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.

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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.

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

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

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randy Ambrosie

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

This week’s CFL power rankings…

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

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

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

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

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

That begs questions, though. To wit:

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

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

About a bummer night for the Winnipeg Jets…an amber alert for Puck Finn…Twig snaps his goal drought…Republic of Tranna media getting it wrong again…and much ado about nothing for NBC

If the Jets and Leafs are playing, it’s worth writing about…

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Paul Maurice

Bummer, eh? A 4-2 loss to the Tranna Maple Leafs wasn’t what you, your hired hands or the rabble were looking for on Wednesday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. But, hey, sometimes life bites.

Like, it must really bite for Puck Finn right now. I mean, Patrik Laine looks as lost as a guy trying to find a crosswalk at Portage and Main. He plays five-on-five hockey like a milking cow plays the piano. Clumsy? It’s like he’s skating with a sawed-off peg leg he borrowed from Long John Silver. If he doesn’t find his game soon, you’ll have to issue an amber alert for the kid.

What’s that you say, Coach PoMo? You really don’t know what to do with Puck Finn?

Puck Finn

Well, here’s a thought: Don’t ever, under any circumstances, play him on the left flank again. Except on the powerplay, of course. I’m not sure what you were thinking when you had him skate with the Winnipeg Jets big dogs—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—vs. les Leafs, but a card-carrying democrat would be a better fit at a Trump rally.

The good news is, you and Puck Finn have ample time to figure this thing out. You’re only 10 games into the National Hockey League crusade, so eventually the light will go on, figuratively and literally.

You know, like it finally did for Twig Ehlers.

I don’t know what you told the boys after two periods on Wednesday night, Coach PoMo, but I have a hunch you went all potty mouth on them. That’s what a hockey coach did back in the day, you realize. If his team was soiling the sheets—which your Jets surely had done through 40 minutes—he’d blister them and peel some paint off some walls with language not suitable for the dinner table or mixed company. They’d have first-degree burns to their egos.

Twig Ehlers

What’s that? What do I know about back in the day? Listen, Coach PoMo, I was watching hockey 10 years before your mama wrapped you in your first diaper. Hey, I’m an old lady. Old enough to share my apartment with two dozen cats and not notice. Trust me, I’ve seen some things, including hockey when bodychecking was allowed.

But I digress. It’s about Twig Ehlers.

Whatever message you conveyed to the fellas in those gawdawful aviator blue unis during their second recess apparently registered with Twig. It wasn’t just that he scored for the first time in 27 assignments, he played like he was a bit PO’d.

I think Laine needs to play like he’s a bit (or a lot) PO’d, Coach PoMo.

Anyway, Twig’s goal was the sole positive takeaway from a bummer of a night. But, hey, you get another crack at les Leafs in the Republic of Tranna on Saturday night.

You know what we called Saturday night back in the day, Coach PoMo? Bath night. Yup, we’d get ourselves freshly scrubbed behind the ears, then hunker down to watch les Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens on our black-and-white TV screens. The Habs and Leafs usually cleaned up in those days, too. Won the Stanley Cup 13 times in 14 springs (1956-69).

They’re thinking that way in The ROT again, Coach PoMo. Silly people. You and I both know that your Jets are the best bet to hold a Stanley Cup parade in Canada.

It would help, of course, if you could do something to spruce up Puck Finn’s game. But, like I said, there’s ample time. And I don’t think anyone’s prepared to throw the kid out with the bath water just yet.

Just to refresh, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn combined for 73 goals last season. Today they have four, all three of Laine’s coming on the powerplay. Thus, they’ll need to average a goal a game between them to match their 2017-18 total. Tall order but doable.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

I think it’s swell that folks hither and yawn have noticed les Jets, but I wish wordsmiths and natterbugs in The Republic of Tranna would get their facts in order before spewing nonsense about Good Ol’ Home Team.

Consider, for example, old friend and genuinely good guy Lance Hornby’s recent take on Winnipeg HC:

“Bobby Hull’s record $1-million deal in their second season of 1972-73 angered the NHL establishment—led by Harold Ballard—and got the Golden Jet booted off Team Canada while truly stirring anti-Eastern sentiment,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe scribbles. “Hull inspired two other 100-point players, Christian Bordeleau and Norm Beaudin, but the big bang was a year later, when the Nordic invasion of Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Velli Pekka-Ketola and Heikki Riihiranta occurred.”

