The River City Renegade


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About the “True North!” tribal chant…Ducky talks up the Rink Rat…Winnipeg Jets are signing jockeys…salute to Doc Holliday and Mad Dog…and a concussed sports scribe

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

I understand why the faithful who flock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie bow to a corporate god by shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets matches.

Honest, I get it.

Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood

I mean, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his deep-pocketed co-bankroll, David Thomson, delivered a National Hockey League franchise to them after so many bleak winters in the wilderness, thus the giddy rabble is grateful and the full-throated “True North!” cry has become their tribal chant.

But (you knew there was going to be a but, right?)…

As much as I promote freedom of expression and I get where Jets Nation is coming from, the “True North!” ritual has a cringe-inducing element to it. Whenever I hear the salute to their corporate god, True North Sports & Entertainment, it sounds rather nerdy. If not flat-out cheesey.

I am reminded of this due to a sparring match between Troy Westood and Jeff Veillette in the cesspool of anger and ugliness known as Twitter.

Westwood, of course, is among the stable of talking heads at TSN 1290 in River City and, like most talking heads, he sometimes shoves his left foot (the same one he once used to hoof field goals for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) into his mouth. Veillette, meanwhile, works out of the Republic of Tranna as an editor/writer at Leafs Nation and managing editor of hockey content for the Nation Network.

Here is their weekend to-and-fro:

Veillette: “Someone just TRUE NORTH’d the anthem at the Toronto FC game. Worst tradition in all of pro sports. Get that out of this stadium.”

Westwood: “Jeff, I believe I speak for the majority of Manitobans here while inviting you to go outside and play hide and go f yourself. #TRUENORTH.”

I assume Ol’ Lefty uses that mouth to kiss his loved ones, but, hey, we’re all adults on Twitter and F-bombs and insults are as commonplace as Jets loyalists who believe the Puck Pontiff can do no wrong, regardless how much he charges for a glass of beer at TLHHOtheP or how often he feeds at the public trough.

Not surprisingly, the Westwood-Veillette thrust-and-parry aroused the rabble, and their respective Twitter feeds featured a few more F-bombs and much banter that came across as the squawkings of school kids whose mothers wear army boots and whose dad can beat up the other guy’s dad. Seriously. Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks…Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks.

For the record, I don’t think either city sucks. I just prefer not to live there. Or there.

At any rate, Veillette got up a whole lot of Peg noses with his pooh-poohing of the “True North!” tribal chant and calling it the “worst tradition in all of pro sports.” (I can think of at least one worse tradition—annually failing to win a professional shinny title for 50 years. Mind you, Veillette wouldn’t know much about Maple Leafs lethargy because he’s barely off his mother’s breast milk, so we shouldn’t confuse him for someone whose hockey knowledge extends beyond knowing Auston Matthews’ sweater number.)

What I wonder is why Peggers get so bent out of shape whenever some dude from the Republic of Tranna slags Pegtown. So Jeff Veillette isn’t fond of the tribal chant. Boo flipping hoo. You want to shout “True North!” then do it. Even if the rest of the country thinks it makes you sound like a bunch of doofuses. You and I know there’s plenty to like about good, ol’ Hometown, and if I can find time between sandbagging for the annual springtime flood and swatting mosquitoes I might be able to think of some of them. (Oh, relax. I’m just kidding. I don’t want or need Ol’ Lefty lobbing F-bombs in my direction.)

Barrie Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk

Really enjoyed the Sportsnet Q&A between Luke Fox and Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk. Ducky, head coach of the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League, provided some good insight on present-day Jets centre Rink Rat Scheifele: “He was a dream kid coming into junior hockey. His attitude surpasses so many people’s. He loves walking into the rink, grinning ear to ear, and can’t wait to work hard. He almost makes the coach’s job easier because he pushes the pace all the time, and everyone tries to keep up. People don’t know this: They think I really steered Winnipeg onto Mark. No. Winnipeg called me once. They said, ‘We just interviewed this kid. Is he really for real?’ That was their only question. I said, ‘Oh, ya. He’s the real deal.’ He blows you away when you meet him—you see the passion in his personality, and he brings it out in his game.”

