Fifty years is a long time. The passing of that many moons challenges the memory.
But I definitely remember the 1973 Portage Terriers, who, 50 years ago this very day, earned bragging rights over all Junior A hockey outfits on Our Frozen Tundra.
I don’t recall all the minutiae of the Terriers’ run to the Centennial Cup, because clarity is challenged when peering into the foggy moors of time, but there’s no forgetting the reputation they forged on the path to their national championship.
Tough? They were rock ’em, sock ’em hockey long before Don Cherry began making oodles of money by cranking out VHS tapes featuring back-alley thugs on skates. They were the Broad Street Bullies before there were any bullies on Broad Street. Many among the rabble were convinced the Terriers played with chain saws, not hockey sticks. One foe—the Humboldt Broncos—became so fearful five games into a best-of-seven series that they flat-out quit. Yup, forfeited. Stayed home rather than traipse to Portage la Prairie to absorb another paddywhacking.
But were the Terriers really a collection of Freddy Kruegers? Naw. I swear I saw a few of them helping little, old ladies cross the street between games.
Oh, sure, they raised more than a little hell, and certainly crossed the line a time or two, but that was unavoidable since their maestro was Muzz MacPherson, a fedora-topped, combustible head coach who favored players with as much gravel in their game as he had in his voice.
Although a proponent of heavy-handed hockey, Muzz was every bit the cartoonish rascal and big on gamesmanship, an example being the banter between himself and Mac MacLean, head coach of the Terriers’ final foe, the Pembroke Lumber Kings.
MacLean had observed the Terriers once—just once—in advance of the national final and arrived at these conclusions: “They’re a lot slower than Penticton Broncos, but also a lot bigger and a lot rougher. Terriers defence is slow, they’ll leave you alone in the neutral zone but really hit in the corners. Portage, like Penticton, is a two-line hockey club with little on their third combinations. Portage is weak in goal and susceptible to a good power play.”
To which Muzz gasped, with a wink and a nod, “I didn’t know we were that bad.”
They weren’t that bad, but Muzz and his band of rowdies made the most of the bulletin board material.
The Terriers took out the Lumber Kings in five games, applying the finishing touch on May 14, 1973, in front of 4,192 witnesses at the Winnipeg Arena. (The previous night for Game 4, the head count was 8,962 in Ol’ Barn On Maroons Road.)
Scant seconds after his team’s deciding 4-2 win, I cornered Muzz in the winning changing room and asked for a quick synopsis.
“Well,” he said, again with a wink and a nod, “for a team with no goaltending, no penalty killers and slow defencemen, we did pretty well, eh?”
This was a terrific Junior A shinny side featuring a roster of mostly 19-year-olds and a 16-year-old, Danny Bonar, with sublime skill.
The Terriers rolled to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League title in the minimum eight games, sweeping both the Kenora Muskies and St. James Canadians. Next up were the Broncos from the Flattest of Lands and the Broncos from B.C. The Humboldt quitters tapped out, then Penticton took the Terriers to the limit before bowing out (the B.C. Broncos had led the series 3-1). Finally, Pembroke gave it a go, but fell well short.
The Portage Terriers went 19-6 (forward Randy Penner scored 34 goals in those 25 games) and brought a national shinny title to the tiny Prairie burg for the first time in 31 years.
Some of the boys are gone now, and the dearly departed include the coach, ol’ Muzz, who left us in 1997. He truly was a character who carved out a place for himself in local shinny folklore. And I guarantee one thing—wherever Muzz is today, he’s still winking and nodding.
I was 22 when those Terriers won the Centennial Cup. Twenty-freaking-two! That was just three years older than most of the Portage players and three years into my time at the Winnipeg Tribune. I was so wet behind the ears that sparrows mistook the back of my head for a bird bath. Even though intimate details are now sketchy, if not completely gone, covering that team remains a highlight 50 years later. They were good guys who had a lot of fun, and Muzz was a friend. I enjoyed being around them.