Wrong. The 1972-73 crusade was the Jets’ first, not their second, in the World Hockey Association. The “big bang” of the Swedes and Finns, meanwhile, followed two seasons later, not one.

Nick Kypreos

Next we had Nick Kypreos weighing in on les Jets:

“Kyle Connor. Nobody’s really mentioned the fact that this guy is quietly gonna lead them in scoring—again,” he crowed on Hockey Central @ Noon on Sportsnet.

Wrong. Connor has never led the Jets in scoring.

Here’s Kypreos on Laine: “When it’s all said and done, this guy’s gonna end up with 30 goals again, easy. He’s not been used in Winnipeg as a No. 1 guy. Think about that for a second. If you really go and study his numbers…he’s been a second-line kinda guy his whole career, short career in Winnipeg. You kind of look at him and go “What happens if he was on another team and they use him like Ovechkin?’ So, maybe he only ends up with 28 or 30 goals this year. Maybe he does have that kind of secondary result off of that type of ice time. There’s some nights he’s played 13-14 minutes. He’s not an 18-to-20-minute guy and probably won’t be. He’ll always be in that kind of secondary…he’s a powerplay guy but he’s also secondary, you know, Ehlers, Little.”

Wrong. I don’t know what numbers Kypreos was talking about but, prior to the engagement with les Leafs, Laine spent an average of 16-plus minutes on the ice in the Jets first nine assignments, not 13-14. His low-water mark was 15:25. He topped out at 21:20. He was averaging 19 shifts per game. Against les Leafs, it was 22:23 and two dozen shifts.

You’ll have to forgive me if I fail to understand why some mainstream media made a large deal about NBC coming to River City to broadcast the Leafs-Jets joust. At best, it’s a footnote. Yet the Winnipeg Free Press came across like the Country Bumpkin Times by splashing it on the sports front, with a feature article by Mike McIntyre. The Winnipeg Sun, on the other hand, devoted exactly one sentence to The Peacock Network’s presence. The tabloid gave it appropriate play. The broadsheet lost the plot.

Department of Irony: On its website, the Freep trumpeted the McIntyre NBC piece as one of its Above the Fold features, yet in the actual print newspaper it ran the story below the fold. Go figure.

About an eastern bum and creep invading River City…Champions ‘R’ Us…No. 4 Bobby Orr…Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and the puck…goaltender shrinkage?…hype from The ROT…going to pot…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

Every now and then, a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna gets distracted or lost and mistakenly wanders into the colonies, whereupon he feels obliged to remind the locals that they suck.

Damien Cox is one such news snoop.

Jennifer Jones and gal pals won Olympic gold, but didn’t get a parade.

Apparently, Cox took a wrong turn on the way to another Auston Matthews revival meeting last week, and he found himself in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets commencing the home-ice portion of their National Hockey League crusade.

This, be advised, is known in his trade as “slumming it,” because no one from The ROT considers a trip to the frozen tundra a plum assignment, even if the tundra has not yet frozen over. So the Sportsnet scribe/gab guy must have lost a bet or wet the bed in order to draw such an odious chore. In either case, he made a whistlestop in River City, no doubt holding his nose while going about the business of informing the nation that Peggers have been root, root, rooting for a batch of Sad Sack athletic outfits lo these many years.

“There’s a thirst for a championship here,” he advised his vast audience.

That simply isn’t true. How can Winnipeg “thirst” for anything when it’s the Slurpee Capital of the World? Nineteen years running, no less! That, my friends, is literally the ultimate in thirst-quenching titles.

Alas, like so many before him, Cox ignored our 19-year world domination in sucking up sugary slush, focusing instead on how our football and hockey heroes suck. He noted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have come up empty every year since their Grey Cup-winning crusade of 1990, while les Jets are oh-fer-the NHL.

“It’s been a while since they held a parade in these parts,” he added.

Well, excuuuuuuse us all to hell just because we don’t bust out the floats and marching bands every time one of our jocks or teams brings a title home. If we did that, we’d have no time to shovel the sidewalks or swat mosquitoes.

Winnipeg Goldeyes: More proof of a championship team from River City.

But Cox wants championships? I’ll give him championships:

Olympic curling: 2
World curling: 5
Canadian curling: 13
Olympic speed skating: 2
World speed skating: 6
CIS football: 1
CIS basketball: 5
CIS hockey: 1
Professional baseball: 4
Slurpee Capital of the World: Nine-freaking-teen!

All that since the Bombers last ruled the Canadian Football League.

