Remembering my days at The Trib . . . Like the time I was given Earl Lunsford’s suite . . .

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By Aug. 27, 1980, I had been back at the Brandon Sun for almost two years. So, no I wasn’t at The Trib when Southam folded it on the same day that Thompson buried the Ottawa Journal.

That left Thompson with a monopoly in Winnipeg with the Free Press, while Southam now owned Ottawa with the Citizen. But none of this was underhanded or in violation of any laws. Wink! Wink!!

Even though I had left Winnipeg, that day still stung. You bet it did. And it still does.

I had started what turned into an almost-43-year newspaper career at The Sun in the summer of 1971, catching on as the sports department was expanded from two writers (Bill Davidson and Bruce Penton) to three. In time, after I had done what seemed like a million rewrites and answered a gazillion phone calls and done a whole lot of learning, I got to cover the Manitoba Senior Baseball League. If this was heaven, I loved it.

Two years later, Matty came calling. Jack Matheson, the legendary sports editor at the Winnipeg Tribune, wanted me. If memory serves, he offered me $125 a week, up from the $75 I was making at The Sun.

Truth be told, I would have gone for a whole lot less.

A few years earlier, while growing up in Lynn Lake, Man., I had delivered The Trib. The papers came in via rail three times a week — Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I would load my wagon at the post office and head out in the dark of night. During the summer, on occasion, I would visit a garden, grab a few carrots and find a street light. There I would sit on the paper and read The Trib’s sports section.

One summer, maybe even two of them, Uncle Vince Leah, who was almost as much a legend as was Matty, brought a bunch of Winnipeg boys to Lynn Lake. They were there to fish and play a little baseball and soccer. Uncle Vince always wrote a column or two while there, and I would hop on my bike and take his copy to the CN station so that it could be sent via telegraph to Winnipeg.

Now here I was, all those years later, heading to the Manitoba capital to work for Matty and be in the same office as Uncle Vince.

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The 1973-74 Selkirk Steelers, winners of the Centennial Cup.

I spent a lot of time covering the MJHL, which, in those days, meant spending springs with George Dorman’s Selkirk Steelers, who always seemed to meet up with Terry Simpson’s Prince Albert Raiders along the playoff trail.

It was in my first year at The Trib that I saw one of the two best hockey games of my writing career.

The Steelers won the 1974 Centennial Cup by beating the Smiths Falls Bears, 1-0 in OT, on a goal by Gord Kaluzniak in Nepean, Ont. (There wasn’t ice in the Smiths Falls rink, so the best-of-seven series was played in the Nepean Sportsplex.) In those days, under Canadian Amateur Hockey Association rules, teams played a 10-minute OT session before going into sudden-death. Kaluzniak scored with two minutes left in that first OT period and the Steelers were able to hold the lead.

I also learned an important lesson during that series. With the Steelers leading the series, 3-1, I wrote that the Bears were done like dinner. LOL! Lesson learned.

(BTW, the other best game that I witnessed was the final of the 1979 Memorial Cup with the Brandon Wheat Kings losing 2-1 in OT to the Peterborough Petes in Verdun, Que.)

Back then, The Trib didn’t have copy editors who laid out the sports pages. Rather, the writers shared the layout duties; if you weren’t writing, chances are Trib2you were laying out pages. It wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t want to spend summers in the office, so I decided to turn motorsports into a beat, even though I wouldn’t know how to put air in a tire. So I ended up spending time at Bison Dragways, an NHRA-sanctioned strip located 29 miles east of Winnipeg, and Winnipeg Speedway, where the stock cars ran on a short track south of the city. I point this out because it’s how I picked up the nickname Greaser, which is what Matty started calling me after my first motorsport-related byline.

In time, I ended up covering the Blue Bombers, spending time at training camp at St. John’s-Ravenscourt and travelling to the odd regular-season game whenever Matty wanted to stay home.

