About no fear…the “experts” being wrong…Winnipeg Jets go from Team Bicker to Team Good Ship Lollipop?…getting paid to be wrong…and other Stanley Cup things on my mind

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I might wear white tonight but I won’t be anywhere near downtown Pegtown…

So, how do you like the Winnipeg Jets now, kids?

More to the point, do you see an outfit still standing in the Stanley Cup tournament that the local hockey heroes should fear? I don’t either.

Oh, sure, the Vegas Golden Knights are an imposing group. Big, strong, swift, superb in goal. Washington? No, you wouldn’t want to wager a large wad of paper money against the Capitals successfully defending their championship and spending another summer engaged in liquor-fueled hijinks. Boston? Tranna? Calgary? Columbus? Colorado? The Islanders? Nashville? Meh.

Naturally, the St. Louis Blues still have something to say about les Jets’ shelf life in the National Hockey League annual spring runoff, and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. However, after what we witnessed in two skirmishes in the Show Me State, it should be apparent that the lads from St. Loo can match Winnipeg HC’s work ethic but not its skill.

Connor Hellebuyck

And that includes the boys in the blue paint, now that Connor Hellebuyck is turning away pucks as adeptly as he rejects objectionable questions and any suggestion that his stuff stinks.

In leveling their best-of-seven playoff series with a 2-1 W—on the strength of Kyle Connor’s OT tally and Hellebuyck’s gaffe-free goaltending on Tuesday night at the Enterprise Center—les Jets absorbed the best of the Blues and didn’t flinch. They just kind of shrugged and went about their business. And they now return to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie for tonight’s Game 5, confident that they’ve found their stride and convinced that Jordan Binnington is no longer the boogyman everyone made him out to be.

But, yes, it’s fair to wonder where these guys have been all year, and to ask if the phantom turn-off, turn-on switch that we keep hearing about really does exist.

I mean, going into this fray, les Jets had more skeptics than Christ in his heyday and, after dropping the first two jousts vs. the Blues, the bandwagon was emptying faster than a classroom on the last day of school.

Gord Stellick

Craig Button of TSN, for example, described Winnipeg HC as “the weakest team going into the playoffs.”

Over at Sportsnet, 10 of 16 “experts” in a preseason poll predicted a Western Conference crown for les Jets, but that number was reduced to just one—Gord Stellick—when 22 “experts” sifted through the tea leaves in a playoff poll.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, meanwhile, cited “multiple sources” to inform us that les Jets were “rotten to the core,” with discontent spreading through the changing room like a flesh-eating malignancy.

Yet here we are today with this “rotten” and “weakest” and “dysfunctional” team coming home with swagger after imposing its will on the Blues in St. Loo.

Shows you what the “experts” know.

Exactly what do the “experts” really know? No more than you and I or most lumps on bar stools. In the Sportsnet playoff poll, here’s how 22 “experts” saw the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament:

Tampa Bay vs. Columbus: 22-0 for TB. D’oh!
Pittsburgh vs. Islanders: 16-6 for Pitt. D’oh!
Boston vs. Tranna: 16-6 for the Bs.
Washington vs. Carolina: 21-1 for the Caps.
Calgary vs. Colorado: 22-0 for Cowtown.
Vegas vs. San Jose: 16-6 for Glitter Gulch.
Nashville vs. Dallas: 13-9 for Twang Town.
St. Loo vs. Winnipeg: 14-8 for the U.S. gateway.

Meanwhile, 21 of 22 had Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference and 18 of 22 predicted the Stanley Cup being paraded through the streets of Tampa in June. Only Kristina Rutherford (Boston), Stellick (Winnipeg), David Amber (Calgary) and Nick Kypreos (St. Louis) chose other outfits.

In short, they know squat.

Interesting that Drab Slab “expert” McIntyre is singing from a different songbook today, suggesting les Jets now are one big happy family.

Here’s what he told us on April 5: “Things appear to be rotten to the core with this team in a way that goes beyond the often lethargic, uninspired play we’ve seen on the ice far too many nights lately.” Mike M added that “multiple sources” informed him and fellow beat writer Jason Bell that “things are anything but rosy” and “there’s no joy to be found.”

Here’s what he’s telling us now: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice. Having been around this team all season, you get a pretty good sense of where the mood is at on a daily basis. Without question, players are as laser focused and locked in as they’ve been all season.”

