Jets take back seat to Bombers this week

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS / SAY WHAT? - Steve.lyons@freep­ress.mb.ca MIKE SAWATZKY mike.sawatzky@freep­ress.mb.ca Twit­ter: @sawa14

Steve

HELLO there. How’s it go­ing? Hope the re­tire­ment thing is go­ing well. Sorry I don’t get right back to you on those mid-day texts — I’m like work­ing.

Ap­par­ently you have plenty of time now to lie around and watch sports — is it dif­fer­ent watch­ing now that you don’t have to be think­ing about what you’re go­ing to write? I’m still get­ting paid to watch it by the way (*sticks out tongue*).

Some big games com­ing up this week­end and ob­vi­ously the Bombers’ play­off match against the Rid­ers in Regina be­ing the most no­table. The Jets have a cou­ple of games as well and need to get things go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, but the Blue and Gold once again have a chance to win a play­off game — they haven’t done that since 2011 when they won the East Fi­nal — and I’m won­der­ing how we judge this sea­son if they fall short in Saskatchewan.

Paul

Those af­ter­noon Jets broad­casts from Helsinki were per­fect for a re­tired guy like me. I watched the first pe­riod, napped dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod and then woke up some time in the third when things re­ally got in­ter­est­ing. Ev­ery NHL game should be held on a week­day af­ter­noon.

There’s an old line you’d hear from sports­writers: ‘I didn’t watch the game. I was cov­er­ing it.’ It’s funny be­cause it’s true — the games I’ve seen the least of over the years were the games I was cov­er­ing from a press box, nose buried in my com­puter and writ­ing in­stead of watch­ing be­cause I’d have to have a full game story, or col­umn, filed 10 min­utes (or less) af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle. All of which is, again, an ad­ver­tise­ment for more af­ter­noon games.

So to an­swer your ques­tion: yeah, com­pared to that crazi­ness, watch­ing sports is in­fin­itely more sat­is­fy­ing now that it doesn’t come with three hours of wrack­ing self-doubt and anx­i­ety.

Also, I told you the Red Sox would win for fun. It gives me no joy to be right.

Here’s a sen­tence you don’t get to write very of­ten: the Jets take a back seat to the Bombers this week. The ta­ble is set for this Bombers team, I think, to fi­nally end that in­ter­minable Grey Cup drought. I’ve said all sea­son long they’re the most tal­ented team in the CFL and they’ve fi­nally showed it down the stretch when it mat­tered most. They’re healthy, they’re ex­e­cut­ing at high ef­fi­ciency in all three phases and they’re peak­ing at ex­actly the same time as ri­vals like Cal­gary and Saskatchewan are show­ing some cracks.

So yeah, as long as Mike O’Shea doesn’t try any 61-yard field goals — like he did to seal that semi­fi­nal loss to B.C. two years ago — or fake any punts in his own end with his team lead­ing — which led to the game-win­ning touch­down in that semi­fi­nal loss to Ed­mon­ton last year — I think the Bombers win in Regina and head into Cal­gary for the West Fi­nal with all kinds of swag­ger and mo­men­tum.

But if not now, then when? And if not now, then what? If this Bombers team once again fails to win a play­off game — and es­pe­cially if it hap­pens be­cause once again O’Shea just couldn’t get out of his own team’s way — I don’t see how you could categorize this sea­son as any­thing less than an ab­ject fail­ure. O’Shea has had five full sea­sons now to fi­nally show some re­sults and it’s time he ei­ther put up when it re­ally counts or the Bombers moved on and found some­one else who can.

Steve

I re­ally think they will need to self-de­struct to lose to the Rid­ers this week­end — and if that hap­pens, then there will need to be a reck­on­ing of some sort.

Doug Brown’s col­umn this week per­fectly de­scribed how the Rid­ers win by be­ing bet­ter on spe­cial teams and scor­ing on de­fence. Their of­fence is gen­er­ally aw­ful, no mat­ter who is play­ing quar­ter­back — and at this point, there’s no cer­tainty who that will even be this week­end. Like Doug said, if the Bombers can pro­tect the foot­ball and not give up any big plays on spe­cial teams, they should win this one for fun. They beat this team 31-0 a few weeks ago.

