you see, marks the 50th anniversary of my first byline article in the Winnipeg Tribune, and I always wanted to be like Vince Leah and scribble about sports in Good Ol’ Hometown for at least half a century.

Well, as Maxwell Smart used to say, “missed it by that much.” One month and change.

And I’m okay with that.

I mean, Uncle Vince is a legend whose longevity as a chronicler of local jockdom shall forever remain unmatched. Indeed, unchallenged.

He’s won more awards than Meryl Streep, among them the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt, and I’m not in the order of anything, except maybe the Order of Bull Droppings, and we all know that’s how more than a few folks have described my scribblings at the Trib, the Winnipeg Sun and on this blog. So, be certain, there’s no attempt here to parallel my career with his.

In truth, Uncle Vince and I share just two commonalities: We both wrote sports at the Trib and we walked out the door the same day, figuratively if not literally, and neither of us had a choice.

Actually, there is one other thing: Neither of us covered a Stanley Cup parade, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The point is, I’m finally riding off into the sunset, 49 years and 11 months after my initial byline article, a brief report on the 1971 Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting tucked into the back pages of the sports section, along with Harold Loster’s horse racing copy.

I’d like to tell you it was a glittering piece of wordsmithing but, in reality, it was unremarkable and totally forgettable, which would explain its positioning on the back pages.

It did, however, serve as the starting point of a career-long, unbreakable link to hockey and, most notably, the Winnipeg Jets.

As much as I covered every sport known to man, it always seemed to come back to hockey for me, and the Old Barn On Maroons Road became my second home.

I watched the Portage Terriers win the Centennial Cup there in May 1973; I watched The Shoe and the Jets parade around the freeze with the Avco World Trophy exactly six years later; I watched one Soviet side and one Russian side win World Junior titles there; I watched the 1981 Canada Cup there; I watched the Jets’ National Hockey League home debut there in ’79 and I watched them say goodbye there on the Day of the Long Faces in ’96. I played alongside Eddie Shack in Schmockey Night there, and I skated with the West Kildonan North Stars against the Winnipeg Monarchs there. Hell, my birth certificate is so dog-eared that I watched Billy Mosienko play there.

So, ya, local hockey and I were a thing. Still are, albeit from a considerable distance.

Back in the day, people would ask me about the Jets, wondering if their favorite player was a good guy or a bit of a twit, or if Fergy really was as tough as 10 miles of gnarly backroad. Even now, whenever I visit Cool Aid here in Victoria to collect the meds that keep me on the green side of the sod, Jim in the dispensary always wants to talk about “your Jets.”

Yes, he thinks of them as my Jets because it’s guilt by association.

The folks out here on the Left Flank, you see, know just three things about Good Ol’ Hometown: 1) It’s bitterly cold, 2) the Jets, 3) the Blue Bombers. In that order.

I’ve spent the past 21-plus years listening to rude laughter about “Winterpeg” and jokes about the Jets and cheap shots about the Bombers, although our football heroes nipped that in the bud in November 2019 when they took custody of the Grey Cup, and it’ll serve all the wise acres right if the Bombers never have to give the thing back.

If only the Jets had been able to do the same with hockey’s holy grail.

A Stanley Cup parade. Was/is that too much to ask? I mean, I’ve covered/watched some damn fine local shinny sides, but the Jets always came undone like a school kid’s shoelace when the games mattered most. I don’t have to tell you it’s happening again this year, although we shouldn’t be surprised given that the general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, twiddled his thumbs at the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline last month. Damn him.

But I won’t be here to praise or bury the Jets as they play out the string this year. I’m fresh out of cheek, irreverence, sarcasm, cynicism and goof-balling around. My snark tank is also empty.

I’ll continue to root, root, root for them, of course, because I’ve always wanted the Jets, Bombers, our curlers and all local athletes/outfits to succeed, which is most sports scribes’ dirty, little secret. They’ll tell you they don’t cheer for the home side, but don’t believe them. Oh, they don’t rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah out loud, but they want to see the locals succeed. It’s human nature, and I have personal knowledge that a good many of them are human. Honest, they are. The trick, of course, is to not allow a fondness for the girls and boys you cover to creep into your copy.

Anyway, I’m outta here, kids, 49 years and 11 months after the first hot-lead byline.