Imagine that. All that alleged friction (“chaos”), all that alleged animosity (“infighting”), all that alleged rot (“dysfunction”) vanished faster than summer wages. Team Bicker has morphed into Team Good Ship Lollipop. Why, it’s a tap water-into-Molson Canadian miracle. Which one of the guys in that room wears sandals and walks on water? Blake Wheeler? Rink Rat Scheifele? Big Buff? Josh Morrissey?

It’ll make for a boffo story if les Jets pull this thing off. Except former cops-and-robbers reporter McIntyre apparently has the innuendo but not the facts, ma’am.

Puck Finn

Quickie question 1: Does the regular season bore Patrik Laine? I mean, the Puck Finn I’ve been watching in Beard Season isn’t the same Puck Finn I watched from October to April. Maybe the mystery Miracle Worker in les Jets changing room sprinkled him with happy dust. Or threatened to huck his track suit into the ice tub.

Just for the record, I’m not wearing a pair of Hindsight Goggles when I say les Jets will get by the Blues. I remind you of something I scribbled on Feb. 26, one day after the NHL shop-and-swap deadline: “What about the St. Louis Blues, you ask? What about them? Don’t be fooled by their run of good fortune. Once the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington, they’ll be back to run-of-the-mill.” I also mentioned something about a Nashville-Winnipeg skirmish in the second round. And, as recently as last week, I wrote that the local lads were not “a writeoff” even though they were in a 0-2 hole vs. the Blues at the time. But, hey, what do I know? I mean, I’ve never seen the inside of of their changing room to monitor the “mood” and I don’t have “multiple sources” like Mike M at the Drab Slab. I do it the old-fashioned way. I examine the rosters, watch the games, listen to some of the players wag their chins, then call it as I see it. The difference between the “experts” and me? They get paid to be wrong, I don’t.

Nazem Kadri

Quickie question 2: If Nazem Kadri is made available by the Tranna Maple Leafs once this Stanley Cup business is out of the way, should les Jets put in a bid on the loose cannon? No. Too much of a wingnut.

Check out the top three point-producers in the Stanley Cup tournament: Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, all added to the Vegas Golden Knights roster by general manager George McPhee in the past 10 months. Can you say GM of the year, kids?

Mitch Marner

Quickie question 3: When the time comes to talk turkey, how can les Leafs possibly argue that Mitch Marner doesn’t deserve as much coin as Auston Matthews? Unless they pay by the chin whisker, there’s no measure by which Matthews is worth more than Marner.

Headline in the Globe and Mail after Game 3 of Leafs-Bruins series: “Auston Matthews grabs the playoff spotlight for Maple Leafs.” Good grief. Marner and John Tavares were les Leafs best players, not Matthews.

And, finally, rumor has it that there’ll be a gathering in late May to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of les Jets third and final World Hockey Association championship. Will the current Jets still be in business by then? Yes. Absolutely. But remember, I’m no expert.

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About those “rotten to the core” Winnipeg Jets…cranking up the gossip mill…putting Wheeler and others on ignore…parting gifts instead of banners for the Habs…nothing but bridesmaids in Canada?…talking about Ponytail Puck…and lady golfers at Augusta

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and you are under no obligation to grow a beard during the Winnipeg Jets playoff run…

Apparently, the local hockey heroes have issues.

They might be Dr. Phil-level issues. They might be let’s-drag-Oprah’s-couch-out-of-storage-and-give-everyone-in-the-audience-a-gift issues. They might be order-another-pint-and-vent-to-a-bartender issues. Whatever the case, after a week of stick-shattering hissy fits, an airing of grievances behind closed doors, giving news snoops the cold shoulder, and canceled practices for the airing of additional grievances, we’re advised that the Winnipeg Jets are not right in the head.

It’s nothing specific, understand. No details. Just a strong suggestion from the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab that les Jets have come undone like a school kid’s shoelace.

And we all know what happens with kids and undone shoelaces, don’t we. That’s right. Face plants.

So I suppose Jets Nation should fear the worst as Winnipeg HC preps for its opening salvo of Beard Season vs. the St. Louis Blues. I mean, it can’t be very comforting for the rabble to learn that the behind-the-scenes situation with their favorite National Hockey League club is “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy” as they enter the Stanley Cup runoff.