The Bombers have way more tal­ent than the Rid­ers. If it ends up com­ing down to coach­ing, well per­haps it will be time for a new coach.

I had no doubt you were go­ing to be right about the Red Sox — what a bor­ing World Se­ries that was. As I pre­vi­ously said, I don’t like ei­ther team, but there was no drama at all.

What’s with Bos­ton fans throw­ing beer cans dur­ing the vic­tory pa­rade, dam­ag­ing the World Se­ries tro­phy and hit­ting man­ager Alex Cora — Say What?!

Paul

Bos­ton fans might ac­tu­ally be the worst. Fans in Philly have the worst rep­u­ta­tion, which is what hap­pens when you pelt Santa Claus with snow­balls (true story) and are so chron­i­cally drunk and dis­or­derly that their foot­ball sta­dium has its own jail cell (an­other true story).

But it’s the whini­ness of the Bos­ton fans that make them even worse. The Celtics, Bru­ins, Pa­tri­ots and Red Sox have piled up ti­tle af­ter ti­tle over the last 20 years but your av­er­age Bos­ton fan would have you be­lieve that ev­ery­one — the refs, other fans, Roger Good­ell — are out to get them all the time. They were so much eas­ier to take when all the teams in Bos­ton sucked.

So how about Joel Quen­neville get­ting fired this week? The guy took over be­hind the bench of a mori­bund fran­chise and in 10 years won three Stan­ley Cups — and they show him the door 15 games into a new sea­son?

If you want to blame any­one for what’s hap­pened to Chicago, I’d be look­ing at GM Stan Bow­man, not Q. It was Bow­man, re­mem­ber, who thought it was a great idea to tie up onequar­ter of his team’s en­tire salary cap on two play­ers, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Ev­ery­thing bad that’s hap­pened to Chicago since those salaries kicked in — from the first-round play­off exit two years ago, to miss­ing the play­offs last sea­son to the strug­gles this sea­son — track back to that hare-brained de­ci­sion.

Q is the same coach he’s al­ways been, he just doesn’t have the same play­ers any­more be­cause Bow­man blew the pay­roll on two guys.

I raise all this not be­cause I par­tic­u­larly care about Q or the Hawks, but be­cause I think all this is a cau­tion­ary tale for the Jets. Jets GM Kevin Che­val­day­off is a prod­uct of Bow­man’s front of­fice and ev­ery­thing about Jets 2.0 to this point has been built on the Chicago model. It’s all worked out quite nicely to this point, but there is a les­son to be learned here that is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant for the Jets with a guy like Pa­trik Laine due to be­come a free agent at the end of this sea­son.

Laine is a phe­nom­e­nal young tal­ent and it’s in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­ests to lock him down for a long time to come. But not at any price and es­pe­cially not if it means the rest of the team has to be run on a bud­get.

I think Paul Mau­rice would back me up on this, es­pe­cially af­ter see­ing what hap­pened to his buddy in Chicago this week.

Steve

I loved the Bru­ins as a kid — they were my first favourite team and my favourite player was a guy named Ken Hodge. He played on a line with Phil Es­pos­ito and Wayne Cashman. I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber watch­ing the game when Bobby Orr scored that iconic goal against the St. Louis Blues to win the Cup in 1970.

I also was a fan of later Bru­ins teams — be­ing of Ir­ish her­itage, I’d be hard­pressed to come up with a Bruin I liked more than Terry O’Reilly.

I was also a huge Gerry Cheev­ers fan — what lit­tle hockey I did play as a kid, I played goal.

I think I’ve told you the story about meet­ing Cheev­ers in a restau­rant out­side Bos­ton? I was in the area on my first honey­moon (yes, I had two) hav­ing din­ner at this restau­rant in Dan­vers, Mass. and Cheev­ers walks by. I was work­ing at the Free Press by then, so I stopped him and in­tro­duced my­self. He sat down and chat­ted for like 20 min­utes or so. He was work­ing color for NESN at that time and had made sev­eral re­cent trips to Win­nipeg and wanted to chat about the Jets. Great sports mem­ory.