But, hey, no parades. And if a championship isn’t parade-worthy apparently it’s like that tree falling in the forest—it doesn’t really happen if no one is there to suck down a Slurpee at the same time.

The 1979 WHA champion Winnipeg Jets. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull are nowhere to be seen.

Having outriders come to town and point out flaws is bad enough, but they really get up my nose when they don’t do their homework. For example, Cox included this in the first of two dispatches from Winnipeg: “Not since the Avco Cup days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson have the Jets been as serious a contender for a championship as they are now.” Totally wrong. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull weren’t in the vicinity when les Jets won their third, and final, World Hockey Association title in 1979. The Swedes were in Gotham and Hull had retreated to a cattle ranch. Thus, les Jets haven’t been a “serious contender” since the Avco World Trophy days of Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Sullivan, Scott Campbell, Suitcase Smith et al.

Cox also suggests that June 2019 would be the “perfect time” to hold the next championship parade in River City. Wrong again. Late next month would be the perfect time. That would mean the Bombers have won la Coupe Grey. A Stanley Cup parade in June would be the cherry on the sundae.

Loved the Hometown Hockey feature on No. 4 Bobby Orr on Sunday night. You can have Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe, but I’ll start my team with Bobby Orr every time. I still get goosebumps watching film of that man skate and sift through foes like they’re pylons.

Fashion note: My goodness but that Jets third jersey is a dreadful garment. Winnipeg HC broke out the new threads vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, and they actually look worse than I had imagined. Seriously, is it too late for a do-over?

What exactly does Puck Finn of les Jets do when he doesn’t have the puck? Not a whole lot, it would appear. What does Twig Ehlers do when he has the puck? Again, a whole lot of nada. And these guys play on the same line?

If goaltender equipment is supposedly getting smaller, why does Laurent Brossoit of les Jets look like he has a sofa bed stuffed under his uniform?

If you listen to Greg Millen long enough, you’ll become convinced that everything that happens in a hockey game is “unbelievable!” It’s kind of “unbelievable” that he’s still on the air.

Can you hear the hype about Auston Matthews.

Yes, the hype machine in the Republic of Tranna is operating at peak volume now that the Maple Leafs are playing hockey like it’s the 1980s.

Auston Matthews has scored 10 goals in the first two weeks of the NHL season, so surely he’s better than Connor McDavid. And, hey, while we’re at it let’s mention him in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky (yikes!). Then there’s defenceman Morgan Rielly, mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Orr (double yikes!) because he has 13 points half a dozen games in.

I agree, the east media’s rush-to-greatness for the Leafs and their star performers is a tad over the top.

If nothing else, though, the silliness spawned a giggle-worthy, east-west Twitter to-and-fro between two longtime shinny scribes—the aforementioned Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star and Jim Matheson of Postmedia E-Town.

Matheson: “Typical Toronto bias that anybody would think Matthews is as good as McDavid. Did I miss the two scoring titles that Matthews has won? Can we just put a halt on the hysteria surrounding Matthews and Rielly here, besting Gretzky and Orr feats. We’ve played two weeks of the schedule folks. If Matthews gets 216 pts in a season call me. If Rielly gets 47 goals in a season call me.”

Cox (being smarmy, of course): “Now if they played for Edmonton, hysteria would be understandable and sensible.”

Debating the best in shinny is nothing new. When I was a kid, the argument centred on Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. It became a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux discussion for the next generation. Then Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Some pundits still believe that Denis Potvin was better than Orr (as if).

Best lip service of the week was delivered by Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, who had this take on les Leafs. “We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” he told the Washington Post following a loss to Tranna. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I would think.”

Bravo to Bob Irving of CJOB. The broadcasting legend called his 800th Bombers game on Saturday when the local lads gave the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 31-zip wedgie. I don’t think I’ve done anything 800 times, except maybe go for pints.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (12-3): Cracks beginning to show.
2. Winnipeg (9-7): From the dregs to the playoffs?
3. Saskatchewan (10-6): Have to do it on D or won’t get it done.
4. Edmonton (8-8): Finally righted the ship.
5. B.C. (8-7): Hard to believe they’re still alive.
6. Hamilton (8-7): Team to beat in the East.
7. Ottawa (8-7): Still can’t get a handle on them.
8. Toronto (3-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-12): Worst starting QB in the league.

And, finally, pot becomes legal in Canada this week. Might try some of that whacky tobbacky to dull the noise the next time TSN broadcasts a Johnny Manziel game. Actually, no. Didn’t do weed in the 1960s, not going to go there now.

Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.