That, at least, is the picture painted by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, and you can choose to believe him or pooh-pooh his take on the local lads. I mean, he ought to have some insider intel because he’s been dogging the local lads across North America since October, but, at the same time, Double M fell short of providing anecdotal evidence of squabbling in the inner sanctum. He merely referenced Multiple Sources who, along with Reliable Sources, is every reporter’s go-to informant when no one is willing to say what needs to be said out loud.

Let’s accept that he’s accurate, though, and Winnipeg HC is a house divided. Does that mean les Jets best-of-seven playoff assignment vs. St. Louis beginning Wednesday at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is a no-hoper? Not at all.

Allow me to direct your attention to the Winnipeg Jets circa 1978-79.

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Those of a certain vintage will recall the unique makeup of that outfit, in that it was actually two teams in one. On the heels of their second World Hockey Association title, les Jets were scuttled by a number of defections, most notably Ander Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to Gotham. To shore up a depleted roster, management purchased the nucleus of a Houston Aeros franchise that had gone belly up, with Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich and Scotty Campbell among the recruits.

It was a stroke of genius. Except for one thing: To say the Houston guys and the Winnipeg holdovers got along is to say hard-core Beatles fans were giddy when the dreaded Yoko Ono showed up on John’s arm one day. Some, myself included, still think of that as the day the music died, but I digress.

The Aeros-Jets had been fierce rivals on the freeze, and the residue of bitterly contested battles won and lost still existed when they began to share a changing room. Larry Hillman, the head coach of the day, could do nothing to achieve détente, in part because the Houston portion of the amalgamated roster was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

“You don’t think the rest of the players in this league don’t know that?” Robbie Ftorek said one night after he and the Cincinnati Stingers had laid a licking on les Jets.

Tom McVie

It wasn’t until Tom McVie arrived in River City, bull whip in hand behind the bench, that the boys clued in and began working in concert, a collaboration that resulted in an unlikely third WHA championship.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich told me the night the Jets put away the Edmonton Gretzkys to gain permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy. “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 confirmed.

So, when they drop the puck for the Jets and Blues skirmish, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the “rotten to the core” home side. Even squabbling outfits can get the job done.

Mind you, it would help if these Jets had Ruskowski, Lukowich, Preston and Campbell on board.

Coach Potty Mouth

You can dismiss McIntyre’s essay as nothing more than click-bait sensationalism, if you like, but my only issue with him is this snippet: “I’m not about to start feeding the rumor mill…” Good gawd, man, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Use the terms “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy”—especially without supporting quotes and/or facts—and you’ve got rumor and innuendo running faster than a scalded dog. Are the players PO’d because Patrik Laine spends more time playing Fortnite than backchecking? Has coach Potty Mouth lost the dressing room? Whose track suit is Dustin Byfuglien dunking in the ice tub? Gossip, gossip, gossip. And if les Jets don’t get past the Blues, it’ll really crank up.

Craig Button of TSN had this to say about les Jets in advance of the Stanley Cup tournament: “They’re a weak team giving up a lot of goals. They’re the weakest (Western Conference) team going into the playoffs.” Ouch. That’s “anything but rosy.”

Blake Wheeler

After all the pomp, the praise, the worship, the Sportsnet headlines, the tributes, the mattress commercials, and the blah, blah, blah about John Tavares, he finished with three fewer points than Blake Wheeler’s 91. Now, I don’t buy the pre-fab bunk that players in Good Ol’ Hometown fly under the radar, because people around the league know what Wheeler has done. But I will submit that les Jets captain gets ignored. But, then, so do other elite performers with Canadian-based outfits. Five of them—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner and Wheeler—outscored Tavares this season, yet all but McDavid received less than half the ink devoted to the Tranna Maple Leafs centre by national media. Just saying.

If you’re keeping score at home, another of the over-ballyhooed Leafs, Auston Matthews, scored at a clip of 1.07 points per game. Twenty players were as good or better. Again, just saying.

Just wondering: Can Dave Poulin of TSN talk without holding a pen in his hand?

Sam Pollock

I keep hearing pundits say this was a successful season for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow. I mean, the Habs will be on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the playoff fun commences this week. When did parting gifts replace championship banners as a suitable reward for the most storied franchise in NHL history? It’s like Tom Hanks being happy about losing an Oscar to Adam Sandler. I swear, ol’ Sammy Pollock must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Really strange headline No. 1: “Jets’ Patrik Laine evolves from sublime scorer to all-around player.” Ya, Puck Finn is an all-around player like a box of Timbits is a seven-course meal.

