Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Jets Site Update

For those interested in Jets' history, I've added two new feature articles on my Jets site:


The first details the "Double Ditch" incident in 1980 and the second covers the circumstances behind the Jets' first sellout crowd.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Virtual Drive Around Manitoba

For those of you who are interested in a virtual drive around Manitoba, here are some of my most recent updates on CanHighways.com:






These shots come from separate tours I've taken to the Morden Corn and Apple Festival as well as to the Peace Gardens. There's a lot more at that site if you wish to browse around.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Going Out With Class

In recent years, Manitobans have been treated to some sore losers in the political arena. The names of former MP’s Anita Neville and Raymond Simard are foremost among them.

We listened as these defeated candidates, ingrained with a feeling of a preordained right to hold public office, complained and whined rather than exit with grace.

Such cannot be said for outgoing Manitoba PC leader Hugh McFadyen.

On the heels of a second consecutive disastrous campaign that has saddled us with yet another term of a spend-happy NDP government and a near billion-dollar deficit, McFadyen stepped down as leader. Manitobans can only hope his successor has the stones to take the offensive and hit the NDP hard. Trying to outspend the NDP is not the answer.

In spite of the humiliating defeat, however, McFadyen has resisted the temptation to behave like a spoiled brat, unlike Neville and Simard. In particular, he graciously received visitors in his office at the Legislative Building last Saturday accepted best wishes from Manitobans, including myself.

However he may have dealt with his political fate privately, he put a smile on for the public and held himself to a higher standard.

As the conduct of our elected officials continues to deteriorate, McFadyen’s exemplary class under trying circumstances is a breath of fresh air.

Elsewhere from last Saturday’s annual open house at the Legislature, I noted with interest how one particular MLA handled the two-hour affair that afternoon.

A relative newcomer to Manitoba politics, this MLA tried [his/her] luck in the most recent civic election and was trounced by an incumbent ripe for the picking. In the civic election, [he/she] boasted on [his/her] campaign Web site how [he/she] always made an effort in past elections to discover what the candidates stood for, yet filled [his/her] own site with nothing but political rhetoric.

During the provincial election, [his/her] signs were significantly outnumbered in an area that does not traditionally vote for [his/her] party. [His/her] major competitor came to my door three times. [He/she] did not make one appearance. Even the candidate from the non-existent Liberal party came to my door once.

Mysteriously, [he/she] was declared the winner.

[He/she] wasted no time in plastering [his/her] mug on a major thoroughfare that passes through [his/her] constituency.

Rather than spend the two hours meeting and greeting constituents during the open house, [he/she] spent the time roaming the halls with [his/her] family showing off [his/her] new workplace to [his/her] children. One can not normally be faulted for spending time with one’s family, but there would have been plenty of time before or after the open house to roam the halls of the majestic building.

By way of comparison, countless number of [his/her] colleagues on both sides of the political spectrum were only too happy to spend time with this visitor.

The identity of this MLA is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hockey History Display Looks to the Future

Last month, there was a display on hockey history at the Millennium Library. It’s mostly gone now, but there wasn’t a lot there, so there’s no reason to feel badly if you missed it.

What was there, however, painted a graphic picture on the dark and disturbing state of hockey in our city.

I walked along and saw items showing the Winnipeg Victorias along with other teams from the distant past, which was good to see. Moving on, there were a few items on the Jets. A Randy Carlyle and a Thomas Steen jersey were hung in the background and a few nice artifacts were available for viewing that included a game program, a couple of pictures of players, and even a pom-pom from one of the White Outs.

Across the aisle, there were two panels, one dedicated to the Manitoba Moose, and the other to the team formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers.

In the Moose panel, there was a flag hung in the background along with a jersey and a picture of Mark Chipman, the team’s owner, president, and de facto general manager. In the next panel, along with a flag, were more pictures of Chipman.

I glanced back at the Jets’ display. I saw players. I didn’t see Ben Hatskin, Michael Gobuty, or Barry Shenkarow.