I note the Jets have signed Sami Niku, a Finnish defenceman who weighs less than the food on Dustin Byfuglien’s dinner plate. Seriously. One hundred and 68 pounds? I guess that makes him Toby Lite. Not to worry, though. If the hockey thing doesn’t work out for Niku, they’re always looking for jockeys at Assiniboia Downs.

Speaking of the Downs, which went to the post for its 60th season on Sunday, there’s a 4-year-old filly out there called Dink of the Year. Who knew that someone would name a race horse after Ryan Kesler?

Paul (Mad Dog) Robson

Nice to see old friend and former newspaper colleague Bob Holliday earn the Historical Award for his work with the St. Vital Museum, and Paul Robson, my former bossman (publisher) at the Winnipeg Sun and one-time general manager of the Blue Bombers is to be invested into the Order of Manitoba. One day during his stewardship at the Sun, Robson overheard me mention that Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron and Chris Walby were “really good guys.” He stepped forward to join myself and a few other sports scribes in our little corner of the newsroom and said, “Let me tell you something about football players. They’re all a–holes. Every one of them. It’s just that some of them are bigger a–holes than the others. Don’t let those guys fool you into thinking they’re not a–holes.” That from a guy whose nickname when he played for the Bombers was Mad Dog. I still don’t agree with Robson. Westwood, Cameron and Walby were among the good guys in football. And so was Paul (he was also my favorite publisher).

Did I read Steve Simmons right? Did he actually label former players involved in a concussion lawsuit against the NHL “opportunists?” And they’re hopping on “an apparent gravy train?” Yup, that’s what he wrote. Farther down in his Postmedia column, however, he submits, “In my view, the current players are not properly protected by the NHL system.” I see. Former players whose coaches shoved them back onto the ice scant seconds after suffering head trauma (shake it off, kid; it’s a long way from your heart) are “opportunists” looking to make an easy buck, but it’s today’s players who are being mistreated. Seems to me there’s a least one sports writer who’s been concussed and needs to spend some time in the quiet room.

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

 


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About jocks jumping the MRI queue…those “coddled” millionaire Winnipeg Jets…a dude named Dart Guy…it isn’t The Forsberg…giving the Soviets the finger…Centre of the Universe snobbery…and Gomer Pyle sings the anthem

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

Okay, hands up anyone who is genuinely shocked that professional athletes pulling in great gobs of American greenbacks have been allowed to jump the MRI queue in Canada?

Seriously. If word that play-for-pay jocks receive “preferential treatment” is a revelation to you, then you’d probably be interested in knowing that a guy named Trudeau is prime minister in the True North but his first name isn’t Pierre. I mean, hellooooo. How long have you been napping?

Pro athletes and “preferential treatment” have been hand-in-glove since David threw down on Goliath. You think David ever had to buy his own pints and chow after scoring that upset?

But, hey, what’s happening in Manitoba isn’t about free bar or restaurant tabs, is it? It’s about health care and the deified, millionaire members of the Winnipeg Jets and the regular Joe-salaried workers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. According to the provincial auditor general, 59 jocks were allowed to jump the MRI queue for 149 scans in an eight-year period (2008-2016). Allow me to do the math: That averages to less than one athlete and 1.5 scans per month.

Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers are so low.

Look, I don’t blame anyone for being PO’d if they’ve been on a wait list for four months only to see Jacob Trouba or Matt Nichols limp in and go directly to the scanner. It isn’t fair. But in Winnipeg, that’s the way it has to be if you want a National Hockey League and Canadian Football League franchise.