Really strange headline No. 2: “Even Oilers not stupid enough to trade Connor McDavid.” No, the Edmonton Oilers would never be so dumb as to deal away Connor McDavid. You know, just like they would never be so dumb as to trade away Wayne Gretzky.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith. A truly gifted writer. It’s just that sometimes he totally loses the plot. Like his take on the rise of Canadian tennis teens Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov: “Our tennis was becoming like everything else this country does on the international stage—a strong second.” Right. We’re always the bridesmaid in sports like hockey and curling. As if. And Brooke Henderson, Penny Oleksiak, Clara Hughes, Donovan Bailey, Mike Weir, Virtue and Moir, Mikael Kingsbury, Percy Williams, Daniel Nestor, Lennox Lewis, Barbara Ann Scott, Nancy Greene, the Crazy Canucks, Cindy Klassen, Susan Nattrass, Jim Elder, Northern Dancer, Steve Nash, Larry Walker, Jacques Villeneuve, etc….I guess they all finished second best, too. Come on, man, give your head a shake.

So nice of mainstream media to finally notice women’s hockey in a non-Olympics year. Too bad it took the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to grab their attention. I think their newly discovered interest in Ponytail Puck was best summed up in a tweet from Diana Matheson, a member of our women’s national soccer side: “Speaks volumes to the problem that my initial response to a discussion about women’s hockey on the radio, is to be surprised they are talking about it.” Now we’ll see if the MSM attention span lasts long enough to actually cover whatever teams emerge from the ashes of the CWHL.

And, finally, scientists say Canada is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. In other weather news, women golfed at Augusta National this weekend, so hell just froze over.

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 wedgies, swirlys and the trying times of Connor McMugged…advice from a meathead…drinking partners…a Finlandectomy for what ails Puck Finn…team values and Torts…ROT Syndrome strikes again…and it happened 40 years ago

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re into the dog days of the NHL season but not the dog days of blogging…

Anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown shedding crocodile tears for the Edmonton Oilers as they attempt to scratch and claw their way to the Stanley Cup runoff?

Didn’t think so.

I mean, if you count yourself among the rabble who root, root, root for the Winnipeg Jets and you remember the 1980s, feeling even a twinge of compassion for the Oil and their faithful is as daft as starting a GoFundMe campaign to pay O.J. Simpson’s legal fees.

Dave Semenko

How often did Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Anderson, Fuhr and the lads give les Jets a wedgie? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count that high. But I do know our guys were usually skating with their tighty whiteys hiked up to their ears. And the Oil repeatedly shoved the Jets’ heads in a toilet and flushed. Yup, wedgies and swirlys. The Boys On the Bus made an art form of hazing and schoolyard bullying. If our guys tried to fight back, Dave Semenko would duct tape one of them to a goal post and that would be the end of it.

So, sorry, there’s no sympathy for the devil. At least there’s not supposed to be. But I can’t help myself.

I like Connor McDavid, you see. A lot. He’s magnificent. No hockey player has captivated me like this since Bobby Orr. Trouble is, he’s surrounded by rubes.

Sinatra got to sing with Count Basie and his orchestra. Astaire got to dance with Ginger Rogers. Lennon and McCartney got to run ideas by one another. And McDavid gets to play with a bunch of guys who have more left feet than a lineup of Vegas show girls.

It’s like watching a John Wayne duster with the Duke riding out to catch the bad guys, only he’s got Larry, Curly, Moe and Shemp for a posse.

It’s slapstick shinny.

Worse yet, the Oilers captain has become Connor McMugged, the National Hockey League’s most talented pinata. A Drew Doughty elbow to the chops here, a nasty Hampus Lindholm shove/crosscheck into the wall there…meh. Nothing to see according to Sheriff George of the player safety committee. Play on. Or, in this case, mug on.

Between Oilers management and the league’s blind eye, I don’t know which is worse. But I do know I feel cheated by both.

That’s why I root for the Oilers to find their way to the playoffs. You don’t like that? Well, as my first sports editor Jack Matheson used to say, sue me.

Andrea Bocelli

Some misguided pundits (I’m looking right at you, Nick Kypreos) urge McDavid to fight back. You know, take the law into his own hands when the ruffians attack.