Not sure when my love for Bos­ton sports teams changed, but I could not agree with you more — in­suf­fer­able now. Maybe it’s Brad Marc­hand, Tom Brady and David Or­tiz.

I think you are on to some­thing with the Jets con­tracts. I was look­ing at them a bit yes­ter­day. The Lit­tle deal may turn out to be Chevy’s worst deal. Or maybe Eh­lers. They bet­ter hope it’s not Wheeler’s.

This team needs to start scor­ing. Wheeler and Eh­lers have two goals each, Lit­tle has three, Per­reault has two. They don’t have any­one in the Top 20 in league scor­ing and they’re 20th over­all in goals.

Paul

This is sure an enig­matic Jets team. One mo­ment, they look ev­ery bit like that pow­er­house that rolled all the way to the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal last year and then the next mo­ment they look like, well, the Jets of a cou­ple years ago, tak­ing dopey undis­ci­plined penal­ties and de­liv­er­ing more piz­zas in their own end than Domi­nos.

Thank God for the Jets’ power play — it’s saved them on more than a few nights this sea­son.

But the good news is the goals are go­ing to come, one way or an­other. This team is just way too tal­ented not to score. I think Laine’s ex­pe­ri­ences this sea­son are in­struc­tive — he’d strug­gled to find the net early in the sea­son, started grip­ping the stick too tight and so it got even harder to score and then fi­nally last week it was like a pres­sure re­lief valve let loose and he got four goals in two games. I think some­thing like that could be in the cards for this whole Jets teams gen­er­ally. Once they start scor­ing, it will be in droves.

Frankly, I’d be a lot more wor­ried if this team was strug­gling to keep the puck out of their own net, but they’re not. The Jets are ninth in the league in goals against — and three of the teams who have sur­ren­dered fewer goals than Win­nipeg have also played less games. We know this team will score sooner or later; the ques­tion com­ing into the sea­son was al­ways go­ing to be whether they would con­tinue to get the goal­tend­ing and stel­lar de­fen­sive play that made them such a pow­er­house last sea­son.

So far, the signs are gen­er­ally en­cour­ag­ing, at least on that front.

● Steve

I’m not so sure about the scor­ing. It is good to see you have a much more glass-half-full look at things though from your re­tire­ment couch, ha-ha.

Eh­lers went months without scor­ing, then scored a cou­ple. He could go months again. And I don’t en­vi­sion Bryan Lit­tle and Mathieu Per­reault ever scor­ing again like they used to. Mean­time, they are get­ting no pro­duc­tion from Roslovic, Lemieux, Copp and who­ever else might make up the fourth line. I might make May va­ca­tion plans in­stead of June plans this year.

I’m tak­ing my fi­nal two weeks of va­ca­tion this year start­ing Fri­day — go­ing to the west coast next week to visit my fa­ther. Al­ways great to go to B.C…. I’d ask if you have va­ca­tion plans, but well: is it still a va­ca­tion when you travel in re­tire­ment?

Paul

It’s funny you’d men­tion that. I was think­ing the other day how the rhythms of the week still feel the same. I’m still putting to­gether to-do lists on Mon­day and then pound­ing out tasks all week long and look­ing for­ward to “re­lax­ing” on the week­end. Ev­ery day is the week­end when you’re re­tired, but it still some­how doesn’t quite feel that way.

So yeah, damn right I’m look­ing for­ward to a hol­i­day. I’ve rented a house for a month in Ne­vis in Jan­uary and it can’t come soon enough. I’ve had enough of win­ter al­ready af­ter that lousy fall.