In the interests of full disclosure, I had an MRI scan done on my brain slightly more than a year ago. The good news is, they found a brain. The bad news is, results showed soft tissue in my grey matter, the result of the combined nuisances of multiple concussions (10) and aging. Hopefully, that explains a lot of things, if not everything.

This whole MRI thing has really gotten up Paul Wiecek’s nose. His pallor surely must be as ashen as his hair, because the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has called out Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman for the Winnipeg Jets owner’s silence on the issue, and he describes the local hockey heroes as a “tiny cadre of coddled millionaires.” Coddled? Coddled? You want to talk about coddled? During my time in the media we received free beer, free food, free books, free music, free tickets, free clothing, free merchandise, free access to back-stage gatherings, free access to doors that were closed to the regular rabble, free everything. And, hey, some might even have been pushed to the front of the queue at the doctor’s office. I can’t say what, if anything, has changed, but it’s my guess that the media Gravy Train is still chugging along.

Unlike Wiecek, I’m not interested in what Puck Pontiff Chipman has to say about MRI scans. I’m more interested in what he thinks about his general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not being able to accomplish in six years what Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton McDavids and Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in two years.

Dart Guy

This spring’s Stanley Cup skirmishing has been strange. How strange? Well, let’s put it this way: The Chicago Blackhawks are out of the playoffs after only four games and Dart Guy is still in them.

I don’t know what to make of this Dart Guy dude. I mean, he has a Maple Leafs logo painted on his face, he sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips and he becomes some kind of cult figure in the Republic of Tranna? Sometimes I wish Andy Warhol hadn’t been right about those 15 minutes of fame.

Why do broadcasters and writers insist on describing a goal with a one-handed deke “the Forsberg?” I know for certain that I saw Alexei Zhamnov of the Jets perform that very move, more than once, before I ever saw Peter Forsberg do it. I also saw Kent Nilsson do it before Forsberg.

This from Don Cherry during one of his Coachless Corner segments on Hockey Night in Canada last week: “The last Coach’s Corner, I said to you kids, ‘Don’t taunt or laugh when you’re winning.’ I said, ‘Never do that, kids.’ Kids, it’s not the Canadian way. You never laugh or taunt your opponent.” Grapes is right. The Canadian way is to give them the middle-finger salute, like Alan Eagleson and Frosty Forristall did to the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. We don’t taunt them when we’re losing, either. We break their ankles (hello, Bobby Clarke).

Guaranteed to happen in life: 1) Donald Trump will tweet; 2) Adam Sandler will make bad movies; 3) a Bruce Boudreau-coached team will be eliminated from the Stanley Cup tournament.

P.K. Subban is still playing hockey (suprise, surprise). Shea Weber isn’t. Does that mean the Nashville Predators got the better of the Montreal Canadiens in their exchange of all-world defenceman? No. It isn’t Weber’s fault the Habs’ forwards score less often than the Pope swears.

Postmedia scribe Steve Simmons, whose work often appears on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, has provided us with a tweet that serves as a shining example of the self-absorbed, Centre of the Universe mentality that exists in the Republic of Tranna: “An absolutely stacked Canadian Sports Hall of Fame class is introduced on the wrong day. Not their fault. Toronto is Leafs consumed today.” In other words, the rest of the country be damned. Stevie says any national news of significance must be put on hold whenever Auston Matthews and pals are playing a hockey game in the 416 area code. All you good people in Winnipeg, you can wait a day to learn that your speedskating golden girl, Cindy Klassen, is among the 2017 CSHofF inductees. Ditto for you fine folks in Hanna, Alta. We’ll fill you in on native son Lanny McDonald after Auston and pals have had their fun. I must say, for a guy who once called Calgary home and ought to know better, the ego-fuelled Simmons has developed into a first-class Tranna snob.

In the week’s social news, Serena Williams announced she’s preggers and Ronda Rousey announced she’s engaged. The nerve of those women. I mean, don’t they realize the Maple Leafs are still playing hockey? Nobody wants to hear about a mommy bump or a diamond ring unless Auston Matthews happens to be the father or fiance, right Stevie?