“I would have loved Connor McDavid to turn around and two-hand Lindholm,” Kypreos said last week on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “I don’t care. If Connor gets suspended a couple of games, so be it. Send a message. Send a message that I’m not taking this, okay? And Connor doesn’t have to fight, but pull the Mark Messier, pull a couple of old-time guys and say ‘Listen, you wanna shove me into the boards? I’m gonna take my stick and I’m gonna jam it down your throat. I don’t care if I get two games, 10 games, I’ll make a hundred and 50, two hundred million dollars by the end of my career, I’ll spend 50 grand, I’ll spend a hundred grand just to send a message to you and everybody else. I ain’t taking this.’ ”

Oh, sure. That’s the ticket. Turn the gooned into the goon. And, while we’re at it, let’s turn Andrea Bocelli into a common street busker. Perhaps we can persuade him to sing backup vocals for Nickelback. Let’s also tell Bill Gates to give up his life of philanthropy and start robbing banks. Maybe tell Stephen King to knock it off with the creepy stuff and start writing fluffy Harlequin romances about blonde bimbos.

As if.

Look, Kypreos was a meathead when he played in the NHL. He spent so much time in stir he should have worn an orange jump suit, not a hockey uniform. He got hit in the head once too often and had to quit because of it. And this meathead is advising McDavid to grow a pair? That’s like Mike Tyson advising Miss Manners how to behave during high tea.

Stay in your lane, Kipper.

Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad

Could this be true? When McDavid ran over Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers the other night, apparently it was the 16th time this season that he’s used his body for anything other than making foes look foolish. That’s it? Just 16 bodychecks in 43 skirmishes? Cripes, man, I hit more people than that in the first five minutes of a Boxing Day shoe sale. There’s more body contact in most seniors homes. (I don’t speak from personal experience, but I understand those old folks can be quite randy. Something to look forward to perhaps.) But, again, McDavid is wired for flash, dash and daring, not thump and bump. He’s a swashbuckler, not a shlep. And I don’t want him to change his game any more than I want McDonald’s to cook my next meal.

Enjoyed this nugget from Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton: “I’ve never been a referee-baiter. Indeed, I used to spend a lot of nights on the road drinking with them after games. Hockey writers have similar jobs as officials. We call them as we see them. And sometimes we’re wrong.” There’s a very good reason why refs and writers drink together—nobody else will drink with them.

Patrik Laine

The injury bug has taken a big bite out of the Winnipeg Jets lineup. MIA are Dustin Byfuglien (lower body), Twig Ehlers (upper body), Tyler Myers (lower body) and, of course, Patrik Laine (between the ears). Someone once said that Laine could score 40 goals “in his sleep.” Apparently that’s exactly what Puck Finn is trying to do this season. Seriously. Three goals since Dec. 1? Who stole Patrik Laine and stuck Chris Thorburn in his uniform?

Interesting question posed by Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: Are expectations too high for Puck Finn? Well, Laine has delivered 36- and 44-goal seasons to les Jets, so 35 or more is his standard. Anything less and there’s bound to be much grumbling among the rabble and, likely, some jock journos. No, that isn’t fair, but the kid gave himself two tough acts to follow.

Truthfully, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Puck Finn that an emergency Finlandectomy wouldn’t fix. Hey, it worked earlier during the crusade, didn’t it? I mean, Winnipeg HC toddled off to Finland for a couple of games and the kid responded with an 18-goal November. So send him home for some of mom’s home cooking during the all-star break.

Interesting that the Columbus Blue Jackets disciplined goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for his failure to meet what an official described as the club’s “expectations and values.” Doesn’t head coach John Tortorella do that every time he opens his gob for a to-and-fro with news snoops?

Mark Giordano

ROT Syndrome definition: “A hallucinatory affliction particular to keyboard jockeys who believe if it doesn’t happen in the Republic of Tranna it doesn’t happen.” Sad to report that Damien Cox continues to show symptoms of advanced ROT Syndrome. We know this because the Toronto Star columnist delivered this tweet last week: “For most, Morgan Rielly is the leading candidate to win the Norris (Trophy).” Who are these mysterious “most” people he mentions? His children? The guys he golfs with? The guys who tune up his car? After all, I doubt “most” of the Flames faithful in Calgary believe Tranna Maple Leafs defenceman Rielly is a more suitable candidate for the Norris than their guy Mark Giordano. What of the rabble in San Jose? Wouldn’t “most” of them be inclined to consider Brent Burns the frontrunner for the top rearguard trinket? Only a news snoop in The ROT would presume that “most” people who watch hockey are convinced Rielly is the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for ROT Syndrome, but there is temporary relief: Take two aspirin and actually watch a game outside the eastern time zone.

