Troubles before Triumph: An Ode to the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets on the 40th anniversary of their final WHA championship

Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.

***

It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.

Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.

“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”

I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.

So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)

The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.

***

To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.

Morris Lukowich

This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.

The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.

There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.

Kim Clackson

Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.

“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”

It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.

“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”

Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.

“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”

“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”

Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.

“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”

That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.

***

Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.

The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.

It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.

Larry Hillman

It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.

It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.

It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.

Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.

It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.

“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).

“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”

Sudsy Sutherland

Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.

“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”

Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.

“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”

Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”

***

There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.

Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.

Fergy

Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.

“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”

Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.

“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”

***

It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.

More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.

I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.

“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”

I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.

“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”

***

There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.

Suitcase Smitty

By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.

He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.

“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”

Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.

***

Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.

We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”

Tom McVie

Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.

Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.

Examples…

On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”

Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”

After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”

Tom McVie in the champions’ changing room.

More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.

The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.

Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.

“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”

***

It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.

Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.

The Shoe

The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.

“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”

“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”

“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.

Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.

***

This was a WHA title that almost never happened.

The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.

There was a money dispute, you see.

The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.

So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?

“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”

The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.

“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”

The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.

As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.

***

Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.

Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.

Jacques Demers

“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”

Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”

Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.

“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”

That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.

***

Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.

If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.

“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”

Roscoe and Clacker

After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.

Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.

“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”

***

I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.

Bill (Magic Fingers) Bozak and four of the boys—Scotty Campbell, the Shoe, Luke and Roland Eriksson.

Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.

They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.

“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”

No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.

“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”

***

Michael Gobuty

Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:

  1. Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.

  2. The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.

  3. Fergy hired Tom McVie.

  4. The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

  5. Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.

The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.

Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.

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Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

Let’s talk about Pontytail Puck, bully tactics and White Knight Gary…a living wage…Grapes and his Bruins…Hall passes for Doc Holliday and Black Hat Barry Shenkarow….D’oh Canada…and more of Mad Mike’s Whodunit

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I had the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, until it wasn’t the winning horse…

If 200 women stage a boycott and nobody notices that they’re gone, does it really happen?

Therein lies the conundrum for Ponytail Puck.

Dani Rylan

Few folks noticed the women when they were active on the frozen ponds of the globe (Olympic Games being the notable exception), so why should the rabble care now that a) the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has hit an iceberg and suffered the same fate as the Titanic, and b) 200 elite female players plan to take their pucks and go home (for the good of the game)?

It’s a ballsy gambit, sitting out an entire hockey season, yet that’s the declared intention of the ForTheGame200. They’ll find better things to do next autumn/winter/spring, then cross their fingers and hope this is how their universe unfolds:

  • Founder/commissioner Dani Rylan of the United States-based National Women’s Hockey League tears down everything she has built up over the past four years, thus leaving a barren landscape;

  • Gary Bettman, a white knight on a magnificent steed, rides to the rescue and creates a little sister operation for the National Hockey League—the WNHL, with franchises (on both sides of the border) that offer the girls all the bells and whistles that guys like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby enjoy;

  • WNHL players earn salaries between $50,000 and $100,000, thereby allowing them to escape the life of a 9-to-5 working stiff;

  • Fans flock to female shinny palaces in robust numbers and everyone lives happily ever after.

Gary Bettman

Less utopian, however, is the picture as seen through the lens of reality, so let’s call out this women’s hockey boycott for what it is: A bully tactic.

Make no mistake, the ForTheGame200 group sit-down is designed to force Dani Rylan’s hand into clearing the deck for Bettman and an NHL takeover, although they’re careful not to use a cut-throat tone in delivering their message. They have the very best of intentions, don’t you know. They’re doing this for the greater good and for little girls.

“I want to set the table for them so that they have a league to aspire to, that they can dream to play this game professionally and not have to work a full-time job,” Team Canada and Calgary Inferno veteran Brianne Jenner told Ron MacLean of Sportsnet.

It’s an admirable, lovely sentiment and, no doubt, genuine. I certainly believe her (them). I applaud her (them), although I must confess that it is the clapping of one hand.