That’s how I got to be in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium on June 22, 1978, when a limousine pulled onto the field and Tom Jones — yes, that Tom Jones — climbed out to handle the ceremonial opening kickoff before a CFL exhibition game.

“The ball,” I wrote, “went off the side of his shoe and travelled about 12 yards.”

A week later I was in Calgary with the Blue Bombers when I ended up the beneficiary of something of a mistake by the front desk at the hotel in which we would stay. I picked up the key to my room and headed upstairs, with Bob Irving, (Cactus) Jack Wells and Ken Ploen, all of radio station CJOB, who were on the same floor. I opened the door to my room, took a look and suggested that the three might want to take a look. I had been given the suite that was to have gone to general manager Earl Lunsford. Yes, it was well-stocked with booze and snacks.

Before I could close the door, the wrapping was removed from sandwiches and drinks were poured. I spent the next day and game night avoiding Lunsford.

Upon returning to Winnipeg, I filed my expenses and then made sure to steer clear of Matty. There was a news conference prior to the next Bombers’ home game, which I was to cover. I knew that Matty would be there, meaning there no longer would be a way to avoid him.

And here he came, strolling into the room with a glint in his eyes.

“Hey, Okie,” he said in Lunsford’s direction, “do my guys travel first class, or what?”

I never heard another word, nor did I ever again end up in Lunsford’s suite.

Later that year, with The Sun looking for someone to cover the 1978-79 Wheat Kings, perhaps the best team in WHL history, I left The Trib and returned to Brandon.

Patti Dawn Swansson was one of the other sports writers at The Trib when I was there, and wrote a wonderful piece last week on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the newspaper’s closing.

If you wonder what it was like working there, give this a read right here. Yes, I got a little misty-eyed while reading it. But, damn, those were great times!

The stories about sitting around late at night and arguing about the chances of hitting a home run off Nolan Ryan or surviving a jump from a fifth-floor window are accurate. Those are the conversations that were important in the mid-’70s.

WHL governors to talk today . . . Business as usual for the NFL . . . New coaches in MJHL, SJHL

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The WHL’s board of governors is scheduled to talk today (Tuesday) for the first time since the league suspended its season on Thursday.

Right now, all signs point to the WHL not being able to resume play before mid-May at the earliest, so there likely will be a lot of discussion about whether to call the whole thing off right now. That, of course, would include the Memorial that is scheduled for Kelowna, May 21-31.

On Monday, Bob Tory, co-owner and general manager of the Tri-City Americans tweeted: “To all our players. Have a good off season. Be safe and we will c u in August.”

That would indicate that the Americans’ players are on their way home and won’t be returning. When the season was suspended, the Americans, who didn’t qualify for the playoffs, had five games remaining. It wouldn’t make sense to bring all the players back at some point down the road to play five games for a non-playoff team.


MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and officials from all 30 teams held a conference call on Monday, during which it was decided to push opening day back until at least mid-May. . . . Opening day had been scheduled for March 26. . . .


A tweet from @matttomic:

“1918: Toronto wins its first Stanley Cup

“1919: Stanley Cup canceled

  

“1992-93: Toronto wins its first World Series

“1994: World Series canceled

  

“2019: Toronto wins its first NBA championship

“2020: NBA championship potentially canceled

  

“What the (#$%&#@) did Toronto do?”


Is it just me, or does it seem at least a little bit bizarre to have the NFL handing out contracts worth multi-millions and swapping players all over the place — in other words, carrying on as though it’s business as usual — while the rest of the sporting world has been brought to its knees? . . . I mean, a $66-million extension to QB Kirk Cousins? . . .

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Here’s Ann Killion in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“This is not about what the league can do. It’s about what it should do.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going to hear from the NFL’s army of faithful followers. ‘But we want to be entertained! We want a distraction! We love the NFL!’

“That’s what the NFL is banking on. It believes it is Teflon. The rules that apply to other businesses and other parts of society don’t apply to the shield. Roger Goodell has gotten very rich by being amazingly obtuse.”