The Moose, whose presence was largely ignored and sometimes resented, did, against considerable odds, play here for 15 years. They retired Mike Keane’s jersey and had other players such as Jimmy Roy and Brian Chapman have long tours of duty wearing the antlers. Like them or not, they had a history almost as long as that of the NHL Jets. Despite that, there was only the owner’s picture on display.

In fairness, I suspect that neither Chipman nor any of his servile cronies had anything to do with the content of this display. In the case of the former Thrashers, there isn’t a lot of history to be displayed.

However, the content was no accident either. Chipman, in the cases of both his teams, made himself and continues to make himself the face of the franchise. Whenever there is any news surrounding the team, Chipman is front and center and he has probably received more air time since seizing control of the Thrashers than Shenkarow had during nearly two decades in a leading role with the Jets. When the final chapter is written for his current hockey team, it is highly probable that the display would not have to be changed to accurately reflect the team’s history.

I was a Jets’ season ticket holder for five years. During that time, I went to see the players play. I went to see Dale Hawerchuk, Paul MacLean, Morris Lukowich, Dave Ellett, and others. I did not go to see the owner own. I didn’t even care who owned the team, nor did I want to hear from him.

I ceased my support and ended all my interest in the Moose as Chipman took an increasingly active role in every facet of the team. Sadly, things are no different today with his current hockey team.

The game is about the players, not about the owner. Too many owners in pro sports today have taken on the role of “face of the franchise” and Chipman is foremost among them.

Part of being a fan is feeling like you have a stake in the team. You may not have a financial investment in the club, but you have a deep, emotional investment in it. That emotional investment can be even more binding than a financial commitment as you religiously follow the day-to-day fortunes of the team. I know the feeling as many of you do of living and dying with every goal, win, or loss.

When the presence of the owner becomes bigger than the team, that feeling goes away. The team no longer has a life of its own, it just becomes another corporate asset, no different than your local Wal-Mart.

I doubt that the people at the library had this in mind when they set up the display, but they could not have painted a clearer picture of the state of hockey in Winnipeg.

As I’ve said before to anyone desperately clamoring for an NHL team, be careful what you wish for. Now you’ve got it and it may be more than you can digest. You might be buying Pepto-Bismol by the case in a few years time.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Getting Started with iTextSharp

For the ASP.NET developers out there, if you need to generate PDF reports from your code, there is an open source library called iText# (iTextSharp) that is worth checking out. iTextSharp is a port of the Java iText library written entirely in C#. Source and binaries are available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/itextsharp/.

From what I’ve seen, it works well and only requires one .dll to be copied to your bin directory. Unfortunately, there is no documentation with the product, so I’ll share some of the code I used for a proof of concept that should hopefully get you started.

Using Visual Studio 2005 or greater, or your favorite text editor, create a page with a label called Label1 and a button called Button1. You can skip the label if you want, as I just used it to dump exception output, but I do have it referenced in code. The example will work with any of the Express (free) versions of Visual Studio as well.

First of all, ensure your page has references to ITextSharp.text, ITextSharp.text.PDF, System.IO, and System.Text.

In Button1’s Click event handler, add the following code. My comments appear within square brackets inside the code:

Dim doc As New iTextSharp.text.Document(PageSize.LETTER, 10, 10, 10, 10)

[Here is where you declare the page size and margins.]

Dim output As New MemoryStream()

[You can generate the output directly to a file, but, for demonstration purposes, I just used a MemoryStream object. Note that if you generate your output to a file, you will require write permission on the server in the directory where you want to place your PDF files, otherwise you will get a SecurityException.]

Dim logo As iTextSharp.text.Image
Dim bTest As Boolean
Dim par As Paragraph
Dim tbl As PdfPTable
Dim widths As Single() = {1.3, 1.3}
Dim bfHelvetica As BaseFont = BaseFont.CreateFont(BaseFont.HELVETICA, BaseFont.CP1252, False)

[I found the choices of fonts quite limiting, in contrast to the FPDF library I’ve used in PHP at www.whahof.com.]

