The Great Jersey Toss is Upon Us

…and the honeymoon is definitely behind

Entitlement is something that doesn’t exist in sports. The only title that matters is ‘champion,’ and one has to win it to deserve it.

I don’t know what exactly it is with Winnipeg sports fans—maybe we’re all a little jaded from the quarter century (and counting) Grey Cup drought that’s plagued the Bombers—that makes us think that we somehow deserve a winning team this very second. No one city of fans anywhere deserves anything.

Lately, people have been calling for a reform of the Jets’ upper ranks. They’re calling for blood on the social networks, and the blood they want is that of the GM and the owner and the very organization that brought the team here. Not even the players are safe…

And sometime I think, what the hell, the Twitter GMs are right…let’s give them a shot at running the team. What could go wrong with plans to trade Trouba, a third-year player with his peak seasons well ahead of him and much learning still on the way, straight up for Travis Hamonic, a sixth year player who in his first two seasons racked up over 170 PIMs? Last season, Hamonic found his way to the box for 85 minutes. This kind of player couldn’t possibly have repercussions for the Jets, right? But hey, the man want’s to play here, so clearly…

The armchair GMs would also bring in Steven Stampkos, bring back Lee Stempniak, lynch Andrew Ladd, and trade Dustin Byfuglien for, I don’t know, Drew Doughty. Sounds great to me. Hey Twitter, by the power vested in me, I hereby declare you hired.

While you’re at it, why don’t you guys sit down Mark Chipman and the rest of True North Sports and Entertainment and really show ‘em how to run a multi-million dollar business.

But in all seriousness, I really love the way people are trying to say that the ownership of this team is on the hook for a lousy performance in November (and that’s really what it all comes down to, that and a shitty power play), and that they are somehow ripping us all off. It’s totally true, too, and they all deserve a table saw to the jugular. Or maybe just a general strike, where no one buys tickets or merchandise anymore…yeah, that will show them. But the best way by far that we can show our ire with the organization is to continue the True North shout out during the anthem. But maybe we should all try and yell it louder and with more anger, that way, Chipman, sitting all the way up in the rafters, will feel a powerful vibration in his intestines every time and think, gee, these guys are really sending me a message here. Better make some phone calls and tell our boys to win some games.

At the conclusion of the season, the Jets’ championship drought will be at a dismal five seasons. But don’t seek the bomb shelter just yet. Intsead, consider the Calgary Flames who haven’t won the cup in 26 years. Or the New York Islanders, who last won the Stanley Cup in 1983. That’s a drought that, up to right now, has lasted 32 years. The Flyers last won the cup in 1975, which makes their drought currently sit at 40 years. And then there’s the Maple Leafs. The last time the Leafs won the cup was 1967, and it’s a date that’s been immortalized in music by the Tragically Hip. They’re on a drought of 48 years and counting (some have lived and died in that time), with no sign of a contending team on the horizon. Before 2010, the Blackhawks had gone 49 years without a Stanley Cup win.

The Jets have been a team (not including the first Jets) for a mere handful of seasons. Despite this, Jets fans are on the verge of a mass regurgitation of their precious jerseys, shirts and hats the likes of which would shame the renegade fans in Toronto. And it’s already begun with a tuque on the ice in Calgary after the Gaudreau hat trick. Perhaps before we all storm the gates and hang the Jets’ brass, lets all show our dissatisfaction with the entertainment that’s been presented to us by littering the ice surface with our prized colours.

I will acknowledge, however, that the Jets have seen better days. There current 32 points is the worst they’ve been at this point in the year since coming to Winnipeg. Even their last season in Atlanta was better by this date that year. On December 23rd last season, the Jets were 18-10-7, a healthy 43 points and right in the thick of it. This year, they’re a sad way away from being in the thick of anything besides the draft lottery race. By December 23rd in both the 13/14 and 11/12 seasons, the Jets had accumulated 37 points each, which would put them in third place in the wild card race just above the Avs.

All sarcasm aside though, ease up people. It’s just a game after all. Is our collective memory so short that we can’t remember the dark era of Winnipeg hockey? We’re not entitled to anything in the world of hockey just because we are Winnipeggers. We don’t deserve a Stanley Cup. One day though, if we’re patient, our team might develop into one that could win it.


Guns ablaze – A Playoff Trip to Saskatoon for the Winnipeg Rifles

The bus departed at nine in morning, and entered Saskatchewan a few hours later. Filled with young men, many playing the first serious playoff game of their life, the tour bus glided smoothly over the winding stretch of prairie highway. The sky was clear. The landscape rippled with hills that rolled on top of bigger hills that stretch out to a distant horizon. Streams and rivers carve out great gashes in the soft ground to form the great coolies. It’s a land that mimics the desert dunes.

Once you get north of Regina, the landscape takes on this face, and it’s one that’s quite different from the vast, great plateau that is south central Manitoba. This is the land where horses and bison once ruled.

The Winnipeg Rifles are in Saskatoon to face the Hilltops—a team that’s had their number for quite a while—after going four for four in the regular season and clawing their way to a playoff berth with a huge three game winning streak to cap off their most successful season since 2011.