Speak­ing of lousy, how about those Ot­tawa Se­na­tors? It’s got­ten to the point they can’t even take an Uber without em­bar­rass­ing them­selves and their city. You know you’re do­ing some­thing wrong when you’ve sup­planted Par­lia­ment as the most un­der­per­form­ing thing to come out of the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

Hard to be­lieve that out­fit was in a con­fer­ence fi­nal just a cou­ple of years ago. Which, come to think of it, is an­other cau­tion­ary tale for the Jets and their fans — things can go wrong, in a hurry, in the NHL.

Steve

I’m not sure those play­ers did any­thing dif­fer­ently than most of us have done when we com­plain about our boss. Watch­ing the video, they didn’t sound that much dif­fer­ent than your av­er­age guy at the plant be­moan­ing the same old “lame” in­struc­tions they hear day af­ter say from their fore­man. I have more con­tempt for the Uber driver who re­leased the video. I’m not a big fan of the grow­ing trend where folks try to catch and then take joy over amuse­ment in some­one else do­ing some­thing wrong or em­bar­rass­ing.

Last time we did this, you said: “Some of the least lik­able peo­ple I’ve ever met were in a pro­fes­sional sports locker room and I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing a whole lot less of them in my new life.” I made a note of it think­ing it would be cool to ask you to give us some names. I’ve changed my mind.

Ne­vis, eh? Isn’t there a Ne­vis play­ing for the Bombers? How do you find these places?

Paul

I’ve said way worse things about you, mostly to your face, than those Sens guys said about their boss. But we’re friends.

I’m with Mike Bab­cock on this Se­na­tors thing. Bab­cock said this week that he’s told his play­ers in Toronto that ev­ery­thing is on the record, all the time, no mat­ter where you are when you’re in the NHL. So in other words, be­have your­self. That’s gen­er­ally sound ad­vice, whether it’s com­ing from a hockey coach or your mother.

I will say this about the most un­like­able peo­ple I met in this job — one of them is in the Jets dress­ing room. I don’t think he misses me ei­ther.

My goal for my first win­ter hol­i­day in re­tire­ment was to find some­thing that de­manded of me the least re­spon­si­bil­ity pos­si­ble. So to be­gin with, it had to be small enough that I didn’t need a car and Ne­vis is a grand to­tal of 35 square miles and 11,000 peo­ple. Throw in a Caribbean cli­mate, great food, a di­rect flight out of Min­neapo­lis and all the hik­ing, bik­ing and snor­kel­ing you could ever want and it sounded like the place for me.

Steve

Sounds idyl­lic pal. I’m sure we’ll chat again be­fore that.

I have to get to work — that four-let­ter word to you now — so go­ing to have to wrap this up. But let’s end with this: If the Bombers lose on Sun­day, should they fire Mike O’Shea? I say yes.

Paul

I say yes too. But they won’t.

Steve

I’m not crazy about that sto­ry­line again — a win would fi­nally be some­thing dif­fer­ent to re­port on.

Take it easy, talk soon. YLER Filewich ended his high school foot­ball ca­reer in sto­ry­book fash­ion Fri­day night.

The 6-8, 260-pound of­fen­sive tackle/de­fen­sive end/tight end blocked Vince DeRosa’s

32-yard field-goal at­tempt on the fi­nal play of the game to give the Vin­cent Massey Tro­jans a

28-25 tri­umph over the St. Paul’s Cru­saders in the Win­nipeg High School Foot­ball League Di­vi­sion I cham­pi­onship game at In­vestors Group Field.

And Filewich didn’t need to em­ploy his full wing­span to do it.

“Un­real,” Filewich said as his team­mates danced around the frozen turf cel­e­brat­ing the school’s sec­ond city ti­tle.

“I knew I had to get to the right gap and get my hands up. I knew I’m strong and I’m tall. It ac­tu­ally hit me near my hel­met.”

The game’s thrilling con­clu­sion was pre­ceded by a fast and fu­ri­ous fourth quar­ter in which St. Paul’s quar­ter­back Brody Law­son brought his team back from a 10-point deficit, scor­ing a go-ahead touch­down on an eight­yard scram­ble with 2½ min­utes re­main­ing. But the Tro­jans ral­lied, deny­ing the Cru­saders their third con­sec­u­tive ti­tle af­ter Massey QB Jack­son Tachin­ski found Ri­ley Ho with a

20-yard scor­ing strike with 31 sec­onds left in the game.