On the subject of days of yore, Joe Kapp has left the building, and I remember the former B.C. Lions quarterback for two things, other than his tire-iron toughness on a football field: 1) Being a pitchman for Squirrel Peanut Butter in the 1960s, which earned him the nickname Peanut Butter Joe; 2) decking the fearsome Angelo Mosca with one punch during Grey Cup week 2011. The Squirrel commercials and his association with Nabob Foods helped Kapp get over a fear of public speaking, while his feeding big Angie a knuckle sandwich in a dustup of 70somethings remains a source of giggles.
The large lads in pads have commenced grabbing grass and growling hither and yon across the Canadian Football League landscape, so this is the right time to remind one and all of quarterback movement during six months of down time. Here’s where the gunslingers are hanging their hats now:
Lotus Land-Vernon Adams Jr.-
Flattest of Lands-Trevor Harris
Good Ol’ Hometown-Zach Collaros
Republic of Tranna-Chad Kelly
The Hammer-Bo Levi Mitchell
Things that make me go hmmm, Vol. 2,154: A couple of Winnipeg Blue Bombers newbes—Anthony Bennett and Barrington Wade—have commented on the “angry geese” in Good Ol’ Hometown. Hmmm. They haven’t seen angry until they’ve seen a Winnipeg Jets fan who just watched Mark Scheifele drag his butt back to the bench at the end of another two minute, 45 second shift.
Jeff Reinebold is one of those been there, done that kind of guys. He’s covered more ground than Lewis and Clark and he’s back for what seems like his 99th go-round in Rouge Football, this time as special teams coordinator and assistant DB coach with the Hamilton Tabbies. It’s Coach Harley’s third whirl in The Hammer and sixth port-o’-call in the CFL—Winnipeg, B.C., Edmonton, Montreal, Las Vegas—and he’s coached everywhere from Germany to New Mexico. I don’t know if he still rides a Harley to practice or wears flip-flops on the field, but it’s nice to have him back in our quirky, three-downs game.
I generally enjoy the afternoon banter on Pardon The Interruption, but co-host Michel Wilbon totally lost the plot in the Big Finish segment of Friday’s chin-wag with Frank Isola. Pleading for the Toronto Maple Leafs to topple the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup skirmish, Wilbon said: “Toronto’s gotta win this game. Come on, let’s have some drama, let’s have some Maple Leafs keep this thing going, represent the whole country again.” Yo! Mikey! I think you’ve spent a tad too much time soaking up that hot, Arizona sun. You might want to flee your desert hideaway and spend some time up here on Our Frozen Tundra (which isn’t so frozen these days), where you’ll discover a vast land with different people, different languages, different cultures, different points of view. So, to suggest the Leafs represent the nation is to say all of us hosers believe King Chuckie III and his band of dorky, dysfunctional royals are as beloved as poutine, back bacon and Gordon Lightfoot. More to the point, one of the things that unites many of us who live in the colonies is a healthy dislike for most things Republic of Tranna. You know, things like Drake. Get with the program, Mikey.
It’s not like Leafs loyalists can’t be found beyond the boundaries of the Republic of Tranna. Fact is, they’re everywhere. A recent online Research Co. survey of 1,000 adults (May 4-6) confirms the breadth of Leafs Nation, with 53 per cent of Canadians rooting for the Buds prior to their ouster from Beard Season on Friday night. However, the largest portion of that support was in Ontario (79%) and Atlantic Canada (70%). In Quebec and points west of The ROT, it was mostly meh. Also of note: The Leafs were found to be the most loathed NHL franchise on Our Frozen Tundra (17% overall, 25% in Montreal).
The world’s oldest dog, a purebred Rafeiro do Alentejo in Portugal named Bobi, celebrated his 31st birthday on Thursday. According to American Kennel Club calculations, that makes Bobi about 169 in human years, or about the same as the Maple Leafs defence looked vs. Florida (apologies to Morgan Rielly) on Friday.
You’ve heard of a dog’s breakfast? Well, Bobi arrived at his ripe, ol’ age by eating nothing but human food soaked in water, according to owner Leonel Costa. Interesting. I’ve been on a steady diet of human food for 72 years and all it’s done is give me indigestion and heartburn.