Dim cb As PdfContentByte
Dim titleFont As iTextSharp.text.Font = New Font(bfHelvetica, 14, Font.BOLD, iTextSharp.text.BaseColor.BLACK)
Dim bodyFont As iTextSharp.text.Font = New Font(bfHelvetica, 10, Font.NORMAL, iTextSharp.text.BaseColor.BLACK)
Dim smallFont As iTextSharp.text.Font = New Font(bfHelvetica, 8, Font.NORMAL, iTextSharp.text.BaseColor.BLACK)

    Label1.Text = String.Empty
    Dim instance As PdfWriter = PdfWriter.GetInstance(doc, output)
    Dim ev As New itsEvents
    instance.PageEvent = ev
    cb = instance.DirectContent

    doc.AddAuthor("Curtis Walker")
    doc.AddTitle("This is a test PDF")

[In your PDF, these values will appear under Document Properties. It’s optional, but if you want to add a professional touch, it’s a good idea.]

     par = New Paragraph("Test paragraph", titleFont)
     par.Alignment = 1 ' 1 is center, 0 is left, 2 is right

     par = New Paragraph(" ", smallFont)

      tbl = New PdfPTable(2) ' number of columns
      tbl.WidthPercentage = 30
      tbl.HorizontalAlignment = 1
      tbl.DefaultCell.BorderWidthTop = 1
      tbl.DefaultCell.BorderWidthLeft = 1
      tbl.DefaultCell.BorderWidthRight = 1
      tbl.DefaultCell.BorderWidthBottom = 0

[There is a “border” attribute, but I found that it just sets the top value, not all four values above.]

       tbl.SpacingAfter = 0
       tbl.SpacingBefore = 0
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test", bodyFont))
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test2", bodyFont))
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test3", bodyFont))
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test4", bodyFont))
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test5", bodyFont))
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test6", bodyFont))
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test7", bodyFont))
       tbl.AddCell(New Phrase("test8", bodyFont))


       logo = iTextSharp.text.Image.GetInstance(Server.MapPath("~/images/thrashers.jpg"))

[You can pick any image on your server.]

       logo.SetAbsolutePosition(100, doc.PageSize.Height - 100)

[Strangely, the second value is distance from the bottom of the page, not the top. Setting the value to “0” puts it at the bottom.]

        logo.ScaleAbsolute(100, 100)
        bTest = doc.Add(logo)


        par = New Paragraph("test item on second page", titleFont)


         Response.ContentType = "application/pdf"
         Response.AddHeader("Content-Disposition", "Output.pdf")

  Catch ex As Exception
     Label1.Text = ex.Message
  End Try

After the page class, insert the following class that handles the page header and footer events.

Public Class itsEvents
        Inherits PdfPageEventHelper

        Private bfHelvetica As BaseFont = BaseFont.CreateFont(BaseFont.HELVETICA, BaseFont.CP1252, False)
        Private smallFont As iTextSharp.text.Font = New Font(bfHelvetica, 8, Font.NORMAL, iTextSharp.text.BaseColor.BLACK)

        Public Overrides Sub OnStartPage(ByVal writer As iTextSharp.text.pdf.PdfWriter, ByVal document As iTextSharp.text.Document)
            Dim cb As PdfContentByte

            cb = writer.DirectContent

            cb.SetFontAndSize(bfHelvetica, 8)
            cb.SetTextMatrix(30, document.PageSize.Height - 30)
            cb.ShowText("Test header on page " + writer.PageNumber.ToString)

            cb.MoveTo(30, document.PageSize.Height - 35)
            cb.LineTo(document.PageSize.Width - 40, document.PageSize.Height - 35)
        End Sub

        Public Overrides Sub OnEndPage(ByVal writer As iTextSharp.text.pdf.PdfWriter, ByVal document As iTextSharp.text.Document)
            Dim cb As PdfContentByte

            cb = writer.DirectContent

            cb.SetFontAndSize(bfHelvetica, 8)
            cb.SetTextMatrix(30, 30)
            cb.ShowText("Test footer on page " + writer.PageNumber.ToString)

            cb.MoveTo(30, 40)
            cb.LineTo(document.PageSize.Width - 40, 40)
        End Sub
    End Class

You should be set to build your project and run the page. Click the button and you should get a PDF file coming up in your browser. Once I found the code, I found that it went pretty smoothly.