And, finally, if you’re into milestones, circle May 20 and Oct. 10 on your calendars. Those dates mark the 40th anniversaries of les Jets’ final World Hockey Association title and Winnipeg HC’s baptism in the NHL. I don’t know what I should celebrate—having witnessed those historic moments or still being able to remember them.

About $6 million worth of beans and wieners for the Winnipeg Jets…blame Ray Charles for Jimmy Mann…the Shoe fits…hockey teams and their value…hot-buttered takes from The ROT…the missing Munster son…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and don’t think for a minute that I’ve given much thought to any of this…

Fergy

It was mid-June 1979 and John Bowie Ferguson had just examined the list of players available to him in the National Hockey League expansion draft.

He winced. Then scowled.

Fergy rose to his feet and trudged across the main room of his 13th-floor suite in the fabulous Queen Elizabeth Hotel. He stopped in front of a large window, stared at the splendor that is Montreal, and noted that Mary Queen of the World Cathedral was directly across the street.

“Well,” I said, “I guess you have two choices, Fergy: You can go across the street and do some serious praying, or you can jump.”

The Winnipeg Jets general manager did neither. He just grunted.

Tom McVie

Head coach Tom McVie, sitting in a nearby chair, smiled and cracked wise: “You know,” he said, “there’s enough talent available for us to win the Allan Cup. It might be seven games, but if we get home ice in the seventh game, we could win.”

He was joking, but not far from accurate.

I don’t know what $650 million will buy the Seattle Whatsits two years hence when the new kids on the block piece together their expansion roster of rejects, but I do know what $6 million bought Fergy and the Jets in mid-June 1979—sweet petite.

The NHL’s existing 17 outfits, be advised, did not lean toward benevolence when they grudgingly agreed to accept les Jets, the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers into their shinny cartel. The plan was to first plunder the rosters of the World Hockey Association survivors—Winnipeg HC suffered the worst body count—then allow them to go on a dumpster dive for dregs.

Bobby Orr

Some interesting names were there for the choosing. Like Bobby Orr. Except the great No. 4 was crippled and retired. The Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was available, except he was 41 and, like Orr, finished. Fergy could have had former Jets head coach Larry Hillman, except Morley was 42 and hadn’t played in three years. Yvan Cournoyer? The Roadrunner was out of gas. I seem to recall there also being a dead guy on the list.

It was so bad that Fergy didn’t even bother to call out names on his final shout on draft day.

“Okay,” he muttered in a tone that suggested both protest and resignation, like a kid being force-fed one more mouthful of Brussels sprouts before dessert, “Winnipeg Jets take the last two players.”

Gene Carr and Hilliard Graves thus were added to a collection of misfits, mostly guys with marginal or diminished skills. Also some undesirable contracts. In sum, Fergy plucked 17 players that day: Peter Marsh, Lindsay Middlebrook, Bobby Hull, Al Cameron, Dave Hoyda, Jim Roberts, Lorne Stamler, Mark Heaslip, Pierre Hamel, Gord McTavish, Gord Smith, Clark Hamilton, Jim Cunningham, Dennis Abgrall, Bill Riley, Carr and Graves.

Still, combined with holdovers from the Jets 1979 WHA championship roster, that bunch easily could have won senior hockey’s Allan Cup, but they failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. They won 20 of 80 games, and just nine in their sophomore season.

We know the NHL has no plan to be similarly punitive with Seattle, because a $650 million sticker price demands that they get some sizzle with their steak. For the Jets, though, it was $6 million worth of beans and wieners.

The plundering of rosters and a player pool of ragged retreads weren’t the only indiginities inflicted upon the Jets and their WHA brethren. In a penalizing departure from established practice, the NHL ruled that the four expansion teams would choose last, rather than first, in the amateur draft. By the time Fergy used the No. 19 shout-out to pluck Jimmy Mann (talk about cruel and unusual punishment), guys like Ray Bourque, Rob Ramage, Mike Gartner, Craig Hartsburg, Paul Reinhart and Mike Foligno had already been snatched up. Ahead of the draft, Fergy had said, “Let’s face it, Ray Charles could pick the first-round drafts. We all know who they’re going to be.” So let’s all blame Ray Charles for Jimmy Mann.

