08 Apr

Weasels Are #1

I would remiss if I did not acknowledge something that happened in the world less common than the sighting of Hailey’s Comet. It might even be rarer than an NDP government exercising some semblance of fiscal responsibility, but I don’t know if I would go quite that far.
Nonetheless, this Earth-shattering event doesn’t exactly happen every day.
The Arizona Screaming Weasels, a.k.a. Phoenix Coyotes, nee Winnipeg Jets, are the champions of the Pacific Division.
That’s right. The Weasels won their division.
That’s even hard to type.
Personally, I have no use for the Weasels and I don’t particularly care whether they win the Stanley Cup or miss the playoffs. But it is a particularly noteworthy and historic event.
They claim that it is their first division title in franchise history.
It is their first division title as members of the NHL, but do you remember the last time the franchise won a division title?
It was 1976 and the Jets had finished atop the WHA’s Canadian Division, narrowly edging the Quebec Nordiques.
It was the Jets’ second and last WHA division title.
That year, the Jets were led by the Hot Line of Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, and Bobby Hull, who were together for their second season. New faces such as Peter Sullivan, Bill Lesuk, and Willy Lindstrom, along with new coach Bobby Kromm helped transform a team that had missed the playoffs the previous year into a bona fide contender.
The Jets swept the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, then they met the Calgary Cowboys in the second round. The Cowboys had upset the Nordiques in an ugly series that featured Rick Jodzio’s attack on Marc Tardif at Le Colisee, prompting police presence on the ice. Jodzio later faced criminal charges for the incident.
The Jets dispatched the Cowboys in five games, then waited for the two-time defending AVCO Cup champion Houston Aeros to finish a long series with the New England Whalers. The Jets swept the Aeros and captured their first AVCO Cup championship on May 27.
Though the Jets were a bit shorthanded with injuries to defensemen Ted Green and Thommie Bergman, it is interesting to speculate as to what would have happened if they had met the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens in a true “World Series of Hockey”. It might have been the greatest series in the game’s history that was never played.
Nonetheless, that team was one of the best of its era. And they did win a division title.
It took 36 years for the franchise to win another.
I wonder how many people will be in attendance in Glendale this coming Thursday night who were even alive the last time the franchise was a division champion.
08 Apr

Open for Business on Easter

This morning, I was out near Brookside Cemetery. Perhaps because of the Easter holiday, there was significantly less traffic than even a normal sleepy Sunday morning.
There was, however, one exception.
As I proceeded west along Notre Dame Avenue past Red River College, I noticed a red car parked along Brookside Boulevard farther north. On one side are the airport grounds, protected by a chain-link fence and on the other side is an empty grass field.
Besides me, there was not a soul around for a country mile.
My first instinct was to look for a dog. Though many irresponsible dog owners treat the entire city like an off-leash dog park, someone might have made the effort to go out there to let their dog(s) run loose instead.
As I got closer, I didn’t see a dog.
Perhaps someone ran into car trouble and went off looking for help?
I turned the corner at Brookside and proceeded north.
Seconds later, the driver of the car nearly jumped out of his seat and sprang to attention. He put on his flashers and didn’t move a muscle as I passed by.
Seated next to the older gentleman behind the wheel was a young woman.
The only logical explanation I can see is that the two of them were heavily involved in a deep discussion on the true meaning of the Easter holiday.
Then again, you don’t suppose that I interrupted the delivery of some, ahem, personal services, do you?
Couldn’t be.
We all know what respectful, law-abiding citizens Winnipeggers are.
Such things would never happen in our city.
Or would they?
You be the judge.
07 Apr

Lost Souls

Yesterday, I was on Hecla Island with a friend. We had a nice day and we put on more than 18 miles on our bikes.
We mostly had the island to ourselves, except for a couple of lost travelers.
“We’re from Fairford, eh?” said one of them to me.
It turns out they took a wrong turn trying to get home and strayed off course.
Way off course.
“Is there, like, an old Highway 8 and a new Highway 8?”
I’m afraid not, at least not that far north.
For those not familiar with the geography of Manitoba, below is a screen shot from the relevant section of the latest Manitoba map. The black “X” on the right is where we met these lost travelers. The red “X” on the upper left is where they were trying to go.

I realize that there are many directionally-challenged people in the world, but I couldn’t help but wonder how long they had been driving, utterly oblivious to the fact that they were nowhere close to home.
They would likely have passed Riverton and noticed little in the way of civilization, nor any signage on the highway for Fairford. Having travelled on PTH 6, where they should have been, there are signs for the town on the highway.
They would have crossed the causeway, entered Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park, passed both Hecla Village and the sign indicating the end of PTH 8. We saw them a few miles north of that sign.
Surely, somewhere along the way, they would have realized that they weren’t going in the right direction.
Evidently not, however.
I didn’t have a map with me, but, from memory, I knew where Fairford was and roughly how to get there. I directed them back the same way they came, across the causeway, where they would likely find a road near Riverton that would take them in the general direction of Fairford. At the very least, I knew that PTH 68 near Hnausa linked up with PTH 6 at Eriksdale and they could go north from there.
Armed with better directions than what got them there, they thanked me and took off.
A half hour later, my friend and I were travelling southbound near the causeway. We spotted them travelling north.
We both shook our heads.
They were headed right back to the same place we had just seen them.
Having spotted us, however, they changed course and decided turn around and follow us.
They kept a couple of car lengths behind us until we got back to the mainland.
Then they turned off onto a side road.
I could only think of the famous Bugs Bunny quote, “I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”
For all I know, that’s where they ended up.
Next time they decide to go travelling, they should try leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind them.
01 Apr

Another Lost Season

Another hockey season in Winnipeg has gone down the toilet.
Mark Chipman is officially 0 for 1 as an NHL general manager.
Oh sure, the team won some games. They got you worked up, didn’t they?
They almost made the playoffs. They spent one whole day in first place.
Be still my beating heart.
And then they went into the tank.
Sound familiar?
I’ve been down that road with the real Jets far too often, back in the day when simply making the playoffs wasn’t a cause for a parade. Gluttons for punishment, however, many of you must really miss that feeling.
I don’t.
Yes, I miss the Jets.
I miss the Hot Line. I miss Dale Hawerchuk. I miss listening to Friar Nicolson and Curt Keilback on the radio.
But I don’t miss the heartache. I also don’t miss Mark Chipman and his melancholy band of servile cronies who act like they are Heaven-sent gifts to our city. Instead, I prefer to do business with organizations that appreciate my patronage rather than expecting it.
So many of you thought that by moving a woeful franchise to a more so-called traditional hockey market would magically transform the team into a Stanley Cup contender.
Not exactly.
But there’s always next year, right?
At least for now, while many of you are still willing to cough up big money to watch a team that made John Ferguson’s Jets look like world beaters and while Chipman can keep bleeding the public treasury to subsidize the operation.
I’d be shocked if the NHL’s most domineering owner did anything else in the off-season besides adding some more eager, low-budget, minor-league free agents with Manitoba heritage to his roster. Anyone expecting anything more over the summer will be left bitterly disappointed.
Chipman might call up his buddy Greg on Broadway demanding yet another handout, but that might be the highlight of the off-season.

Chipman wants to win. But it’s not nearly as important to him as it is to many of you.

Year Two of Chipman’s reign as an NHL general manager, assuming there isn’t a strike, won’t be much different than Year One.
A blind squirrel stumbles upon an acorn once in a while, but not very often.
You wanted the Atlanta Thrashers?
You wanted a Mark Chipman team?
You got one.
As I’ve said many times before, be careful what you wish for.