I mean, bullying is bullying is bullying and, to date, Rylan has given no indication that she’s prepared to let the schoolyard toughs steal her lunch money. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Scant moments after the ForTheGame200 declared their plan for a group sit-down, Rylan issued a heels-dug-in communiqué: It will be business as usual for the NWHL next autumn. How she plans to ice a product the rabble will want to support is a mystery, of course, but she’ll soldier on and what we now have is a game of chicken—Rylan vs. the Revolutionaries.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

And, to think, it was just three months ago when the women’s game had its ‘it’ moment, that being Kendall Coyne Schofield’s gobsmacking, 14-second skedaddle against the boys at the NHL all-star game in San Jose.

“Media was buzzing around it for about a week,” Inferno general manager Kristen Hagg recalled, “and then we went back to being Calgary’s best-kept secret.”

Today the Inferno is no more. The CWHL is no more. And 200 players would like the NWHL to be no more.

It’s a fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into. And the question is: Will anyone be there to give a damn by the time they’ve dug themselves out?

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Cassie Campbell-Pascall participated in the chin-wag with MacLean and Jenner (Schofield also offered her voice), and she delivered this astonishing comment: “We can’t be satisfied anymore with leagues that survive on $50,000 to $100,000 sponsorships. Let’s face it, that should be players’ salaries in the future.” Full marks to Cassie for managing to say that with a straight face—and I didn’t even notice the rose-tinted glasses she was wearing—but it’s pure Pollyanna. The day women are paid 100 large to play in a WNHL, I expect to look out my eighth-floor apartment window and see Miss Piggy flying by.

Hey, I’m not here to piddle in their Corn Flakes. I’d prefer to be part of a world where the elite women earn a living wage, and I hope they get there. For now, though, the ForTheGame200 and their allies aren’t doing themselves any favors by making foolish comparisons between the pauperish wages in Ponytail Puck ($2,000-$10,000) and those of multi-millionaire NHL players. You don’t compare a trail horse to Secretariat, because it only invites rude laughter and ridicule. Like most any enterprise, you get what the market bears, and by no known business plan is $100,000 salaries workable when fewer than 1K people are sitting in the pews 16-28 nights a year.

If it’s comparison you want, let’s look at minimum salaries in the NHL feeder system:
American Hockey League—$47,500US.
ECHL—$14,100 (rookies); $15,300 (returning players).
Southern Professional Hockey League—$4,200 to $14,000/year.
So it seems women aren’t the only people playing pro shinny in North America who can’t afford to quit their day jobs.

Kristen Hagg

The aforementioned Kristen Hagg delivered this observation last week, on Calgary Inferno Day in Cowtown: “We live in a society where people do not value women’s sport. Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sport as dominant and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society internalizes falsehood, it’s not easy to correct it.” I’d say the lady is spot-on.

Not spot-on is Donald S. Cherry. I really wish the Lord of Loud would cease using his Hockey Night In Canada bully pulpit to prop up his old Beantown Bruins as the shining example of shinny done the right way. Someone needs to remind Grapes that the Bruins never won a damn thing during his time behind the bench.

Just wondering: Does Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes feel cheated when he’s participating in a Stanley Cup series that doesn’t go to a Game 7?

Bob Holliday

Congrats and a heartfelt tip of the bonnet to old friend, colleague and good guy Bob Holliday, known to friends as Doc or Mr. St. Vital. Robert is this year’s inductee to the media wing of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and I’m glad they got around to saluting the old boy while he’s still with us. Doc went about his business in an understated way at the St. Vital Lance, Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun, and he always delivered the goods.

Barry Shenkarow

Also going into the MHHofF is former Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll Barry Shenkarow, who, to many among the rabble, wears a black hat (along with Bettman) to this day for allowing the franchise to slip, slide away to the Arizona desert. While it’s true that Barry presided over les Jets on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996, I remind you of a couple things: 1) He was part of the group that got Good Ol’ Hometown into the NHL in 1979; 2) as current Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman once explained, “No one wanted to own the team in 1995. And for good reason. It didn’t work.” There were a myriad of reasons why the original NHL Jets toddled off to Phoenix and became the Coyotes, not the least of which was a 65-cent Canadian dollar and a fan base that refused to fill a decaying barn on Maroons Road. Frankly, Shenkarow and partners squeezed more life out of the franchise than it probably deserved. I’m pleased that he’s getting his due.

What I can’t believe is that the Winnipeg Sun was a day late and a dollar short on the Hall of Fame story. Like, how do you miss, or ignore, that? The Drab Slab devoted an entire page to the Class of 2019 on Friday, while the Sun tucked it onto a back page on Saturday. Shame, shame.