If you want to deploy the isharptext.dll and your code to a host on a shared plan, you may run into trouble. The pre-built .dll is strongly typed and though your code may have worked locally, you may get an error message about not allowing partially trusted callers.

After doing a little research, I found that all you have to do is recompile the source using Visual Studio 2005 and adding the following lines to assembly.cs:

using System.Security;

Using this rebuilt .dll, everything worked on my hosting provider just as it did locally under both IIS and the lightweight development Web Server provided with the .NET SDK that is most often installed with Visual Studio. For my example, click here.

I’ve just scratched the surface and there’s a lot more to do with this library, but this code should get you started in generating PDF files from your .NET application or Web site.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This Moment in Winnipeg Hockey History - The Day After Armageddon

It was April 28, 1996 and the Winnipeg Jets were shaking hands with the Detroit Red Wings after being eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The next time the Jets would take to the ice was at the America West Arena as the Phoenix Coyotes. The unthinkable was now reality.

Hockey Armageddon had come to Winnipeg.

Despite claims to the contrary, however, the sun did come up the next morning.

Winnipeg hockey fans would now be in for a new experience. The International Hockey League was in town.

Months earlier, the Shindleman brothers purchased a conditional interest in the Peoria Rivermen with the intention of moving them to Winnipeg, but then a group led by Jeff Thompson and former Jet Thomas Steen purchased a conditional interest in the Minnesota Moose and wanted to move that team to Winnipeg. Faced with competing bids, the IHL Board of Governors, in a move that would profoundly and negatively impact the long-term interests of hockey in Winnipeg, awarded relocation rights to the Minnesota Moose.

The Moose were in their second season in the Twin Cities, having started as an expansion team to fill the void of jilted fans who had recently seen the Minnesota North Stars to move to Dallas. They were about to pack up shop and attempt to fill the same void for Winnipeg fans.

The Moose played out of the St. Paul Civic Center and then the Target Center, taking up dates that were originally reserved for the Jets, who were a whisker away from moving there a year earlier. During their brief life span, the Moose failed to capture much in the way of fan support and though they made the playoffs in their first season, they were bottom-feeders in their second and final season and few were left at the end to notice the moving vans headed north.

Former Jet Dave Christian, one of the fixtures in the Moose lineup, was asked by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune during the 1995-1996 season if he wanted to make the playoffs. He said “No.” When asked why, he responded, “Ownership.”

Upon the completion of some difficult negotiations with Winnipeg Enterprises on a lease for the Winnipeg Arena, the Moose arrived in Winnipeg and were rechristened the “Manitoba Moose”. The “Thompson Group” as the ownership was then known, soon gave way to Mark Chipman, a last-minute addition to the group who would soon assert full control of every facet of the franchise. Minnesota Moose coach Frank Serratore was replaced with Jean Perron, a man with substantial NHL credentials and a Stanley Cup championship to his credit. Randy Carlyle, an assistant coach with the Jets and former Jets player, was brought in to assist Perron.

On the ice, the roster was completely remade. Former Jets players Randy Gilhen, Scott Arniel, and Russ Romaniuk were brought in among many others to supplement holdovers Stephane Morin, Jim Paek, and Andy “Schnooky” Schneider.

My first encounter with this new franchise was a package in the mail containing nothing more than a brochure and a bill. After failing to respond to this invoice, I got a call from a fast-talking salesman from the Moose trying to convince me that the mini-pack seat I had for the Jets’ last season was about to be taken by a prospective season ticket holder, but that I had the right of first refusal.

I’m not saying I’ve never been taken for a ride before, but I’m not that gullible. I called his bluff and let him sell this seat to someone else. Not that I really needed confirmation, but just out of curiosity, before the opening game, I asked at the ticket window if the seat was available. Sure enough, it was.

The Moose’s first home game took place on the night of October 11, 1996 and I was there to see them take on the Las Vegas Thunder at the reconfigured Arena. The upper decks were closed, the north end ice level section was turned into a club lounge, and a number of sections behind the north end goal were replaced by new purple club seating. I wasn’t the only one to ask, “Why didn’t they do this for the Jets?”