The long bus ride in was calm. Players were at ease and cracking jokes, as one might expect from a group of 18 to 24-year-olds.

“Never trust an o-lineman when it comes to food,” said one player. “Like, why eat tacos on a bus.”

Another specifically requested Titanic for the in-flight movie. When he was denied, The Notebook was his backup.

The players looked cool and collected in the team walk-through upon entering Saskatoon, many of them showing off their one-handed grab skills. Some were warming up by playing ‘the knee game,’ which is, essentially, trying not to have your knee slapped by anyone else around you.

But coach Park has a booming voice, one that let’s you know when it’s time to get serious. And he’s not afraid to use it to keep his players in line and focused.

Once arriving at the hotel, the players checked into their rooms and then went down for a team dinner where hats are outlawed, and food is dished out in military-like order, starting with coaches and trainers.

After dinner, the coaches and coordinators went through some game film with their titans. The defensive coordinator asked his men what they were afraid of. One player replied, “dying,” another, “snakes.”

“No one’s afraid of the Hilltops,” said the coordinator. “They’re just dudes in football pads, no one’s afraid of them.”

The Rifles are cocked, loaded and ready to do battle on the gridiron tomorrow. But their opponents are one the best amateur football teams in the country. The Rifles have been playing great football of late. Their running game has been nothing short of stellar, with running back Michael Richott finishing second in the PFC with 801 yards. Their defense is solid and the Rifles own top spot in the PFC in picks with 6 from Braedy Will.

But the Hilltops have beaten the Rifles twice in consecutive weeks early on in the regular season, outscoring them 115-17.

Tomorrow, the Rifles play the biggest game of their lives so far.

The Nature of Prey

I have pets that require I keep an army of feeder crickets on hand at all times. While watching my cat literally torture an escapee, thoughts of the nature of prey enter my mind like a puck off the stick of Mark Scheifele might enter the opposing team’s net. This cat is by no means starving. She’s most likely not even hungry. Proof of that is in the torture of the cricket, and not the eating.

She’s been playing with this bug now for the past five minutes. She’ll paw at it, puncturing the exoskeleton, and then pick it up in her mouth crushing it a bit. But anyone who’s ever owned reptile can attest to the toughness of the cricket. Her plaything escapes death for a while, until she decides she’s bored with it, and devours her prey.

There’s nothing strange about this, of course, unless you really think about it. We like to think about animals being purely instinctual and driven by need. But my cat, Static, is not hungry when she torments her prey; she is not driven by need. She is entertaining herself in a twisted way by inflicting pain on an inferior species. She’s driven by want.

This is actually quit disturbing, if put into perspective properly. For example, my dragons are predators too, who also prey on crickets. They are pretty nasty when they feed. But the extent of their hunting is purely need driven.

I have a python, too. Not a top predator in its natural habitat, however, their cousins can rise to the top of the food chain in other ecosystems that weren’t meant to handle them, like what’s happening in Florida. My python will savagely attack its pre-killed prey as if its heart still beats beneath its tiny rib cage by striking at it with lightning speed, and then slowly squeezing the life (well, technically the life is already gone from the rat, but don’t tell the snake that…) out of it before consuming it whole. It’s actually a horrific sight that inspires an adrenaline rush even after a few times witnessing.

The cat is a top predator in the wild (not in the house, mind you), and maybe that’s why Static will play with and torture her prey like a sadist. Perhaps, these other predators need to get the job done as quickly as possible in order to return to their hiding place, so to not suffer the same fate.

The reason why this is so disturbing is two-fold. First, when humans do this to other humans we put them in a box for the rest of their lives (in certain cases, we put them in a doctors office for a few years before unleashing them back into society). Second, the entertainment I get from watching her torture the lower form of life is worrisome. Not in the way that I’m actually worried about the state of my mental health, but worrisome in the way that humanity simply has a twisted, dark side to it.

In hockey, there are teams that are predators, top predators and there are prey teams. The Winnipeg Jets haven’t been a prey team this season, but they also haven’t been a top predator team, either. But they’re close. In the last few weeks they’ve beat San Jose and LA: two teams in the hunt for a playoff position. One might even go so far as to say that the Jets were responsible for ending the hunt for the Sharks. They’ve also beat teams like the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and the Tampa Bay Lightning; all teams that could be described as top predators in the NHL.

The reason why the Jets haven’t yet achieved the status of top predator in the league is because like the dragons, they want to kill and eat their prey as quickly as possible to try to survive an attack from a top predator. They don’t have the prowess, yet, to play with their prey and torture and kill them slowly by inflicting a series of painful, but non-fatal blows. In this scenario, the world the top predator lives in, it’s the build up of pain that kills the prey. Eventually, the body gives up its will to live. The pain becomes so intense that the mind recoils and decides that death, the very thing instinct is around to prevent, becomes a welcomed friend.

Once the Jets get that kind of killer instinct they will win the Stanley Cup. Until then, they will just be one of the predators fighting it out in the arena like ancient gladiators among captured tigers.

Real Hockey Players Love it in Winnipeg—A Retort to the ‘No Trade Clause’ Story

It has recently been published in the media that Winnipeg is among the markets that players in the NHL least want to be traded to. This comes from the mouths of agents who apparently regurgitate the feeling of their players that say it’s too cold here or whatever else.