Lisa Simpson

Loved the burn The Simpsons writers laid on the Ottawa Senators in last week’s lampoon of all things hoser. Actually, the entire D’oh Canada episode was a hoot. Unless, of course, you happen to be a “Newfy” or a Trudeauite. In that case, I suppose it wasn’t all that funny. Since I’m neither of the above, I giggled.

What would a week be without more unbridled speculation from the Drab Slab’s resident conspiracy theorist, Mad Mike McIntyre? Seriously, I really don’t know if Mad Mike is writing sports or a Whodunit novel. You remember those “ruffled feathers” that Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice referenced last month? Here’s Mad Mike’s take on it: “While Maurice didn’t offer any specifics, it says here (Mark) Scheifele was one of the players the bench boss was referring to.” There you have it. Those “ruffled feathers” belong to Rink Rat Scheifele. Mad Mike says so. No specifics, naturally, but that’s his guess. That’s his hunch. Seems like everything in the past month has been a guess or a hunch from Mad Mike.

Mad Mike took to Twitter to answer questions from readers last week. One asked him about his Drab Slab-driven “rumour” of a rotten-to-the-core Jets changing room. “It’s not just a rumour,” he responded. “There were issues, divisions, etc. within the room.” Again, no specifics about the issues, divisions, etc. Just take his word for it and stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in Mad Mike’s Whodunit.

This is interesting: Jason Bell of the Drab Slab asked Matt Hendricks about a rift in the room and the veteran Jets forward had this to say: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” So Hendricks is blind, deaf or a liar. Take your pick.

And, finally, I think it’s terrific that so many folks have rallied around female hockey players, but where were those people when the CWHL was still in business? And I’m looking at you, mainstream media.

About homophobia and the NHL…a Nobel Prize for Kyle Dubas?…no gay voices on Canadian sports TV…Fozzy Armstrong on Hockey Central…a Guinness for the all-St. Patty’s Day team and a lineup for Assiniboia Downs…WHA Jets were the real road warriors…a players share for Uecker…Wheels and Jumbo Joe…taking note of the WHL…and so long to a Twitter maestro

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy St. Patty’s Day to the Irish and Irish wannabes (and I plan on keeping my lifetime record of never drinking green beer intact)…

Morgan Rielly knew he didn’t say what he didn’t say. Others remain convinced that he did say what he didn’t say.

And, as social media exploded like a fourth of July sky, a mystery voice at a National Hockey League game last Monday became the most talked-about sound bite since Timothy Leary told kids in the 1960s to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

So was l’affaire Rielly much ado about nada?

Well, like most questions in life that don’t include a simple 1+1=2 answer, it depends on who you ask.

Morgan Rielly and Kyle Dubas

Many took to Twitter to suggest (rather dismissively, abruptly and rudely) that it matters not if Rielly or any player/fan shouted “faggot” or “rag it” or “maggot” during a Toronto Maple Leafs-Tampa Bay Lightning skirmish at Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna. “They’re just words. Don’t be such a snowflake. Get over it, you annoying SJWs. Move on.”

Media pundits, meanwhile, have lauded les Leafs Harry Potter doppelganger GM, Kyle Dubas, and Rielly for stepping forward to confirm the young defenceman’s innocence, rather than push the mute button and allow the tempest to expire of natural causes. They insist that the hastily organized Dubas-Rielly joint session of meet-the-news-snoops was a “teaching moment.”

If so, I’m having trouble determining what lesson was learned.

As a member of the LGBTQ collective, you see, I lean a keen and attentive ear toward any dialogue dealing with gays and homophobia in sports. Call it my “queer” ear, if you will. And it’s often what I don’t hear that catches my notice because, yes, words are important.

The one word I didn’t hear from Dubas in his more than 16 minutes of chin wagging was “accept.”

Make no mistake, the GM scored when he talked sincerely about providing a “safe” and “welcome” environment for gay, bisexual and transgender fans at les Leafs’ lair. He added that any player grappling with his sexual orientation can “feel safe here, they can be themselves here.”

Dubas did not, however, say a gay player would be universally “accepted” in les Leafs boudoir. He couldn’t.

Dubas, you see, cannot get inside the heads and souls of the men who occupy the changing room, any more than Geoff Molson could get inside the heads and souls of his Montreal Canadiens when he issued similar sentiments in 2014.