Skating out from underneath a pair of inflatable antlers, the Moose, sporting new uniforms that looked like they had been borrowed from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, made their inaugural appearance at their new home. Not unexpectedly, they laid an egg that night and were shut out by Parris Duffus, who was property of the relocated Jets’ franchise.

Yes, I was there at Opening Night. In this case, however, I think history will show that virtually none of the attendees would be willing to admit that they were there.

The Moose did, however, make an indelible first impression. Fights were not in short supply, and from that night on, I would always refer to them as the “Fighting Moose”. Greg Pankewicz, one the stars on that first Moose team, showed his colors as one of the most colorful players to ever lace on a pair of skates. He would rack up more than 200 penalty minutes that year, and a good deal of those came in ten-minute increments. When the Arena was demolished a decade later, the much-abused door to the penalty box should have been rescued and bronzed for “Captain Misconduct”.

The promotions were just as colorful as some of the players. There was the forgettable “sing for your supper” promotion where candidates belted out some words and the fans voted with their applause on the winner. Between periods was “Turkey Curling” where contestants would hurl frozen poultry carcasses down the ice.

My eyebrows were raised when I saw Chipman running up and down the stands while games were going on. Having been a Jets’ season ticket holder for five seasons and attended countless number of games over the years, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I ever saw Jets’ President Barry Shenkarow, even on television. Hands-on ownership had come to Winnipeg in full force and, regrettably, it hasn’t left.

The Moose drew some decent crowds that first season, but losses piled up as fast as the fight card. The most entertaining part of some of those games was listening to Jean Perron’s post-game comments on the way home. In his broken English, I remember him saying, “When tree player go to da puck carrier, what can I do?”

Late in the season, with the team floundering, Chipman fired Perron less than one year into his three-year deal, and installed Carlyle as his replacement. The team responded better to the man who would become Chipman’s favorite crony, but it was far too late to salvage anything from what had been a lost season.

There were 19 teams in the IHL in 1996-1997 and, in a system even more inclusive than the NHL, something I never thought possible, only three missed the playoffs. The Moose were one of them. The Moose’s inaugural season in Winnipeg could be filed under the headline of “you only get one chance to make a good first impression”.

Things would go downhill from there, but that year set the stage for an appreciation of hockey at the grassroots level that I could never have imagined. For those of you that think Slap Shot is a piece of unrealistic fiction, it’s a lot closer to a documentary than people would like to believe.

Put on the foil, here come the Moose.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The New Airport Terminal

Like many others in the capital of the Socialist People’s Republic of Manitoba, I was curious enough to go check out the new airport terminal that recently opened. I’ve never travelled by air before, nor do I have any desire to do so, but I’ve enjoyed watching the planes from the observation lounge, which I’ve noticed to be a popular attraction.

Upon your arrival along Wellington Avenue, you can now drive right up to the second level for departures, or stick to the first level for the arrivals floor.

Once you pass by the new terminal, there’s no stopping in front of the old terminal, and security personnel will simply wave you through. At left is the new indoor parkade. Thrifty Winnipeggers need not fear, however, as the outdoor Economy lot is still available.

The second level.

I walked through the parkade with one of the Gold Wing Ambassadors who looked to be just as lost as I was in trying to make my way though the concrete jungle to the new building.

The ground floor. Notice above is the walkway from the parkade, which is only partially covered. Most of the walk from the terminal to the parkade will leave you exposed to the wrath of Old Man Winter, a little detail that is sure to be noticed by travellers.

Once inside, the new terminal is certainly more spacious, as advertised. Natural light is in abundance, which is nice.

The luggage carousels on the first floor.

As you’d expect, escalators and a staircase, much like the old terminal.

The departure check-in lines. No shortage of counters and you can see from the aesthetics that the building looks a lot less utilitarian than its predecessor.

The terminal, however, is still a work in progress. There are still many signs of construction inside and outside and even the washroom I used looked unfinished. A soap container was lying out on the table and there were no paper towels to be found.