Being bad had its benefits for Fergy and les Jets. Their names were Dave Babych and Dale Hawerchuk, plucked in the 1980 and ’81 entry drafts, respectively. With Babs and Ducky on board, les Jets soared from a nine-wins, 32-points season to 33 Ws and 80 points.

The Shoe

Nice to see Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Ab McDonald get the nod as the next inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. Sadly, both have left us, but I’m sure there’ll be a celebratory mood when some of the old boys gather to salute the two former captains on Feb. 26 at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

According to Forbes magazine, the Winnipeg HC franchise is now valued at $415 million, 27th among NHL clubs. Considering that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and co-bankroll David Thomson paid $170 million for their play thing, that’s a handsome hike. Mind you, it’s expected they’ll also be required to fork over $170M to Patrik Laine by the time he’s finished.

If you missed it, here’s how Forbes lists the value of each Canadian franchise: Tranna Maple Leafs $1.35 billion, Montreal Canadiens $1.3B, Vancouver Canucks $735 million, Edmonton Oilers $540M, Calgary Flames $450M, Ottawa Senators $435M, Winnipeg HC $415M. And, yes, now that you mention it, I don’t see how in the name of Cyclone Taylor the Jets can be worth less than the dysfunctional Senators. That’s like saying a pack of smokes is a better buy than gym membership.

This from Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star: “Not to overreact, but Auston Matthews is probably the best goal-scorer in the world. This isn’t a hot take; it’s maybe a take that you left in the microwave for like 15 seconds, long enough to soften butter but not melt it.” Sorry, Bruce, but that’s a totally hot-buttered Tranna take.

John Torotorella

Interesting to see loose cannon head coach John Tortorella adorned in a hoodie rather than a suit and tie behind the Columbus Blue Jackets bench last week. Apparently he was fit to be tied after the game, though.

When did women’s curling become more interesting and more entertaining that the men’s side? And does the curling season really begin before Vic, Cheryl and Russ are in the booth? No knock against Sportsnet’s coverage of Grand Slam events, but it just sounds right when Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard are making the calls on TSN.

Robin Munster

Is it just me, or does anyone else find TSN’s UFC gab guy Robin Black kind of creepy? I think he might be related to the Munsters. Maybe a distant cousin to Herman or Lily. Or separated from Eddie Munster at birth. Black might know his stuff (although anyone who picked Conor McGregor to whup Floyd Mayweather is suspect), but do we really need to see him rolling around inside the octagon? I know I don’t.

Paul LaPolice

Interesting that Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice took his name from the Tranna Argonauts head-coaching hunt. Not surprising, though. I mean, working in The Republic of Tranna is the Canadian Football League equivalent of a witness protection program. The 50/50 draw is larger at a backyard barbeque in Fort Garry than at BMO Field in The ROT. I could see Coach LaPo defecting to B.C., but Tranna? Only on a dare.

And, finally, forestry and lands people have discovered a hole the size of a CFL field in a remote B.C. park. It’s believed to be the biggest opening in North America now that Ondrej Pavelec has taken his five-hole back to the Czech Republic.

About Puck Finn and sports folklore from “back in the day” in Good Ol’ Hometown

Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.

The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.

Puck Finn

“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”

And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.

I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.

“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.

“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”

Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe

My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.

“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”

“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.

Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.

And that set me to thinking…

I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”

  • Ken Ploen

    Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.

  • Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.

  • Terry Sawchuk

    Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.

  • Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

  • Bluto

    Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.

  • Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.

  • The Finnish Flash

    Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.

  • Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.

About the ‘what ifs’ of a CFL quarterback carousel…East, West or North, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers still lose…Roberta Flack and the Bombers…and 68 candles

And now for something different, a Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…

Let’s begin with a series of what ifs. Such as…

  • Mike Reilly

    What if Bo Levi Mitchell takes his football and skedaddles south?

If that’s the case, a quarterback crisis will have officially arrived in the Canadian Football League. Maybe it already has.