Winnipeg was among other cities like Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa in the top five places players don’t want to be traded to.

Ironically, half of the players in the NHL are Canadian, and for some reason they don’t want to play in Canadian cities.

It’s understandable that players not want to move to Edmonton to become an Oiler. The Oilers haven’t had a good team in years, and their rebuild period seems endless. They seem content drafting for offensive power while neglecting the defensive end, and until they learn that success is built from the back end out, they will continue to rebuild.

I can even understand the players not wanting to be moved to Toronto, because…who would? There’s just far too much Toronto in Toronto. The Leafs suck and they always will. It would be fair to call them the Blue Bombers of the NHL. Moreover, the media in Toronto is a menacing beast so relentless that the rest of the country is subjected to constant spillover news updated about the Leafs, Raptors and Argonauts, and how the city wants to buy its way into the NFL. Why would a player want to be a part of that? Would it be soul crushing? One thing is for sure, to survive in a market like Toronto one would need skin as thick as a dragon, the nerve of cage-fighter and balls of a fine brass alloy.

I’ve lived in Ottawa. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. There is so much to do there, and with Montreal and Toronto only a few hours drive away there is even more. I’ve been to Senators games. The vibe for hockey in the nations capital is resounding. The building is loud. What more could a player want?

I’ve been a Winnipegger since the day I was born. What can I say about my backyard town? Even when I tried to escape it by moving to Ottawa seven years ago, it found me and dragged me back. They say that once you’re a Winnipegger, you’re a Winnipegger for life. I’m living proof of that statement. There’s a real raw feeling to this town. It can be nasty sometimes, it can be dirty sometimes, it can be downright hard other times, but Winnipeg is a big city with a small town vibe, and as such, we pull together as a community when shit needs to get done.

Case in point: it took only 17 minutes to sell 13,000 season tickets as part of the deal to finalize the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers and bring Winnipeg its second pro hockey team. Other markets should take note for this is how hockey should look. To say the fans in this city are passionate would be an understatement. MTS Centre is the only arena in the world where crazed fans chant out the name of a corporation during the national anthem. The True North shout-out has become iconic, and it’s something that spans the continent. When you hear it live, it forces the hairs on the back of your neck to stand, and forgetting is impossible.

This hockey crazed town, coupled with True North Sports and Entertainment has made the MTS Centre one of the most successful arenas in North America. The Jets sell out every home game of the season, every season they’ve been here. And the team has been consistently getting better every year. This is a young team that’s building. It has a very bright future, one that will no doubt come to a climax beneath a hoisted Stanley Cup; maybe not this season, but soon. What hockey player wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Evander Kane, for one. Here is a guy who, from the start seemed to hate it in Winnipeg. I wonder how he felt in Atlanta, where no one knew his name. Or how he’ll feel in Buffalo, where the team will lose more games than they’ll win for the next few years. Players like Evander Kane want to be a Boston Bruin, a Chicago Blackhawk or an L.A King because they seem to think there is more superstar status associated with clubs of the like. Maybe it’s true, but good luck competing for name notoriety in Boston against the likes of Rob Gronkowski or Tom Brady of the New England Patriots…I hear they’re pretty famous.

I get the feeling that, while the Kings do well for themselves in L.A, there are so many people in that city that an NHL organization could thrive as a niche market. Compared to markets like Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa, the NHL is the sports market. Players become more than just famous in these cities, they become icons, celebrities and living deities.

Maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong, though. Maybe the lens is too zoomed in. Perhaps, when growing up lacing on the skates at five years old and dreaming of the NHL, kids aren’t thinking about becoming relatively comparable to Leonardo Dicaprio. Maybe they’re just dreaming of the NHL. Maybe that’s why there should be courses in hockey colleges across the country on how to handle the media in Canada, that way we don’t scare our children south of the border.

As far as the climate excuse that the agents gave…I don’t buy that. These are, for the most part, Canadian players playing a winter game they get paid millions to play. If their measure for success in life was to escape the cold winters of Canada, then why play hockey?

Maybe these players in question, and their agents would be better suited for cities like Raleigh where the Hurricanes can’t even fill half their building and no one cares. Or they could play for the Panthers organization where, again, no one comes and no one cares. Or they could play in the desert where the NHL had to bail out the organization just so it could keep its head above water. That’s the city that took the first Jets, by the way. Or maybe, just maybe, if these players are lucky and patient enough, a team might just land in Las Vegas and everyone can fight over who gets to be the first ‘Poker Chip’ (or whatever they might call the team) and be part of a fad market that will burn through its interest in hockey like a 5-year-old with A.D.D trying to read a paperback novel (remember those?).

One thing is for sure: players like Evander Kane would love it in Vegas because his money phone would be more than welcome there, he would be able to play in the casinos every night and live like a rock star. He’d never have to worry about messing his hair from putting on a tuque, and he’d never have to be subjected to a fashion faux pas like wearing a parka…get real.

Teemu Selanne loved it here in the ‘Peg. But then again, he was a real hockey player!