I walked around like a tourist, checking out the new sights, but, sadly, unlike the old terminal, there really isn’t much to see unless you’re actually flying somewhere. Most of the terminal is only accessible to travellers who have gone through security and, to my shock, there did not appear to be an observation lounge. I asked at the information desk and got the answer I didn’t want to hear. I was told they were planning to put some chairs and tables by a window near where Stella’s restaurant is being built, but other than that, the observation lounge is now a thing of the past. For all the time and effort they put into designing this terminal, that was a major gaffe that I can only hope will be rectified at some point down the road.

I can’t vouch for the post-security areas, but I suspect that, just with the increase in space alone, that the air traveller’s experience can’t help but be improved. There were, however, some serious design omissions that I hope aren’t repeated in the rest of the terminal.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Halloween, John Ferguson

It’s that time of year once again.

When kids of all ages look forward to dressing up like ghosts and goblins and going door to door to fill up their bags with free candy, hard core Jets fans look back to 1988.

It was the night before Halloween. The Jets were winding up a back-to-back weekend series with the Los Angeles Kings and their newest acquisition, Wayne Gretzky. Before the largest crowd of the season at the Winnipeg Arena, the sleepwalking Jets roared back from a 4-1 deficit to post an 8-4 victory.

With only two winning seasons to show for nine years as the Jets' General Manager, John Ferguson was surprisingly shocked by the news of his dismissal.

The post-game enthusiasm in the dressing room, however, was quieted when Jets’ President Barry Shenkarow announced that Vice President and General Manager John Ferguson had been relieved of his duties.

It was one of those classic “where were you when you heard the news” moments. I was leaving the Arena walking along the east side of Polo Park shopping center towards the bus stop on Portage Avenue listening to my portable radio when I heard Curt Keilback’s voice tell me that Ferguson was about to be fired.

I think there’s still a grin on my face.

It was Michael Gobuty who originally brought Ferguson to Winnipeg in November 1978. Ferguson, the man who helped pry beloved Swedish stars Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg out of Winnipeg, took the Jets' job and assumed control of struggling club. He made a few moves, hired coach Tom McVie, and the Jets went on to capture their third AVCO Cup championship the following spring.

Upon their entry into the NHL, Ferguson continued to build up what had been a bare-bones operation off the ice up to major league standards. He also had the unenviable task of having to rebuild the roster after the NHL took its pound of flesh from the Jets and the other surviving WHA teams. He took a lot of heat for protecting Scott Campbell and letting Kent Nilsson get away, but neither player was going to save those expansion-era Jets.

Ferguson carried a reputation as a man with a fiery temper, who lived and died with every game, but he remained astonishingly patient and stuck with his “Master Plan” of stockpiling draft choices.

It didn’t take long before the Jets again became competitive. They became the most improved team in NHL history in 1981-1982 and the future looked bright.

Sadly, that was about as good as it would ever get.

As fans are painfully aware, Ferguson never delivered the Stanley Cup contender that he bombastically promised so often. Though he put his heart and soul into the job, during his nine full seasons at the helm of the Jets, the team had produced a winning record on only two occasions.

Fans, including me, were growing frustrated and angry. The calls for Ferguson’s dismissal grew even louder when the Jets got off to a slow start in 1988-1989. Finally, on that fateful Sunday evening, Shenkarow delivered the news that shocked Ferguson and delighted the faithful.

Ferguson’s successors would fare little better in the coming years. I felt insulted by the choice of Mike Smith, Ferguson’s right hand man, as his successor. It was not inappropriate to simply promote from within an organization that had not delivered any significant results over the past decade.

Nonetheless, Shenkarow’s decision to fire Ferguson at that time was entirely correct. Eternal mediocrity was not acceptable.

And that is why when I pass a house fully decked out in Halloween decor, I see John Ferguson’s face staring back at me in the jack-o-lanterns.

Happy Halloween, John Ferguson, wherever you are.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

McFadyen Awarded Honorary NDP Membership

Yesterday, Manitoba Progressive Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen was awarded honorary membership in the party he's unsuccessfully tried to defeat in the last two provincial elections.