At the close of business on Sunday, there were four elite QBs in the three-down game—Mitchell, Mike Reilly, Jeremiah Masoli and Trevor Harris. Matt Nichols would fit in as a Tier 2 guy who appears to be growing old in a hurry. After that, it’s a wasteland (ignore what the Cult Of Johnny at TSN would have you believe about their favorite lousy quarterback). There’s no one you would call a true No. 1 in Montreal, the Republic of Tranna, Saskatchewan and B.C. Add Calgary to the list if Bo Levi bolts.

  • Ricky Ray: Mugged again.

    What if there’s a fierce bidding war for Reilly?

If Reilly puts himself on the market, I can see the B.C. Lions making a pitch for their one-time backup. Hard to imagine Chris Jones not preferring Reilly behind centre in Saskatchewan, rather than the brittle Zach Collaros or the erratic Brandon Bridge. Assuming Ricky Ray isn’t interested in any more muggings, he’ll wave the white flag and surrender to Father Time, creating an opportunity with the Argonauts. But, really, why would Reilly want to perform in front of 9,000 people at BMO Field? (I’d suggest the arrival of Reilly would provide much-needed oomph to the box office in Tranna, but selling three-down football to folks in The ROT is like trying to sell six-inch stilettos to an elephant.)

  • Anthony Calvillo

    What if the Montreal Alouettes dump Johnny Manziel?

I believe the Alouettes are sold on Johnny Rotten, so good luck with that. An audience of 17,000 soon will be 12,000 or fewer. Call the undertaker. If they were to pursue and land Reilly, he would provide les Larks with their best quarterbacking since Anthony Calvillo and would also make them immediately competitive in a weak East Division, thus wooing customers back to Percival Molson Stadium.

  • Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

    What if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were to go after Reilly?

I think Mike O’Shea would lose his mind. He and Matt Nichols are attached at the hip. It would take the jaws of life to pry them apart. But if GM Kyle Walters has the opportunity to upgrade from a Tier 2 QB to an elite QB, he has to consider it.

  • What if Reilly found a home in Calgary?

Now there’s a radical thought. Imagine the main man from the main enemy camp joining the Stampeders. They wouldn’t miss a beat. Probably repeat as Grey Cup champions.

  • Trevor Harris

    What if Reilly stays in Edmonton with the Eskimos?

It’s my guess that’s how it’ll shake down. But if I’m John Hufnagel in Calgary and I lose Mitchell to the National Football League, I’m making a serious pitch for Reilly. I’m just spitballing here, but do you really expect Hufnagel to go into a CFL season without a QB? Next year we could have Reilly in Calgary, Harris in Bytown, Masoli in the Hammer, Nichols in River City and five QB-challenged outfits. And another Calgary-Bytown Grey Cup game. Yawn.

Okay, it’s agreed: The path to a Grey Cup championship is less of a challenge for East Division outfits, because a .500 or sub-.500 record usually earns you a home playoff date. Sometimes it gets you first place and a bye. So perhaps it’s unfair to compare the Bombers’ failures to the Bytown RedBlacks’ successes in the past five years (one Grey Cup title, three appearances).

However…let’s not lose sight of the fact Winnipeg FC spent 21 seasons in the East. The Bombers brought the Grey Cup home twice in the first four of those 21 years. After that, nada.

Now, I don’t often get into number crunching, because I find it boring and it’s too easy to pick and choose figures to create false narratives. But here are some simple numbers that support the notion that it doesn’t matter where the Bombers hang their helmets—they’ve lost West, East and North since winning the Cup in 1990.

If all those Sad Sack numbers aren’t enough to put a Big Blue loyalist off her or his breakfast, consider this: Roberta Flack had the top Billboard song of 1972 with the hauntingly beautiful The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and that’s the last time the Bombers ever saw first place in the West Division. That’s correct. Do not adjust your computer screen. It’s been 46 years. Ouch. Don Jonas was the Winnipeg FC quarterback back then. Trigger Spavital the head coach. Steve Juba was mayor of Good Ol’ Hometown and Ed Schreyer the premier of Manitoba. It would be another eight years before the Winnipeg Tribune shut down. Paul Henderson scored a big goal in Russia less than two months earlier, and the Winnipeg Jets were just one month into their inaugural World Hockey Association crusade. So, yes, it’s been a while.

And, finally, allow me close on a personal note this morning. I begin my 69th year on the third rock from the sun today. Never thought I’d see 68 candles on my birthday cake, but here I am. Still. Please don’t send cards, flowers or money. Save them for the funeral.