In closing, if I were to offer one morsel of counsel to jock journos hither and yon, it would be this: Take your job seriously, but not yourself. You aren’t splitting the atom, you aren’t running into a burning building to rescue small children, you aren’t digging water wells in a Third World country. So have fun with the gig. And, remember, the people you’re writing about are just that—people. They aren’t athletes who happen to be humans, they’re humans who happen to be athletes.

Adios and thanks kindly for dropping by. I’ve always appreciated it.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane on Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day

This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.

It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.

It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:

  • The Old Barn On Maroons Road, when it had that new-rink smell.

    I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.

  • I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.

  • I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.

  • I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.

  • I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.

  • I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.

  • Billy Robinson

    I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Don Baizley, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.

  • I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.

  • I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”

  • I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.

  • I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.

  • I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

  • Mikhail Smith

    I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.

  • I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.

  • I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.

  • I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.

  • I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.

  • John Ferguson

    I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.

  • I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!

  • I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.

  • Valeri Kharlamov

    I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.

  • I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.

I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.

The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.

Happy Hockey Heritage Day.

About Major Junior hockey and Benny’s pie in the sky…put that WHL name on Ice…Barnum & Bailey & Mayhem on Maroons Road…Jeff Hamilton racing a woman…Jake and les Leafs…open season on Puck Finn…and good reads from Teddy Wy and Mike M.

A midweek smorgas-bored…and it’s a good day for stepping into the Junior shinny Way Back Machine to a time when some hockey coaches wore fedoras…

Major Junior hockey. Winnipeg.

Some of us are old enough to recall the days when those two went together, like Johnny Carson and late-night laughter.

That’s right, kids, once upon a brief time Major Junior worked in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Bobby Clarke, Chris Worthy and Reggie Leach

Oh, they didn’t exactly sardine-can them into the old shinny barn on Maroons Road every night, but it wasn’t just family and friends who surfaced to watch the Winnipeg Jets. Especially when the Flin Flon Bombers of Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach rode into River City with a sneer and something to prove to the big-city boys.

Logically, the Brandon Wheat Kings, being just a hoot and a holler down the road, should have been cast in the role of the Jets’ antagonist in what was then known as the Western Canada Hockey League. But no. It was the bunch from the northern Manitoba mining town named after the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin who wore the black hat.

The dreaded Bombers were piloted by Paddy Ginnell, a rascalish head coach given to filling news snoops’ notebooks with goading, in-your-face candor.

Paddy Ginnell

In the spring of 1969, for example, the Jets evened a playoff joust with the Bombers at 2-2-1 (yes, there was a tie game), which meant the eight-point series was heading back to intimidating Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.

“How the hell are they going to win up there?” a cocksure Ginnell scoffed. “They’ve never won there. If I was Ben (Hatskin, Jets bankroll), I’d forfeit the series and save the money.”

Turns out Paddy was right.

The Jets couldn’t quite figure out a way to win in the Flin Flon Forum, which provided cozy comfort for the Bombers but served as a chamber of horrors for the Winnipegs in ’69 and the following spring.

Pistol Dorohoy

The thing is, whatever pre- and post-game hype Ginnell and his counterpart, Eddie (Pistol) Dorohoy, were selling to anyone with a notebook or microphone, the rabble was buying. The Jets topped out at a head count of 7,326 and totaled 20,516 for three home dates in ’69, and upped that in 1970 with a WCHL single-game record of 9,043 and 33,206 for their four home dates vs. Flin Flon.

Queen Liz looked down approvingly from the north end of the barn.

That all changed, however, when the aforementioned Ben Hatskin saw two bigger pies in the sky. One was called the World Hockey Association. The other was Robert Marvin Hull.

Five years after Benny and the WHA Jets reshaped the local shinny landscape in 1972, Major Junior hockey disappeared, despite the earnest intentions and heavy sledding of people like Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson, Gordie Pennell, George Dorman and so many others.

Ben Hatskin

My perch in the press box allowed me to witness the slow, steady decline of a franchise that morphed from the Jets to the Clubs to the Monarchs, and customers disguised as empty seats was not only a bad optic but a killer on the bottom line.