Canada is a hockey nation, right? Then would someone please explain how female hoops teams from Minnesota and Chicago can attract 19,800 customers to a WNBA friendly at Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna, yet the rabble gives the best female shinny players on the planet the cold shoulder when they gather to strut their stuff? The head count for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association all-star tournament in Ottawa was approximately 1,500, while it was basically friends and family when Toronto Six and Connecticut Whale faced off in a Premier Hockey Federation semifinal skirmish in The ROT. I don’t get it. Hey, I’m fully on board with female basketball players performing to packed houses, but where’s the love for Ponytail Puck in a hockey nation?
I don’t know about you, but every time I see Cheryl Pounder talking hockey on TSN, I want to reach into my flatscreen and hand her a hair brush. Seriously. The other night Cheryl looked like she’d just gotten a perm at Coif du Pancake. And, no, that isn’t being sexist. I say the same thing about Elliotte Friedman when he has the Box Car Willie look on Sportsnet.
A sports term that has to be deep-sixed: “Their best players need to be their best players.” Well, duh. It’s like telling me beer is better served cold. I’ve heard the “best players” nonsense more often than Leon Draisaitl has scored during the Stanley Cup tournament, and it’s lazy analysis. Be better, boys and girls.
So, Hollywood hunk Ryan Reynolds is out of the bidding to bankroll the Ottawa Senators. Not to worry. I mean, it’s not like Bytown is short on celebrities. There are scads of them in our nation’s capital. And when I think of one other than Alanis Morissette, I’ll let you know.
There’s talk of Tom Brady becoming a limited partner with the Las Vegas Raiders and I’m thinking, “Great! Anything to keep him out of the broadcast booth!” Then I learned that Fox Sports is prepared to give Brady the okie-dokie to become their main gab guy (at $375 million over 10 years) on National Football League coverage. What part of “conflict of interest” do Fox and the NFL not understand?
Not a good past few days for talking heads. First, Oakland A’s broadcaster Glen Kuiper mentioned, on air, a visit he’d made to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, except the N-word he used for Negro is best not spoken in polite society. Kuiper delivered a mea culpa, saying he didn’t mean to use the N-world he used, but the N-bomb earned him a suspension. Meantime, this was the way ESPN gab guy John Anderson described a goal by First Nations defenceman Zach Whitecloud of the Vegas Golden Knights: “What kind of name is Whitecloud? Great name if you’re toilet paper.” That isn’t funny, it certainly isn’t clever. It’s just ugh.
Not to outdone, Bob Huggins, men’s hoops coach at the University of West Virginia, appeared on WLW’s Bill Cunningham Show in Cincinnati and dropped a double gay F-bomb, calling Xavier fans “f–s, those Catholic f—s.” Two slurs for the price of one. How charming. It was meant to get cheap yuks at the expense of gays and Catholics, but there was little, if any, knee-slapping in the UWV ivory tower. The task-masters frowned and informed Huggins that he’d be persona non grata for the first three games next season, at the same time docking $1 million off his pay. One assumes he was also told to lay off the gays and Catholics if he expects to collect the remaining $3 million owed.
A few months ago, we mentioned school officials in Florida had banned books on baseball greats Henry Aaron and Roberto Clemente, because they mention racism and segregation. Well, now they’re taking aim at a tennis/women’s/civil rights champion. The book I am Billie Jean King is part of the Ordinary People Change the World series of biographies, and it includes a mention of her gay marriage to Ilana Kloss, which horrified one parent (just one) of a student at Hawks Rise Elementary School in Leon County. Thus, it is now under review and might land in the discard bin, simply because one parent doesn’t want her children to know that gay people exist. Sigh.
And, finally, it’s incredible, yet not at all surprising, that the transphobes are in full and loud squawk because Hannah Wilson is rocking it on Jeopardy!, earning $229,801 through eight wins. Good grief. The woman isn’t lobbing bombs at Ukraine or stealing Girl Guides cookies. She’s answering trivia questions on a TV game show, for gawd’s sake. So why the hate?