“Not only with our team, but also with our fans,” the Habs bankroll told news snoops when asked if his storied franchise was prepared to embrace a gay player. “Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization. Any opportunity to be inclusive is a good one, and that starts from the top down.”

Nice thought, but a Habs skater with anti-gay leanings might not be so keen to share the bunker with a guy who shares his bed with another dude.

That said, it’s apparent by Rielly’s thoughtful responses to queries last week, also his documented support of the LGBTQ collective, that he would “accept” a gay teammate without condition. But what of his fellows in the blue-and-white linen of les Leafs?

Consider:

  • In autumn 2015, USA Today asked 35 NHL players if they would accept an openly gay teammate in the changing room. One said no. Small sample size, I know, but if we do the math that means there were at least 21 anti-gay members of the NHL Players Association. I’d submit the true number is higher. Even if not, how many sit in les Leafs’ lockerroom?

  • In January 2014, TSN ran a terrific documentary on the NHL and gays. They reached out to 12 teams across a nine-month time frame, seeking players willing to discuss gays and hockey on the record. In the end, only three were willing to be interviewed on camera. That’s it. Just three of 750 players were comfortable discussing the gay issue and homophobia. If they can’t even talk about gay men, how can they accept them?

Again, Dubas gets full marks for initiating the discussion last week, but if it was a “teachable moment” I’m still uncertain what I supposedly learned. Given that Molson said the same thing five years ago and nothing has changed, it was same old, same old.

I’m always fascinated when straight male sports scribes and talking heads weigh in on the gay/homophobia issue. They really can’t offer anything of substance because, well, they aren’t gay. So they simply recite the standard blah, blah, blah about offensive words, often punctuating their commentary with “this is 2019,” as if that proves they know where it’s at. Which explains why many of them inverted the Rielly situation, turning it into a testimonial to the Maple Leafs’ rapid response rather than the likelihood that someone shouted “faggot” during an NHL game. Dubas was lathered in lavish praise, and I’m surprised the talking heads and essayists stopped short of nominating him for a Nobel Prize. But, hey, Nobel nomination forms aren’t distributed until September, so there’s plenty of time to get his name out there.

Unless I missed it, neither TSN nor Sportsnet brought an LGBTQ voice on air to discuss the developments in l’affaire Rielly. They’ll recruit “experts” to dissect everything from Auston Matthews’ bowel movements to Mitch Marner’s eating habits, but they aren’t interested in a gay voice when homophobia is the hot-button topic. What, they don’t know any gay male athletes who’ve been in homophobic dressing rooms? Or do they think gay guys don’t speak English? Trust me, when the subject is homophobia in hockey, the last people I want to hear from are meatheads like Nick Kypreos and Colby Armstrong, who delivered about five minutes of total gobbledygook on Hockey Central At Noon.

The Fozzy Bros.

Speaking of Colby Armstrong, I must confess that he’s begun to grow on me, perhaps because I like the Muppets and he’s got a Muppets kind of head—you know, really thin-to-no lips, goofy grin, interesting nose, eyes that seem to spin and rotate. I think perhaps Colby and Fozzy Bear were separated at birth. That’s the ticket—Fozzy Armstrong.

Sir Alec Guinness

My personal all-St. Patty’s Day team: Kathy Ireland, St. Patrick Roy, Patrick Ewing, Danica Patrick and Patrik O’Laine. Oh, and Sir Alec Guinness, of course. No St. Patty’s Day is complete without a Guinness.

If the ponies were running at Assiniboia Downs, the ideal St. Patty’s Day card this afternoon would include a Pot O’ Gold Stakes race with this field: Lookin At Lucky, Lucky Debonair, Irish War Cry, Smokinpaddylassie, I’ll Have Another and Flat Drunk. And, yes, those are the names of actual race horses.

So, the Winnipeg Jets recently completed their longest junket of the NHL season—10 days, four games. Drab Slab scribe Mike McIntyre described it as a “doozy.” Well, Mike Mac doesn’t know from doozy. During their 1978-79 World Hockey Association championship crusade, the Jets had a tour of duty in February that had them play 10 games in 16 days (eight on the road, including five in a row). Now that, my friends, is a doozy.