The Kentucky Derby, held annually on the first Saturday in May, has been moved to Sept. 5, that month’s first Saturday. The last time the Derby didn’t run in May was in 1945 when it was postponed to June. . . .



The AHL announced Monday that “the indefinite suspension of play won’t be lifted before May.” . . . With that, the AHL gave its teams the OK to have players return to their “primary residences.” . . .


The 23-team NAHL brought an end to its regular season on Monday, but still hopes to declare a champion at some point. The regular season was to end on April 4. . . . In a statement, commissioner Mark Frankenfeld said: “We understand that this is a very difficult time for our hockey community and we are working on all options in order to conclude the season with a Robertson Cup Championship. We are are actively and continuously monitoring a very difficult situation in order make the right decision everyone involved.”



Chris Perchaluk has taken over as the general manager and head coach of the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard. He had been the head coach since November, when he moved up from associate coach. . . . The Blizzard now is looking for an assistant coach and a director of marketing. If you’re interested, there’s more info right here. . . .


The MJHL’s Selkirk Steelers have signed Hudson Friesen as their new head coach. He also is the assistant director of player personnel. This season, Friesen was the Steelers’ assistant coach and business manager. . . . Tim Schick, the head scout, has been named director of player personnel. . . . As head coach, Friesen replaces Nick Lubimiv, whose contract wasn’t renewed. . . . Earlier this month, the Steelers brought back Al Hares as senior advisor and associate coach. Hares is a former Steelers head coach who is a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.


Ken Plaquin is the new general manager and head coach of the SJHL’s Kindersley Klippers. From Calgary, he had been coaching the midget AAA Okotoks Oilers. . . . In Kindersley, Plaquin takes over from Larry Wintoneak, the GM who stepped in on an interim basis late in September when head coach Garry Childerhose left because of health issues. . . .


Popowich, Esposito leave WHL for school . . . Blades sign an import . . . Healing continues in Humboldt

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D Alexei Platonov (Medicine Hat, 2015-16) signed a one-year contract with Lada Togliatti (Russia, Vysshaya Liga) after a successful tryout. Last season, he had one goal and three assists in 24 games with Toros Neftekamsk (Russia, Vysshaya Liga).


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Two more players with WHL eligibility remaining have chosen to leave the WHL and head to school.

F Tyler Popowich, 18, has decided to walk away from the Vancouver Giants, after scoring whleight goals and adding six assists in 64 games last season.
From Surrey, B.C., he was a first-round pick, third overall, by the Giants in the WHL’s 2015 bantam draft.

He was pointless in six games with Vancouver in 2015-16, then had seven goals and two assists in 53 games in 2016-17.

Popowich is the second first-round bantam draft pick to leave the WHL in two days. On Thursday, it was revealed that D Jantzen Leslie, 19, had left the Edmonton Oil Kings for Red Deer College. Leslie, from Lloydminster, Alta., was a first-round pick, 15th overall, by the Everett Silvertips in the 2014 bantam draft.

As well, D Drea Esposito, an 18-year-old from Winnipeg, has chosen to leave the Calgary Hitmen in order to attend the U of Manitoba. He was a fifth-round selection by the Hitmen in the 2015 bantam draft. Esposito played two seasons with the Hitmen, recording two assists in 35 games as a freshman, then adding a goal and seven assists in 47 games last season.

Earlier, the Giants lost D Marcus Kichton, 19, when he chose to leave to go to school.

The Saskatoon Blades had two players leave their organization prior to what would have been their 20-year-old seasons.

F Gage Ramsay will attend Saskatchewan Polytechnic next month and then move on to the U of Saskatchewan rather than try for a 20-year-old spot with the Blades.

F Caleb Fantillo chose to leave, according to the Blades, in order “to get a jump start on a future career in the health and fitness industry.”