Barney, Andy and Luke Bryan.

Well, golleeee and shezam! I finally figured out who country guy Luke Bryan sounds like when he tries to sing—Gomer Pyle. I swear, when I heard Bryan perform the American anthem prior to a Nashville Predators-Blackhawks skirmish, the first thing I thought of was good, ol’ Gomer Pyle pumping gas and visiting Andy and Barney at the sheriff’s office in Mayberry. How Bryan became one of the giants of the country music industry is as much a mystery as how Donald Trump got the keys to the White House.

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

 


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About what a hockey town looks like…NHL teams that actually make trades…old man Sudsy…Coach Potty-Mouth’s smugness…a steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver…and blaming it all on Canada’s sad-sack hockey fans

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

In the department of really, really, really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”

Edmonton Oilers fans perfected the jersey toss.

Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.

I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.

Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.

And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler would excel in playoff hockey.

I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?

Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.

Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.

I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.

While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.

To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.

Blame it on the fans.

Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?

An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.

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

 


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About hockey ‘experts’…Team Tease…a positive message for Captain Surly…putting the right woman in goal…and Mitch the curmudgeon

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

Do the “experts” actually know what they’re talking about or is their know-how no better than a row of lumps on a row of stools in any bar in Canada? Well, some do, others don’t.

Paul Wiecek

Take Paul Wiecek, for an e.g. The Winnipeg Free Press columnist forecast this for the Winnipeg Jets in their 2016-17 National Hockey League crusade: “What you’re going to get this season is a lot of defensive lapses and odd-man rushes that are precisely the kinds of situations where you need great goaltending to keep you in the game. Is (Connor) Hellebuyck that guy? (Kevin) Cheveldayoff obviously seems to think so.”

I’d say that Wiecek was spot on.

Over at nhl.com, meanwhile, 15 of 20 geniuses predicted an unfavorable ending to the Jets’ season, with Kevin Weekes, Rob Vollman, Shawn Roarke, Adam Kimelman and Brian Lawton the only “experts” to forecast a spot in the Stanley Cup derby for the Jets. They had them earning a wild-card berth. And four of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet—Ryan Dixon, Chris Johnston, Eric Francis and Mark Spector—had the Jets leading all Canadian outfits in total points. D’oh!

Here’s what some of the other shinny swamis had to say before the puck was dropped in October…

Pierre LeBrun, ESPN: “The Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are the class of the Central, leaving the Minnesota Wild and Jets to battle it out for fifth place in the division and potentially the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference. I’m giving the nod to the Jets. Fifth in the Central.

Jen Neale, Yahoo! Sports: “The Jets have another year of pain ahead of them before getting back to the playoffs. The younger players need a little more experience before this group can come together and ice a consistently competitive team. Unfortunately for Paul Maurice, these growing pains could cost him his job.”

Jeremy Fuchs, si.com: Breakthrough team—It’s tough to say this because they don’t have a goalie, but the Winnipeg Jets’ offence could be dangerous. A first line of (Patrik) Laine-(Mark) Scheifele-(Blake) Wheeler might be one of the best. And a powerplay of that line alongside (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien. Oh boy. Get ready for a lot of goals in the Peg.”

As for moi, well, I wrote: “They have as much chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup tournament as I have of filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert.” Since my phone still ain’t ringing, I assume it still isn’t Benny or Bjorn calling. I also mentioned something about defence being the Jets’ Waterloo, but, hey, I’m just a once-a-week little lump on a bar stool. What do I know?

Paul Maurice

Just call them Team Tease. For all of you in Jets Nation getting giddy because the locals have strung together four successive Ws, you are reminded that they did the same thing a year ago in garbage time—they won their final four skirmishes, including a California sweep over the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Here’s what head coach Paul Maurice said following the W in San Jose: “I’m not going to get excited about winning three in a row. These games don’t tell you anything about how we’re doing.” So relax. The Jets outfit that has won four straight assignments won’t be the Jets outfit you watch next October. Or will it, Kevin Cheveldayoff?