Bob Uecker

Interesting to note that the Milwaukee Brewers voted play-by-play broadcaster and funny guy Bob Uecker a full players share ($123,000) after the Major League Baseball playoffs last October. Hmmm. For the record, the Jets did not vote me a full players share after their final WHA title in 1979. No problem, though. I didn’t need the $57.48 at the time. Mind you, I could use it today now that I’m a pauper. (By the way, Ueck donated his $123,000 windfall to four different charities.)

Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet tells us that Blake Wheeler’s contract extension, which kicks in next season at $8.25 million, is “money well spent by the Winnipeg Jets.” He knows this how? Well, because of Joe Thornton. Dixon figures if Jumbo Joe can score 82 points as a 36-year-old, so can Wheels. Good luck with that. I’m a big Blake Wheeler fan, but if he’s an 82-point guy at the butt end of his five-year deal, I’ll eat a hockey puck and wash it down with raw sewage from the Red River.

The Kootenay Ice play their final game in Cranbrook this afternoon, then they become the Winnipeg Ice (please, change that name). So if anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown is looking for the skinny on the Western Hockey League, take note: The go-to website is old friend Gregg Drinnan’s blog Taking Note. Nobody does the WHL better than the Greaser, who earned his nickname while writing about fast cars, Bison Dragways and people like Big Daddy Garlits for the Winnipeg Tribune.

And, finally, sad to hear of the passing of Randy Turner, longtime scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press. Never got to spend much time with Randy (different newspapers, different beats, I skipped town), but I do know he was one of the good guys. And a funny guy. He was a Twitter maestro. Ashley Prest wrote a wonderful tribute piece on Randy in the Drab Slab.

About Terrible Ted taking a stand…Tessa is a living (Barbie) doll…Genie going Hollywood…puppies and spin-the-bottle in Carolina…puck luck, Puck Finn and lost in a snow maze…broken silence in Lotus Land…tabloid T&A in The ROT…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I think we need an International Day of Old Lady Bloggers…

Much has been said and written about Ted Lindsay since his death last week, all of it justifiably praiseworthy.

Terrible Ted

Puck pundits, opinionists and news snoops allowed that Terrible Ted ranks among the National Hockey League’s all-time elite, as a player and a gentleman, and they’ve made special note of the stiff price he paid for stirring up the serfs in the 1950s and attempting to form a players association.

Stripped of his captain’s ‘C’ and cast aside like a leper by the Detroit Red Wings, Lindsay soldiered on to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career in 1965, and therein lies my favorite Terrible Ted tale, one that’s always worth retelling.

The HHOF was to fete Lindsay and eight other players at the 1966 induction soiree, but he wanted no part of it. Not unless his wife and kids could attend. Sorry, Ted, it’s strictly stag.

So he boycotted his own induction.

“(Players) are wonderful people when we’re winning, but when we go home and we’re losing, we’re miserable for our wives and our children,” was Lindsay’s explanation. “My feeling was, families put up with us when we were temperamental idiots, they should be able to enjoy the benefits of what the league is giving us. That’s a very simple decision.”

The following year, the HHOF opened the doors to its induction gala to women and family members.

And look where we are 53 years later: Six female players have rings to prove they’re card-carrying members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and another, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, has been added to the selection committee.

That’s a small part of the Ted Lindsay legacy, and it’s worth acknowledging on the heels of International Women’s Day.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Where is female hockey today? Depends on who you ask.

During an interesting panel discussion on Hockey Night in Canada, Campbell-Pascall suggested the glass is “three-quarters full.”

“We need men to understand what some of our challenges are. What some of our needs are,” she told Ron MacLean in a chin-wag that included HHOF member Angela James, broadcaster Christine Simpson and Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CEO of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity. “And also cover our sports like they would cover male sports. Just don’t use the same big stories over and over again. Get to the rink, get to the practices and cover our sports just like you would cover male sports and get those personalities out there, ’cause we have so many great ones in the female game today.”

That’s a tough sell, given that very few men in mainstream media give a damn about the distaff side of the game. Except, of course, when there’s an Olympic gold medal at stake.