“I don’t understand why people won’t come out to watch us,” Brisson would lament the day after a home assignment would attract an audience numbering no more than 1,200 diehards.

It didn’t help, of course, that Brisson did some goofy things, like replacing his head coach with the team trainer in the middle of a game and later demoting the same head coach to assistant coach, to scout, then firing him via Canada Post. Correct. He sent George Dorman a Dear John letter. And, in general, Brisson iced outfits that could scarcely lick their lips.

Bottom line, though, was the WHA and the Jets. That was the nut nobody could crack.

I’m guessing that Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell are aware of this unfortunate history (not to mention the aborted re-entry of the WHL in the early 1980s), yet they’re still planning to pitch their tent in the boonies (RM of Macdonald) and swim upstream next autumn. Their Kootenay Ice will become the Winnipeg Ice, and Fettes/Cockell seem convinced they can make a go of it in a hockey pool that includes the NHL Jets and American Hockey League Manitoba Moose. You can take them for fools if you like, but, hey, it’s their coin.

Someone please tell me that Fettes and Cockell plan to rename their franchise. Ice doesn’t work for me, nor does an angry Sasquatch as a team logo. We haven’t seen anything resembling a Sasquatch in Good Ol’ Hometown since Jimmy Mann was dragging his knuckles around the freeze.

Wild Bill Hunter

Among the selling points of the old WCHL were the owners/operators. Guys like Brisson, MacPherson, Ginnell, Pistol Dorohoy, Punch McLean, Scotty Munro and Wild Bill Hunter were Sideshow Bobs, equal parts Barnum, Bailey and Ringling Bros. Some, notably McLean and Ginnell, were maestros of mayhem. It wasn’t uncommon for all hell to break loose on any given night, and the lads really frothed at the mouth with Flin Flon in town. Then it was Mayhem on Maroons Road, and much of it seemed orchestrated. Neither Fettes or Cockell strikes me as a carnival barker, and I somehow doubt their head coach, homeboy James Patrick, is inclined to hurl garbage cans onto the ice when his universe isn’t unfolding as it should. Oh, the good, old days.

Here’s how popular the Junior Jets of Ben Hatskin, Pistol Dorohoy and coach Nick Mickoski were: Some fans actually purchased passage on the team charter to attend playoff skirmishes in Flin Flon.

Jeff Hamilton

Young Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab writes this about the Ice’s entry into the River City shinny glut: “A WHL franchise in Winnipeg, together with the unprecedented investment in hockey development, would create a unique sports marketplace and position Winnipeg as the hockey capital of North America, home to teams in the NHL, AHL and the Canadian Hockey League.” Whoa there, young fella. There’s this little burg I call the Republic of Tranna that trumps Good Ol’ Hometown. The ROT has the Maple Leafs, the Marlies, the Mississauga Steelheads, plus the Furies and the Thunder. Unless young Jeff is one of the many men who pooh-pooh the distaff side of the game, The ROT’s two Canadian Women’s Hockey League franchises give it the edge. If young Jeff isn’t convinced, let’s see him beat Kendall Coyne Schofield in a foot race and then we’ll talk.

Leafs GM Harry Potter

Something tells me the Maple Leafs made a trade this week. And I think it involved Jake Muzzin. I could be wrong, though. I mean, maybe I was just dreaming when I saw those 12 headlines about Muzzin on the front page of the Leafs blog known as the Sportsnet website on Wednesday. They usually reserve that kind of over-the-top coverage for Auston Matthews’ grooming habits (film of toenail clipping at 11). So I guess I’m mistaken and Muzzin is still working the Los Angeles Kings blueline.

Let’s be clear about something: Les Jets do not have to make a significant move just because les Leafs snared Muzzin. This isn’t tit-for-tat. The Muzzin transaction has no impact on Winnipeg HC unless they’re the last two National Hockey League clubs standing in the Stanley Cup runoff. If that’s how it shakes down, it won’t be because general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was prodded into action by Leafs GM Harry Potter.

Puck Finn

Tough week thus far for Patrik Laine. The young Jets winger still can’t score, he spent most of Tuesday night in Beantown glued to the pine, and the natterbugs in print and on air went off on the kid. According to my scorecard, Ted Wyman, Jason Bell, Tim & Sid, Noodles McLennon and Jeff O’Dog all had a go at Puck Finn and, to sum up their deep, penetrating analysis, Laine “isn’t moving his feet.” Tough to move your feet when you’re sitting on the bench.