At the ceremony held in front of the Grand Staircase at the Legislative Building, Manitoba Premier and New Democratic Party leader Greg Selinger presented McFadyen with a certificate bearing his name, making him an honorary member of the NDP.

Hugh McFadyen and Greg Selinger pose for the cameras.

"I'm very honored, Mr. Premier," said McFadyen. "Despite the differences between us that I’m sure exist, I'm very pleased to accept this certificate on behalf of my entire campaign team. I will never forget this gesture. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

"We were disappointed to learn that Mr. McFadyen was stepping down as the Conservative leader," said Selinger. "We decided that we should do something to honor his years of helping us stay in power. It's because of the work of Mr. McFadyen and his campaign team, not to mention the gullible Manitoba voters that we are embarking on a historic fourth straight term in office. This was the least we could do for Mr. McFadyen and we only hope he decides to reconsider, stay on as the Conservative leader, and keep his campaign team fully intact."

"I learned the hard way that trying to outspend Mr. Selinger is like trying to pray better than the Pope," added McFadyen. "I gave it my best and now it's time to step aside and let someone else take the ball and run with it."

After the ceremony, McFadyen received a warm round of applause from Selinger and his entire team of elected and appointed members. Some admitted to shedding tears upon hearing that McFadyen was stepping down.

"I owe my entire political career to him," said an emotional Erin Selby, the MLA for Southdale. "I thought that the Conservatives could run a rhinoceros as their candidate and win in Southdale. But it was Hugh who finally convinced me that I could win."

"Without Hugh and his fabulous campaign team, I'd be sweeping the floors at Global," added Selby, a former television reporter with A-Channel in Winnipeg. "Just look at me now!"

"The Premier flagrantly broke election law, our MLAs insulted flood victims this summer and McFadyen didn't say a word. We’ve been ripe for the picking for over a decade and yet here we are with a fourth term," said one senior party official. "We’ve pretty much had the province to ourselves. We can’t thank McFadyen and his team enough."

The Conservatives have yet to announce a successor to McFadyen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blue Faces in Blueland

In the understatement of the decade, the Atlanta Thrashers will not be remembered as one of the best hockey clubs ever to have claimed membership in the NHL.

The tombstone bearing the Thrashers’ logo will be laid in a patch of parched, sun-baked soil with a loose covering of dry, brown grass somewhere in a desolate country cemetery. If you manage to find the place, you’ll also find the graves of the California Golden Seals, Kansas City Scouts, Colorado Rockies, and Cleveland Barons nearby.

You might also stumble on the grave of the Winnipeg Jets, only to find the coffin dug up and the cadaver removed. In typical Winnipeg fashion, the tombstone would also be vandalized. Rumor has it that the cadaver is currently on display in downtown Winnipeg where mourners are being fleeced for the privilege of seeing the remains of their long, lost loved one before it is returned to its plot once again to enjoy its eternal rest.

The Seals, Rockies, and Scouts may have long since been forgotten, but the tears moistening the soil near the Thrashers’ grave are fresh and very real.

No joy in Blueland today

The Thrashers made the playoffs only once during their 11-season life span and they didn’t even win a single game during their one-season fling with post-season play in 2007. The franchise is probably best known outside of Georgia for the tragic incident in which Dan Snyder was killed in October 2003. The Thrashers led a tortured life, abused for so long by the Atlanta Spirit Group, who treated it and its fans so badly during its final years of life, not unlike what Winnipeggers experienced with the Jets years ago and what they’re about to experience in the years to follow.

Nonetheless, there were fans who cared for the deceased Thrashers and cared deeply. Any Winnipeggers who went through the Save the Jets campaign in the spring and summer and 1995 knows all too well the deep emotional pain that comes with losing a hockey team.

Sadly, far too many Winnipeggers have chosen to tuck those memories away in a cardboard box and wag their fingers in the faces of Thrashers fans whose pain is no less real than their own.

We cried as we remembered watching Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, and Teemu Selanne. No doubt, Thrashers fans will feel the same way when they think back and remember watching Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Kari Lehtonen, Dany Heatley, and the late Dan Snyder at Philips Arena.