F Matthew Hodson of Saskatoon has signed a WHL contract with the Victoria Royals, who selected him in the third round of the 2018 bantam draft. He played last season with the bantam AA Saskatoon Outlaws, putting up 44 goals and 31 assists in 31 games. He was second in the Saskatchewan Bantam AA Hockey League in goals and points. He added four goals and seven assist in seven playoff games.


The Saskatoon Blades have signed F Kristian Roykas Marthinsen, whose rights were Saskatoonselected in the CHL’s 2018 import draft. From Norway, Roykas Marthinsen will turn 19 on Tuesday. He was selected by the Washington Capitals in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL draft. He has yet to sign with them, but has twice skated at their development camp. . . . Last season, he had 23 goals and eight assists in 23 games with Almtuna IS J20 in Norway’s elite junior league. . . . Saskatoon has yet to sign D Emil Malysjev, its other selection in the CHL import draft. Malysjev, 17, has dual Sweden-Russian citizenship. He spent the past two seasons in HV71’s organization, and may play with its elite 18 team this season.


The Seattle Thunderbirds have signed F Lucas Ciona to a WHL contract. From Edmonton, he was a second-round selection in the 2018 bantam draft. Last season, Ciona had 13 goals and 35 assists in 30 games with the Northern Alberta Xtreme bantam prep team. He is presently in camp with the Thunderbirds.


The healing continued in Humboldt on Friday as Washington Capitals F Chandler Stephenson, who is from Saskatoon, and his close personal friend Stanley Cup dropped in for a vist. . . . It also was Day 1 of training camp for the SJHL’s Broncos, although the prospective players weren’t made available to the visiting media. . . . Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post was on hand and filed this column right here.

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When Kevin Garinger stepped up as president of the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos, there wasn’t any way that he could have known what was ahead. Now, after one year in the position and having shepherded the organization through the tragedy of a bus accident that took 16 lives, he has stepped aside. . . . Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has more right here.

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Jamie Brockman is the new president of the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos. Well, actually, he is the new ‘old’ president. Brockman was president from 2012-17, before he stepped aside and Kevin Garinger took over for a year. . . . Alex MacPherson of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has more on Brockman right here.


The Canadian junior A rights to G Dylan Myskiw, 19, of the Brandon Wheat Kings have been dealt to the Portage Terriers, along with F Ben Coppinger, 18, and future considerations. In return, the Selkirk Steelers received F Ryan Sokoloski, 20, D Ryden Fedyck, 17, and future considerations.

From Winnipeg, Myskiw was a sixth-round pick by the Victoria Royals in the WHL’s 2014 bantam draft. He played with the midget AAA Winnipeg Thrashers in 2015-16, then got into 17 games with the Royals in 2016-17. Last season, he played in 22 games with the Wheat Kings.

Coppinger had four assists in 18 games with the Prince George Cougars last season, while also playing with the Steelers and the Manitoba Major Junior League’s St. Vital Victorias. He was a 10th-round selection by the Edmonton Oil Kings in the 2015 WHL bantam draft.

Sokoloski, from Winnipeg, was pointless in nine games with the Swift Current Broncos in 2015-16. They had selected him in the 11th round of the 2013 bantam draft. He played three seasons with the Terriers.

Fedyck, from Winnipeg, was selected by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the third round of the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft. He played last season with the midget AAA Winnipeg Thrashers.


Thank you to those who have donated to Dorothy’s cause as she prepares to take part in the 2018 Kamloops Kidney Walk on Sept. 23. That will be the fifth anniversary of her transplant and, yes, she is excited. She also is one of the walk’s organizers. Of course, she is. . . . If you would like to donate, you are able to do so right here. . . . If you are interested, money raised in the Kamloops Kidney Walk, which is our only fundraiser, will be used to help those who get called to Vancouver (VGH or St. Paul’s) for transplants. Those people have to stay in Vancouver for two months or longer.


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