I’m not saying coach Paul Maurice was wrong to plop Puck Finn on the plank vs. the Bruins, but there’s more at play here than the moving of feet. I say Laine’s issues are at the opposite end of his lanky body—between the ears.

If you’re looking for a good read, check out Mike McIntyre’s piece on former U.S. Navy SEAL James Hatch in the Drab Slab. Hatch is in town as part of a dumb bet he made against les Jets last year, and Mike M. hits it out of the park with his yarn. Also worth a look is Ted Wyman’s feature on former Jets forward and all-round good guy Randy Gilhen in the Winnipeg Sun. Good stuff.

And, finally, I have personal links to two of the main players in the old WCHL. Pistol Dorohoy is the only coach who ever cut me, and I played for Gerry Brisson. So, ya, I feel the warm and fuzzies for Junior shinny and I hope it works for Fettes and Cockell.

About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.

Forty-seven years of Winnipeg hockey memories from a former rink rat

Forty-seven years. That’s how long it has been, to the day, since I began a newspaper career that brought neither fame nor fortune but provided a fair bit of fun.

That’s why I still scribble about sports to this day, 17 years removed from mainstream media—it’s a hoot.

Winnipeg Arena

The pay as a freelancer/blogger isn’t nearly as good, mind you. It’s mice nuts. It isn’t enough to keep me well watered and fed. I mean, I can’t afford to make spaghetti and meatballs anymore. It’s one or the other. But, hey, the payoff is the giggles I get by poking the bear, tipping sacred cows or tilting at windmills (I promise, no more cliches for today).

One would think that I’d have gotten the Winnipeg Jets out of my system by now. But no. Some habits are hard to kick, if not impossible. I just can’t let the Jets go. And, to a lesser degree, the Blue Bombers.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in the old barn on Maroons Road, but I do know that Winnipeg Arena was my home away from home for a good number of years. As were various other shinny shacks throughout North America, from the story-studded Montreal Forum to Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum in Tinseltown to the rickety Corral in Calgary to frost-bitten wooden huts that passed for hockey rinks in numerous Western Canada outposts.

And that’s what I am remembering this morning…

I remember Frank McKinnon, a remarkable, special man and the person I interviewed for my first Winnipeg Tribune byline story in 1971. Frank, president of the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association at the time, was one of those people I always thought I should address as “Mister,” because he commanded such respect. But he would have none of it. “I’m Frank,” he told me early in our initial conversation, “and I want you to know that you can call me any time.” Frank and I talked often, but probably not as often as I would have liked.

I remember the night in Atlanta when Winnipeg Jets coach Tom McVie attempted to scale the glass partition separating the two benches so he could fight his counterpart with the Flames, Al MacNeil. Tommy took off his sports coat, took off his necktie, took off his wrist watch, partially unbuttoned his shirt—then took out his teeth! “When he took his teeth out and started undressing,” said MacNeil, “I knew he was serious.”

Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.
Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.

I remember riding a bus with coach Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers during their successful 1973 Centennial Cup crusade. Muzz liked his hockey with an edge and there was nothing sissified about the way his lads played. So physical were the Terriers that Humboldt Broncos’ coach Dr. Terry Henning took his puck and went home after five games rather than finish their playoff series with Muzz’s Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions. “Can you believe it?” Muzz asked me. “They quit. The good doctor said my guys are too dirty. He says we’re too mean and nasty. So he quit. I sure as hell wouldn’t want him doing open-heart surgery on me—he’d walk out in the middle of the operation!”

I remember interviewing Vladislav Tretiak at a house on Elm Street in River Heights. I don’t recall who owned the house or why I had to meet the great Soviet goaltender there, but he was in town to promote his book and we gabbed for about an hour at a kitchen table (rather, the interpreter and I chin-wagged for an hour). When we parted, Tretiak said something to the interpreter, who relayed to me that “Vladimir thinks you are a hockey expert.” As photographer Jon Thordarson and I walked toward our vehicle, I said, “Imagine that, Tretiak thinks I’m a hockey expert…sure fooled him, didn’t I?”