Sami Jo Small

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” says Sami Jo Small, a product of the frozen ponds of Good Ol’ Hometown and now general manager of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Toronto Furies. “They love watching it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

To their point, consider this: The CWHL Clarkson Cup playoffs are currently in progress, with one skirmish pitting the Toronto Furies vs. the Calgary Inferno in a best-of-three set that goes to a rubber match this very afternoon. What kind of coverage did Game 2 warrant? Squat in the Toronto Sun. Nada. The Calgary Sun, meanwhile, scribbled a few hundred words (no byline) about the Inferno’s 3-zip win, yet devoted two full pages to the Calgary Roughnecks, a lacrosse outfit. Like I said, it’s a tough sell when mainstream media is reluctant, or refuses, to spread the word. And that’s sad.

Judy Owen

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’d like to acknowledge the women with whom I worked during my time in mainstream media: Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib), Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun) and my fave, Judy Owen (Winnipeg Sun). That’s it. Four women in 30 years. Today, there are no women writing sports at either of the two River City rags. Melissa Martin makes cameo appearances to cover the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the Drab Slab, but that’s it.

What’s this? Fox plans to make a movie out of tennis diva Genie Bouchard’s Twitter date with fan boy John Goehrke? Well, if the movie is anything like Genie’s one-and-done game, don’t order the large tub of buttered popcorn. You won’t have time to finish it.

Tessa and Barbie Tess

I always thought that Tessa Virtue was a living doll, so it’s no surprise that the folks at Mattel toys have included a likeness of our fave fancy skater in their Role Model series of Barbie Dolls. But here’s what I’m wondering: Whatever became of her lifelong accomplice, Scott Moir? I see our Tessa on TV regularly, peddling mattresses, skin cream and what have you. But poor Scott. We haven’t seen him since he was observed sopping up the suds at an Olympic hockey game last winter. He’s vanished, kind of like Art Garfunkel after Paul Simon went his own way. I guess that’ll teach Moir for playing with dolls all his life.

So, the Carolina Hurricanes continue to play little post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck, Goose, and along comes Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab to inform us that what is known as the Storm Surge has made the ‘Canes “somewhat relevant again.” He adds: “If you don’t like this, I’m going to assume you also dislike puppies, too.” Oh, please. I mean, exaggerate much, Mike? Look, the Hurricanes will be relevant if they make some noise in the National Hockey League’s Beard Season. As for liking puppies, I think they’re cute and cuddly, but that doesn’t mean I also have to like choreographed cornball-ism like grown men playing spin-the-bottle.

By the way, the Hurricanes have become so “relevant again” that their average head count is up a whopping 627 this season, and their average audience of 13,947 is fourth worst in the NHL. Seems as though the folks in Raleigh have better things to do.

Patrik Laine

While many of us have been curious or flat-out baffled by Patrik Laine’s herky-jerky goal-scoring pattern this season, the Drab Slab’s stats goomer, Andrew Berkshire, set about to solve the mystery of the Winnipeg Jets winger. Using a couple of charts with the required squiggly lines to get his point across, Berkshire arrived at this conclusion: “The biggest factor in his drop in goal scoring at even-strength this season is just bad luck…the puck just hasn’t bounced the right way for him.” That’s it? Puck luck? That’s what the squiggly lines tell him about Puck Finn? Well, I have a suggestion for Stats Boy: You might want to actually watch a game instead of staring at your pie charts.

I note that Angie and Clint Masse have made their way into the Guinness Book of World Records for building the planet’s largest snow maze on their farm near St. Adolphe, just south of Winnipeg. I imagine it’d be easy to get lost in there. Hmmm. Maybe that’s where Puck Finn disappeared to for three months. Whatever, it’s nice to have the kid back.

This from TSN’s Dave Poulin at the NHL trade deadline, on Feb. 25: “There’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Just 11 days later, Mark Stone signed an eight-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. D’oh!

What part of “moment of silence” does the rabble in Lotus Land not understand? During what was meant to be a silent salute to the late Ted Lindsay the other night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists and some among the Canucks faithful engaged in a hissing contest. As Jed Clampett used to say whenever Jethro did something dumb, pitiful. Just pitiful. But I suppose we should be thankful that they didn’t try to burn the town down this time around.

In the department of Are You Really That Arrogant?, I present Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. In a tweet about the rag trade in the Republic of Tranna, he wrote this of his Toronto Sun: “The only paper still covering sports like it matters, with its own people.” Spare me. On that same day, there were seven bylines in the Toronto Star sports section, each one of them the Star’s “own people” covering sports “like it matters.” That coverage, by the way, included a terrific spread on women in sports on International Women’s Day. Simmons’ Sun, meanwhile, saluted International Women’s Day with a photo spread of a lass named Sydney, adorned only in her black lace bra and knickers. That’s the Sun—still covering T&A “like it matters” after all these years.