At least one member of Team News Snoop has surely earned considerable brownie points from Captain Surly, Blake Wheeler. If you missed it, Wheeler had himself a proper hissy fit on Thursday night, whereby he demanded that any message dispatched about the Jets must “be positive” because, gosh darn it, he and the boys are trying really, really hard in their annual two-plus weeks of garbage time. As if on cue, it’s been mostly rah, rah, rah and siss, boom, bah from Ken Wiebe, who’s positively aglow in his praise of the local hockey heroes, most notably Captain Surly, Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers. And, lest there be any doubt, the Winnipeg Sun scribe assures us that our also-ran hockey heroes are so gosh, darned determined to go out raising hell that they would never—ever, ever—think of “tanking.” There is, of course, nothing wrong in acknowledging praiseworthy work, but correct me if I’m wrong here…the Jets did miss the playoffs, did they not? Someone messed up along the way.

While bearing witness to the 2-0 paddywhacking the U.S. laid on Canada in their opener of the women’s world hockey championship in Plymouth, Mich., I couldn’t help but wonder if it was too late for the Americans to reconsider their boycott threat. Come to think of it, maybe the Finns could boycott as well.

Shannon Szabados

I don’t know about you, but if I’m Laura Schuler, head coach of Team Canada, my starter in the blue ice is Shannon Szabados. Every game. The Americans easily could have rung up a six-pack against our girls if not for Szabados, and the goaltending against Finland was suspect.

I was disappointed to learn that Mitch Kasprick had shut down his Winnipeg Hockey Talk website in late January. No word on whether or not Mitch plans to crank it up again, but I miss his curmudgeonly take on all things Jets. WHT, by the way, is where Scott Campbell got his start as a scribe before being poached by the Drab Slab otherwise known as the Winnipeg Free Press.

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

 

 


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Say What?! Ed Tait is a ‘hack and flack’ and not a reporter?

There are times when I wonder if I’ve actually read what I’ve just read.

A case in point would be the most-recent installment of Say What?!, a rambling, all-directions grump-off featuring the two resident curmudgeons in the Winnipeg Free Press sports department, editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek.

Now, I realize that their frivolous to-and-fro (it appears seemingly at random) is not meant to be taken any more seriously than Beetle Bailey’s misadventures or whatever it is that’s getting Dagwood Bumstead’s goat these days, but when these Waldorf and Statler wannabes stoop to calling Ed Tait and George (Shakey) Johnson “hacks” it tends to grab my attention.

If you missed it (and it’s my guess that most of you did), this was part of their thrust-and-parry last week:

Lyons: “Merriam-Webster defines a reporter as a person employed by a newspaper, magazine, or television company to gather and report news. Listen, I bear no animosity or hard feelings towards the folks who have left the mainstream media to take jobs working for professional sports teams or leagues but I’m not sure those folks should be called reporters. You went to journalism school at Carleton University—what ya think?”

Wiecek: “I’m old school on this reporter thing: Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

I’m not certain what was more astonishing, a) Lyons’ reliance on a dog-eared definition that ignores the reality of websites, b) Wiecek’s galloping arrogance, or c) Wiecek branding highly skilled and respected reporters like Tait and Johnson, among others, as “hacks and flacks.”

Once upon a time, of course, Tait was to Canadian Football League newspaper coverage what Johnny Carson was to late-night TV. The best. Today, you will find the former Winnipeg Sun and Freep sports scribe’s fine prose on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the CFL outfit.

Johnson, meanwhile, was the finest wordsmith among sports columnists in Canada until the day some misguided suit at Postmedia experienced a moment of madness and told Shakey to leave the building. His delightful turn-of-phrase and dry wit moved from the Calgary Herald to the Calgary Flames website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the National Hockey League club.