I remember being in Indianapolis with the Jets on American Thanksgiving Day and Racers coach Pat (Whitey) Stapleton inviting myself, play-by-play legend Friar Nicolson and Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer Reyn Davis to turkey dinner with his family. It was such a thoughtful gesture, but that’s the kind of relationship media and hockey people sometimes had back then, especially in the World Hockey Association.

I remember Aime Allaire and his never-ending quest to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home to Winnipeg. Alas, Aime’s St. Boniface Mohawks could never get the job done.

I remember the Jets’ first visit to New York City, to play the Rangers. Friar, Reyn, Sod Keilback and I went for a stroll of Manhattan on game-day afternoon and we ducked into magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look-see. “I’m going to light a candle for the Jets,” I said. “They’re going to need all the help they can get against the Rangers.” Sod greeted that notion with rude laughter. The Jets beat the Rangers that night, 6-4.

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

I remember another trip to Manhattan. Our bus driver wanted to make a detour down a side street, but he couldn’t navigate the turn because a Volkswagen Beetle was parked too close to the corner. General manager John Ferguson and the driver stepped outside to investigate. Fergy came back on the bus and shouted, “Jimmy! You and a few other guys come with me. We’ve gotta move this car.” Fergy, Jimmy Mann and three or four other players lifted half the Volkswagen on to the sidewalk and away we went.

I remember Muzz MacPherson refusing to talk to me after a Winnipeg Clubs’ game. “I’m too upset,” the gravel-voice coach barked. “I don’t want to talk. Just make up the quotes. You know me well enough by now that you know what I’ll say.” So, for the only time in my career, I made up quotes. The following day, Muzz called me and he was frothing at the mouth. “What are you trying to do to me?” he yelped. “I wouldn’t have said all those things you said I said—I would have done a lot more swearing.”

I remember talking to Ulf Nilsson the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national team, 5-3, and the great Swedish centre saying, “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

I remember Friar Nicolson allowing me to do five minutes of play-by-play one night when Dave Keon and the New England Whalers were in town. It was a classical gas.

I remember watching the 1973 Belmont Stakes with Muzz and various hockey sorts who had assembled at the Viscount Gort for an annual chin wag. As the great Secretariat romped down the home stretch, about 30 lengths in front of the field, Muzz stared at the TV and shouted, “Don’t break a leg! Don’t break a leg!” Big Red didn’t even break stride and became horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.

I remember Teddy Green’s headaches. I often wondered how a man could be in such crippling pain and still go out and perform so admirably on the Jets blueline.

I remember riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson and his Winnipeg Clubs on a junket that took us to Brandon, Regina, Swift Current, Calgary and Kamloops and back. Kevin McCarthy was on that team. He was the most-talented Junior I ever covered.

I remember covering an MJHL that included four Winnipeg teams—the Winnipeg Monarchs, St. James Canadians, St. Boniface Saints and my alma mater, the West Kildonan North Stars. (That’s right, I played in the MJHL and covered it. I believe Doug Lunney is the only other person to do so.)

I remember taking pride in the championship work of Barry Bonni with his River East Royal Knights of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, because his team represented my old ‘hood.

Morris Lukowich
Morris Lukowich

I remember Morris Lukowich barking at me after the Jets’ initial NHL game, in Pittsburgh. Luke had been credited with the team’s first NHL goal, tipping in a Peter Marsh shot. “Where did that shot hit you?” I asked him. “Friar and I never saw it change direction.” He shot me with a stone-cold stare and said, “Are you calling me a liar?” I was doing nothing of the sort, of course. “No, Luke, I’m not calling you a liar,” I said. “I have a game story to write and I need to know where the puck hit you so I can describe the goal accurately.”

I remember being part of a media team for Schmockey Night. Ray Jauch was our coach and Eddie (Clear the Track) Shack, the clown prince of the National Hockey League, was my left winger. Jauch, head coach with the Blue Bombers at the time, wouldn’t let Shack or I come off the ice in the final five minutes because we needed a goal to tie the game. Neither of us scored.

I remember wonderful conversations with hockey lifers Bruce Cheatley, Ed Sweeney, Bill Addison, Julian Klymkiw, Aggie Kukulowicz and Billy Robinson, who, along with Dr. Gerry Wilson, was responsible for bringing the first wave of Swedes to North America and transorming the Jets into a WHA power.