And, finally, at tip of the bonnet to the Drab Slab for its recent uptick in local amateur coverage. We read about university track and field on the sports front Friday, plus a full-page, deep dive into the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs and the high school shinny championships. They followed with U hoops, high school puck, U track, and elite female athletes on Saturday. That’s what I call old-time coverage. Took me back to the hey days of Winnipeg Tribune and Free Press sports pages.

About Paul Friesen peeing on Corn Flakes…is it 2021 already?…what does Brooke Henderson have to do?…goofy stuff from the Globe and Mail…Argonauts’ 44th head coach is back-page news…the myth of Tranna bias at Sportsnet…and Bob Cole is no Sinatra

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…because I couldn’t find anything better to do at 2 o’clock this a.m….

Got a giggle out of the reaction to a recent column by old friend Paul Friesen, whose refusal to wave pom-poms while writing essays about the Winnipeg Jets tends to put many knickers in many knots.

If you missed it, the Winnipeg Sun columnist had the (apparent) bad manners to inform his readers that the local shinny lads have been feasting on National Hockey League bottom feeders this crusade. Friesen even supplied concrete evidence (they’re known as facts in his business) to support the notion that les Jets have been kicking sand in the faces of 98-lb. weaklings.

Well, don’t you just know that a segment of the rabble was aghast. Facts be damned!

“So you have to pee in our Corn Flakes,” wrote one Twitter follower, no doubt guzzling a gallon of official Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid as he typed.

“Shocker! Paul Friesen concentrated on the cloud as opposed to the silver lining,” wrote another who made no mention of Paul piddling on anything resembling breakfast cereal.

“Do you ever say anything good about the Jets?” a third wondered.

It reminded me of the been-there, done-that bad ol’ days. Only tamer.

Paul Friesen

Like Friesen, apparently I had bad manners. I declined to write about les Jets while wearing rose-tinted glasses and, upon their entry into the NHL in 1979, I refused to gloss over the reality that Winnipg HC was a talent-challenged outfit.

“Jets will win no more than 20 games this season,” I wrote in the Winnipeg Tribune.

I used some of those pesky facts to prop up my position, and predicted a last-place finish. Wouldn’t you know it? Les Jets collected exactly 20 Ws (good call) and 51 points to finish 18 shy of the playoffs.

Between their NHL baptism against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Oct. 10 and their final assignment vs. the Colorado Rockies on April 6 at the old barn on Maroons Road, I continued to write the truth and was called “a sawed-off little runt,” “a weasel,” “a scumbag” and “a child molester.” (Yes, they were that charming.) One reader threatened to put me in the hospital and another offered to ram a newspaper down my throat. (That surely would have required a hospital visit or, at the very least, the Heimlich maneuver from John Ferguson). Not surpisingly, I wasn’t invited to the Jets Booster Club picnic.

All of that was, of course, pre-Twitter, and I shudder to think what names they’d call me today. I’m pretty sure it would have something to do with female body parts.

John Shannon

Speaking of boobs, John Shannon of Sportsnet isn’t normally a “D’oh!” boy, but he totally lost the plot while delivering a hossana to Josh Morrissey, the Jets’ terrific young defender who scored in overtime last week. Morrissey “did what they expected him to do after signing that new, long-term deal,” Shannon said. To which all of Jets Nation says, “If only.” Morrissey, unfortunately, is on a two-year bridge contract.

I don’t think I’d enjoy working the Jets beat today. From what I understand, it’s very restrictive in terms of accessibility to players and management. We had open access back in the day. Rode the bus and planes with them. It wasn’t uncommon to call at player, coach or GM at home. It was a fun gig, especially in the World Hockey Association.

Did I pull a Rip Van Patti and fall asleep for 2 1/2 years? I mean, is this actually June 2021? I ask that because Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg has delivered a yawn-a-thon of a piece projecting les Jets’ protected list in advance of the 2021 Seattle expansion draft. Seriously? You want to have that discussion today? C’mon, man. Call me 24 months from now and we’ll talk.