Does that make Tait and Johnson flacks? By definition, yes. They’re paid to spread the gospel according to their respective organizations. The same can be said for Tim Campbell and Dave Stubbs, two other veteran mainstream sports scribes who fled the near-death experience of the rag trade for nhl.com.

That, however, does not dismiss them as reporters. I’ve read Tait’s stuff on bluebombers.com and Johnson’s work at nhl.com/flames. To say they aren’t reporters is to say Don Cherry isn’t loud.

What part of that, I wonder, does Steve Lyons not understand?

More to the point, what part of the word “hack” does Paul Wiecek not understand? According to Lyons’ go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster, a hack is: “A person who does work that is not good or original and especially a writer who is not very good.”

You want other definitions of “hack?” Try these…

Macmillan: “A journalist, artist or writer who does boring work or work that is not very good.”

Cambridge: “A journalist whose work is low in quality or does not have much imagination.”

I’m uncertain what world Wiecek lives in, but in no world that I know of does the word “hack” apply to either Tait or Johnson.

But, hey, “Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

Arrogance, thy name is Paul.

Wiecek, who, by the way, is one of my favorite scribes, prattled on about team/league websites producing nothing but pap that caters to the converted, and to a degree he’s correct. They’re devoid of harsh, critical analysis. But what, you expect the Bombers to pay Tait to cut head coach Mike O’Shea a new one because he has a brain fart and attempts an impossible 61-yard field goal? Not going to happen.

The thing is, pap isn’t strictly the province of team/league websites. You’ll find plenty of it in the Freep.

A headline last week referred to Tom Sestito as a “dirty Penguin” and a “Pittsburgh goon.” That’s the kind of blatant homerism you won’t even find on the Winnipeg Jets website. In the midst of the Jets’ current four-game skid, the Freep ran an article full of siss-boom-bah and advised us that the local hockey heroes “refuse to wave the white flag.” Bravo for them! And if it’s pure pablum you’re looking for, check out the front page of the sports section this past Thursday. You’ll be greeted by this headline: “Jets fans have reason to be happy.” Below it is a Paul Wiecek column that reads like something delivered directly from the True North Sports & Entertainment propaganda department.

Say what?! Yup, apparently those “who can” don’t just “do,” some days they also write just like hacks and flacks. Imagine that.

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

 


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If newspapers don’t like pro sports franchises controlling the message, then do something about it

Let’s not be naive about this controlling-the-message business.

We all do it. Or at least we attempt to do it. Government does it. Coca-Cola does it. McDonald’s does it. General Motors does it. The Catholic church does it. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills do it. Parents do it. Professional sports franchises do it.

And—I hope this doesn’t come as a bulletin—newspapers do it, too. Every day.

peg papersWhat do you think is happening in most newsrooms in North America this very day? I’ll tell you what: Editors are gathering around a large table (or small, depending on the size of the sheet) and, either in person or via conference call, they’re deciding what message(s) to send to the great unwashed. Not only that, they are deciding how to torque said message, depending on the whims and biases of the editorial board and/or ownership.

A member of the Winnipeg Jets has a slight brush with the law?

Who’s the player?” a managing editor demands to know.

Patrik Laine,” the sports editor advises him.

Oh. We like him. He has 20 goals. We can’t bury a nice kid like Laine. We’ll bury the story instead. Report the facts but, remember, he’s just a kid. Kids make mistakes. Be gentle with him.”

There’s one more thing…Ondrej Pavelec was with Laine. They both got arrested.”

Perfect. Pavelec is in the minors now, so we don’t give a damn about him. There’s your lede—young, impressionable Laine’s being led astray by former Jets goaltender who once spent a night in jail on a drunk driving charge and kept it a secret from the club while negotiating a multi-million-dollar contract. We’ll bury Pavs.”

Yes, newspapers can be that deceitful and conniving, and the faster they get that click bait on their website the better.

There’s more.