I remember defenceman Tim Watters buying Friar and I beer when he came in after curfew one night in Vancouver. “You don’t have to do that, Tim,” Friar told him. “We’re not going to rat you out. You’re good people.” I never ratted out any of the Jets. Neither did Friar. What they did on their time was their business.

I remember covering the Jets rookie training camp in Sainte Agathe, Que., in 1979 for the Winnipeg Tribune, and Fergy asking me to play in the final exhibition game because Patrick Daley had pulled a groin during the morning skate. “Are you serious? You want me to play tonight?” I asked him. He did. So I did. Assisted on the first goal, too. All the players at Sainte Agathe moved on to the Jets main training camp in Winnipeg, then some were assinged to the Tulsa Oilers. I went back to the Trib with a grand total of one assist in my only pro game. And I never got paid.

I remember the Jets first visit to the Montreal Forum. Friar and I walked in with Fergy, who was still a hero in Quebec, and he directed us to the concession stands. “Troi chien chauds,” Fergy ordered. He looked at us and said, “These will be the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat.” They were. To this day.

I remember bringing beer to former Soviet referee Anatoli Segelin, who was part of the U.S.S.R. traveling party for the 1981 Canada Cup. Upon his arrival at the Viscount Gort, Anatoli, who loved Canadian journalists, begged me to bring some beer up to his room on the second floor. I asked Stew MacPherson if he could spare a couple of 12-packs from the media hospitality room for Anatoli and comrades, and he agreed. Upon seeing me at his door with 24 beer, Anatoli flashed a smile as wide as Mother Russia and said, “Canada! Come! Come! We drink!” Segelin, myself and two other comrades did just that.

Willy Lindstrom
Willy Lindstrom

I remember Willy Lindstrom’s pranksterism. Every time the Jets’ travels would take us to Quebec City, Willy would visit a joke shop not far from the Chateau Frontenac and load up on stink bombs and sneezing powder. He would then unleash them on our airplanes. Go to sleep during a flight and it was guaranteed you’d wake up in a sneezing fit, because Willy would sneak up from behind and sprinkle powder on you. And the stink bombs were absolutely paralyzing.

I remember sitting in an airport, listening to Mike Smith deliver a 10-minute oration on the methodology of the Richter Scale after an earthquake hit the West Coast. As he spoke, I thought, “Man, this guy is a different head of lettuce.” I didn’t realize exactly how different Smith was until the day he drafted Sergei Bautin.

I remember going to the draft in Montreal the year Fergy chose defenceman David Babych second overall, ahead of Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. More interesting, however, was the fact Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran were next door, prepping for the Brawl in Montreal, the first fight in their boxing trilogy.

I remember feeling sorry for Ray Neufeld, a truly nice, young man who came to the Jets from Hartford in exchange for David Babych. It was recognized as Fergy’s worst transaction and fans took out their frustrations on poor Ray. That wasn’t fair.

I remember the first time I ever saw Peter Sullivan play hockey and asking, “How is this guy not playing in the NHL?”

I remember Jimmy Mann trying to convince me that he was “not an animal” after his sucker punch had shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw into a dozen pieces. It wasn’t me Jimmy had to convince…it was everyone else in hockey.

I remember Laurie Boschman’s on- and off-ice personalities. He was such a nasty bit of business when they dropped the puck, yet so soft-spoken, sincere and genuinely nice once the final buzzer sounded.

friarI remember a pilot delaying takeoff from Atlanta when we realized rookie broadcaster Sod Keilback was AWOL. Turns out the big lug had gotten lost in the airport, which was larger than his hometown of Yorkton, Sask., and he heard some serious braying once Friar Nicolson had located him and brought him on board. Sod made a feeble attempt to explain his wandering ways, but we were having none of it. “You’re just a big sodbuster,” I said. The name stuck. He was known as Sod thereafter.

I remember my traveling partners in the WHA, Friar and Reyn Davis, two terrific guys. Both of them are in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and rightly so. Sadly, both of them are also dead. I’m neither in the Hall of Fame nor dead, but it’s only a matter of time before I arrive at the Pearly Gates (I probably haven’t been good enough to get in there either).

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.