The short-lived merriment of Winnipeg hockey fans and the team’s domineering owner comes at the expense of hockey fans just like themselves. Are there as many of them? Maybe. Maybe not. But they are there in significant numbers, far more than they’re being given credit for.

The classier fans among the revelers this weekend will keep them in their thoughts while they look upon the dawning of a new and very uncertain era in Winnipeg hockey history. This era is likely to produce no more success on the ice than the last NHL team to call Winnipeg home enjoyed and could end up becoming very costly to both fans and Manitoba taxpayers alike.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Low Moment in Jets History - December 1982: The Stench Still Lingers

The 14-13-3 Jets came home from a two-game road trip in the middle of December 1982 for a weekend series against the woeful 9-17-4 Hartford Whalers and the even more putrid 6-22-7 New Jersey Devils.

Yes, I was there.

Looking back, this was a perfect setup for an epic disaster, but, at the time, I still believed that the Jets were poised to take that next step and establish themselves as the elite team they were when they ruled the WHA. With memories of their three AVCO Cup championships still fresh in my mind, I was convinced that the Jets were soon to make hockey history and become the first team to win an AVCO Cup and a Stanley Cup.

The Jets were blown out by a score of 10-3 in Chicago on Wednesday night, but nothing could dampen my enthusiasm for the coming weekend. My parents had bought me tickets for both games and I was going to see the Jets in action as they brushed aside the league’s bottom-feeders on their way to greatness. They still have a picture of me grinning as I gazed upon those tickets lying on our kitchen table.

The innocence of youth was about to be abused.

Friday night’s game against the Whalers was a stinker, to be kind. The meeting between the two franchises that met head-to-head on two separate occasions to decide a major pro championship looked like a couple of teams wearing heavy parkas and rubber boots playing ball hockey on the street. The 10,000 or so spectators who were allegedly there were less than pleased with the performance and did not hesitate to express their disapproval.

The boos kept echoing off the Arena walls, but the Jets kept sinking into the melting white quicksand we were all watching so intently. They couldn’t even score a goal against one of the NHL’s worst teams. In the understatement of the decade, the 2-0 defeat was, well, disappointing.

Where the Jets were concerned, however, my level of optimism knew no bounds. To that end, I understand the feelings of so many of those prospective Chipman Jets fans around Winnipeg today. They wonder why I’m not on the bandwagon and why I don’t have the same blind allegiance to Mark Chipman the way you do. It took me a while, but I figured it out. They will too.

Back to the topic at hand, I figured that the Whalers game was an off night, and I was supremely confident that they would rebound against the Devils. Tom Watt and/or John Ferguson would read them the Riot Act, and even if they didn’t, it was just the Devils, a team the junior Warriors might have been able to beat.

Those Devils bore no resemblance to the well-run organization they’ve been since Lou Lamoriello’s arrival in the Meadowlands many years ago. At the time, it had been one of pro hockey’s worst-run franchises during its time in Denver and Kansas City and life for the recently-relocated Devils would be no better in their first few seasons in New Jersey. Wayne Gretzky would later call them a “Mickey Mouse organization”. He took a lot of heat for the remark, but he was right.

While the Jets were slogging through the 2-0 defeat against the Whalers, the Devils were in Edmonton having their rear ends handed to them by the tune of 10-4 at the Northlands Coliseum. Anything that the evil Edmonton Oilers could do, the Jets could do better. Victory was assured.

Or not.

Come Sunday, the Jets weren’t any better than they were on Friday night, but they still entered the third period with a 2-1 lead. Unlike Friday night, they actually scored a goal. Two, in fact.

Then the roof caved in.

Don Lever scored 22 seconds into the third period, then, later in the period, Hector Marini was left alone in front of Doug Soetaert and he banked a weak shot off Dave Babych, or “Stupid Babych” as I was so fond of calling him, into the net for what would prove to be the winning goal.

Devils 3, Jets 2.

I can still smell the stench from that pair of stinkers to this day.

The Stanley Cup parade would have to wait.