Newspapers control the content in the Letters to the Editor section. They control the online comments that accompany articles to the point of censorship. The Winnipeg Free Press is forever running propaganda pieces about rising readership and circulation, even as print newspapers and their ink-stained employees throughout North America are falling like bowling pins. The Winnipeg Sun will do the same if the numbers are favorable.

Spin. It’s all about spin. Promoting and protecting the brand.

So, can newspapers tsk-tsk the Jets or Winnipeg Blue Bombers from dictating club spin and vigorously controlling the club message if the dailies are doing that very thing? Seems to me it’s a goose and gander situation.

In our 140-character, dot.com, Snapchat, Instagram world, the divorce rate between pro sports outfits and newspapers has advanced rapidly, and breaking up is not hard to do for the clubs. They have devised a method of spreading their gospel that is brilliant in its simplicity: Poach the best available print journalists from local rags and pay them to do the their official bidding on the team website. Presto! You’ve strengthened your product and lessened your reliance on theirs.

They won’t stop there, either. Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties.

newspapers2What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Jets’ coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative.

The way the Sun and Freep work the Jets and Bombers beats is dog-eared. Dated. They still cover the two clubs the way we did it in the 1970s and ’80s. It seemingly hasn’t occurred to them that the traditional game story died the moment a fan could reach into a pocket or purse and place a breaking news story in the palm of her or his hand. Really, is anyone waiting for a newspaper to land on their doorstep in the morning so they can read about something they watched and heard on a hand-held gadget 12 hours earlier?

Same old, same old doesn’t work in this push-the-send-button climate. Coverage needs to be more off-beat and upbeat, with more personality and cheek. Snappier and snazzier. More bloggish, if you will. Hit ’em with hot takes rather than an antiquated reliance on monotone, rehearsed quotes in a comatose post-game story that drones on. Have some fun with it, even if it puts noses in ivory towers out of joint.

And newspapers must remember that they have the greatest weapon of all in their arsenal—harsh truths.

Truth sells. Ditto opinion. Not the kind of lap-dog opinion that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or Bombers CEO Wade Miller want to read. We’re talking opinion that readers among the rabble want. Unvarnished, unharnessed and honest truths that you’ll never find on a club website.

Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing their business.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.


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Madame Redneck sees it all before it happens…

madame-redneck2Through the magic that is Skype, I have been to the Rocky Mountain back woods, where the reclusive and mysterious Madame Redneck resides in a shanty with a dozen feral cats and a seemingly never-ending supply of Kokanee.

I have witnessed her gaze into her crystal ball, read her Tarot cards and use her bony, nicotine-stained fingers to sift through the tea leaves.

This is what the mysterious Madame says will unfold in the toy department in 2017…

* The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, will also become the Pigskin Pontiff when True North Sports & Entertainment assumes control of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Asked how much he paid for the Canadian Football League club, Chipman says, “Pay? Pay? Are you kidding me? Pay? Have you not been paying attention? They haven’t won the Grey Cup since kindly Cal Murphy still had his first heart. Bless his soul.”

* Chipman’s first order of business as a Two-Sport Pontiff will be to dismiss CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea and replace them with Craig Heisinger, because he replaces everyone with Zinger.

It’s been an unbelievable ride,” Zinger gushes after accepting his new position(s). “Not many people can say they washed Teemu Selanne’s jock and now Justin Medlock’s jock. I’ve been blessed.”

* There will be a playoff game at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry after the Bombers finish second in the West Division. Alas, the 8,298 frigid folks in attendance will leave disappointed when Medlock, who Zinger trades to the B.C. Lions, kicks a 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give the Leos a 34-32 victory.

Aha! All the smart asses in the media said it couldn’t be done,” Mike O’Shea barks from his perch as analyst on the CFL on TSN panel. “Just goes to show all those smart asses in the media that I was right last year! It can be done!”

johnny-football

Johnny Football

* Because his predecessor, Walters, left him without a quarterback under contract, Heisinger will sign National Football League washout and all-around bad boy Johnny Manziel to a five-year contract. Asked by news snoops if there is concern about Manziel’s sordid past, Heisinger is quick to prop up his new QB.