Brooke Henderson

Quiz me this, kids: If a Canadian male golfer had won the Canadian Open and one other stop on the PGA Tour this year—and finished second in the season-long points race—would he be anointed our country’s top jock? As sure as Tiger Woods likes pretty blondes he would. There wouldn’t even be a discussion. Yet when Brooke Henderson does that very thing on the LPGA Tour, it isn’t good enough for the collection of unidentified news mooks who choose our country’s athlete of the year. She loses the vote for the Lou Marsh Trophy to Mikael Kingsbury, a guy from the niche world of moguls skiing. Two years ago, Henderson won twice—including the Women’s PGA Championship, which is an LPGA major—and lost the vote to a swimmer, Penny Oleksiak. So I ask this: How many tournaments must Brooke Henderson win before she warrants their approval?

Daniel Nestor

Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail provides some interesting insight into the goings-on of the Lou Marsh voting process, and mentions that he “stumped” for doubles tennis player Daniel Nestor. I don’t know if that was a revelation or a confession. Either way, what a total mook. I mean, thanks for dropping by, Cathal, but you cannot be serious, man. Nestor did one noteworthy thing this year. He quit. Otherwise, he was 8-21 with zero tournament titles. And he’s Kelly’s idea of our top jock? Up next: Kelly stumps for Adam Sandler as an Oscar winner.

Not to be out-dumbed, G&M sports editor Shawna Richer had herself a little hissy fit and left her ballot blank in protest over the decision to rule fancy skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir ineligible. So if you’re scoring at home, the main sports columnist at our national newspaper believes a guy who accomplished squat in the past 12 months is our top jock, and the sports editor at our national newspaper didn’t get her way so she (boo hoo) took her ball and went home. And we’re supposed to take this award seriously? (Just wondering: If the Globe and Mail has a sports editor, shouldn’t it also have a sports section?)

Canadian Football League outfits are dumping coaches, scouts and management at an alarming rate. We haven’t seen this kind of cost cutting since the suits at Postmedia lost their minds. I don’t know if the CFL is still a professional sports league or a thrift store.

Corey Chamblin

The United States has had 45 presidents in 229 years. The Tranna Argonauts have had 44 head coaches in 101 years. I’m not sure what that means, but I find it interesting.

If you want to know where the Argos rate on the pecking order with media in the Republic of Tranna, consider this: The day after Corey Chamblin was anointed the 44th sideline steward of the Boatmen, it was shoved back to Pages 9-10 in the Toronto Sun sports section. If that happened at either the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press after a head coach hiring with the Blue Bombers, someone would be fired.

So I turn on Sportsnet in the small hours of Wednesday morning to catch the NHL highlights, knowing six of the seven Canadian outfits were on the ice the night before. But what’s their top story? The Tranna Raptors. And here I thought this was a hockey country. Silly me. Anyway, I moved to the Sportsnet website to check out Jets coverage. Nothing. Not one word. On the entire main page. Nothing on the Ottawa Senators either. There were 32 articles/videos on the Raptors, Maple Leafs and Blue Jays, and just 18 for the rest of the country’s clubs combined. Here’s the story/video count:

Blue Jays  13
Leafs        10
Raptors      9
Oilers         9
Canucks     5
Habs          2
Flames       2
Senators     0
Jets             0

And, to think, some eastern scribes (I’m looking at you, Damien Cox) actually believe Tranna bias is like Sasquatch, the mythical creation of insecure western news snoops.

Danny Gallivan

And, finally, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play fossil Bob Cole the “voice of a lifetime” and “the Hockey Sinatra.” Oh, please. Apparently he never heard Danny Gallivan call a game. No one did it like Gallivan. His voice was electric. His vocabulary immense. I still get chills when I hear his call of Guy Lafleur’s tying goal in Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal. “Lafleur, coming out rather gingerly on the right side…” Rather gingerly. Who says that? Only Gallivan. Bob Cole is the Hockey Sinatra like I’m Celine Dion.

About 49 years from Day One at the Trib…good for Ted Wyman…good reads in the Drab Slab…a TSN WTF moment…CFL power rankings…Serena unhinged…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.

Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.

After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.

Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.

It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.

My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.

Butch Goring

There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.

But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.

Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?

Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.

Ted Wyman

A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.

Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.

So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.

Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…

1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking…

It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.

Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?

Novak Djokovic

For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.