We don’t think Johnny Football is a risk at all,” Zinger assures one and all. “Johnny Football comes to us a humble, rehabilitated man. Johnny Football could have demanded the moon from us, but Johnny Football didn’t ask us to show him the money. All he asked for is a chance and a six-pack of Labatt’s Blue as a signing bonus. Off the record, we were willing to go as high as a two-four of Blue to sign Johnny Football. Just don’t tell him.”

* The Winnipeg Jets will not qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and, when asked to provide an overview of his club’s season, head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t mince words.

What did you expect to happen?” he mutters. “Our young men just played 82 games in less than six months. That’s a lot to ask of these young men. There’s only so much you can ask of these young men.”

Reminded that the other 29 outfits in the National Hockey League also played an 82-game schedule in six months and 16 of them will carry on to participate in as many as 28 more playoff skirmishes, Maurice snaps.

I don’t appreciate you questioning our young men,” he bleats. “I can make you f%*&ing cry.”

auston-matthews

Auston Matthews

* Jets Finnish sensation Patrik Laine will finish second behind Auston Matthews in NHL rookie-of-the-year voting, prompting GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to offer a rambling response on behalf of Puck Finn.

Clearly, this was the result of an eastern bloc bias,” Chevy says. “Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs are using a better draft-and-develop model than us? I don’t think so. Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs have a better process than us? Again, I don’t think so. Does this mean Auston Matthews is a better player than Patrik? I don’t think so, but I suppose that’s for others to argue. Sometimes these things happen and, with Patrik, it happened. We didn’t want it to happen, but I recall reading somewhere that Bobby Hull never won the rookie award, either. So it happened to Bobby as well. We like where Patrik is and where he’s going, just like we like where all our young players are and where they’re going. Sometimes there will be hiccups, but I don’t look at this as a hiccup. I look at it as confirmation that our process is working and that the playoffs are right around the corner. How far away that corner is, I can’t tell you. But, as I’ve been telling you for six years now, I know there’s a corner out there somewhere and we’ll turn it one day, hopefully with Patrik and all our young players showing us the way to that corner.”

The Two-Sport Pontiff, meanwhile, echoes his GM’s comments and adds, “I’m just glad we don’t have to pay Patrik the rookie bonus. That doesn’t mean we operate on the chintz. It just means that I can tell Chevy to spend that money more wisely. Like by re-signing Chris Thorburn.”

sun* Someone at Postmedia will finally notice that there are only three people left to buy out or force out of the Winnipeg Sun toy department, so it will attempt to hire freelancers to put some flesh on the tabloid’s bones and combat the nine bylines that appear regularly in the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages.

It’s either that or shutter all the doors and windows,” a Postmedia mouthpiece says. “Now that Kirk Penton is gone, I don’t know how Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Ken Wiebe can compete with the Drab Slab if we don’t give them some help. Know anyone who’ll write for free?”

Recognizing that the Sun is ripe for the picking, True North Sports & Entertainment will swoop in with an offer Postmedia can’t refuse. Postmedia agrees to let TNSE take the tabloid off its hands for $1 plus applicable tax.

Can you believe it? It cost us more to buy this two-bit rag than the Bombers,” says Puck, Pigskin & Paper Pontiff Mark Chipman, who now owns everything in River City except the Winnipeg Goldeyes and the Disraeli Bridge, “but I think it’ll be worth all 100 pennies once we brainwash the appropriate people and show them how to do things the True North way. Friesen, Wyman and Wiebe can all keep their jobs, but they’ll be house organs who write nothing but puff pieces.”

Asked what will happen if they refuse, the Triple P Pontiff says, “I’ll get Paul Maurice to make them f%*&ing cry.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.