Filewich, who is also one of the prov­ince’s finest bas­ket­ball play­ers, was asked to de­scribe the mo­ment.

“Noth­ing but joy,” Filewich said. “We put in the work all year, put in the work all three years and it’s just great to see it pay off.”

The Cru­saders built a 11-7 half­time lead on Mu­lud­esta Yitna’s 14-yard touch­down pass from Law­son and a pair of safeties con­ceded by the Tro­jans’ punt squad.

Tachin­ski, named the cham­pi­onship game MVP, had given Massey a 7-0 lead on a one­yard run in the open­ing half and thought he had put the Tro­jans up be­fore the in­ter­mis­sion with a 17-yard TD pass to Vaughan Lloyd. How­ever, the score was wiped out by a hold­ing penalty.

Tachin­ski, in­ter­cepted by DeRosa on the Cru­saders’ goal-line mid­way through the third quar­ter, struck back on Massey’s next pos­ses­sion, scam­per­ing four yards around the corner on third-and-two to pay dirt. The Tro­jans were nurs­ing a 14-11 lead to start the fi­nal quar­ter.

Brey­don Stubbs, who scored on a nine-yard run for the Tro­jans and Yitna, on a 40-yard catch and run for the Cru­saders, ex­changed ma­jors to give Massey a 21-18 lead with eight min­utes left in the game.

KIn a highly en­ter­tain­ing CTV Bowl, mean­while, the River East Ko­di­aks earned the Di­vi­sion II ti­tle with a 22-14 tri­umph over the Kelvin Clip­pers.

River East cruised to a 13-0 half­time lead on the strength of Joseph Funk-Cle­ments’ scoop and score af­ter Joshua Des­jar­lais’s punt block and a pair of Reece Wyke field goals — from 12 and 35 yards out.

The Clip­pers got them­selves back into the game on their first drive of the sec­ond half, thanks in large part to a pair of timely 15-yard penal­ties as­sessed to the Ko­di­aks and capped by a one-yard TD run by Liam Stephen­son.

Min­utes later, Adam Fast hauled in a five­yard TD pass from quar­ter­back Daniel Moroz and Kelvin had a 14-13 lead.

“I told these guys they were go­ing to make a run in the third quar­ter,” River East head coach Sean Olek­sewycz said.

“I said, ‘We preach in our pro­gram fight­ing through ad­ver­sity.’ We did that to­day, we fought through ad­ver­sity. They’re a hel­luva foot­ball team. We be­lieved in our process, our cul­ture. I’m so happy for my kids. They put in a lot of work in the weight room.”

Early in the fourth quar­ter, Hezekiah made amends for throw­ing an in­ter­cep­tion in the red zone by pick­ing off a Moroz pass him­self and rum­bling 18 yards with the pick-six. River East had a 19-14 lead. Wyke added a 27-yard field goal with 1:19 re­main­ing.

Hezekiah, who car­ried the ball 15 times for

99 yards in River East’s read-op­tion of­fence, is also a su­perb de­fen­sive back whose cov­er­age skills are such that he rarely has the ball thrown his way. But once was enough for the Ko­di­aks on Fri­day.

“He only threw the ball at me one time this game and that’s lit­er­ally how it goes,” said Hezekiah, who has com­mit­ted to play at the Uni­ver­sity of Man­i­toba next sea­son.

“I pride my­self in po­si­tion­ing and just the great coach­ing I have from coach (Olek­sewycz), just out­stand­ing.

“We watch so much film to­gether and just know­ing the ten­den­cies of the re­ceivers. I pride my­self on my po­si­tion­ing — that’s why a lot of QBs don’t throw my way.”

Head coach Jon Romu was proud of his squad abil­ity to rally but cru­cial mis­takes doomed the Clip­pers.

“That was the heart­breaker,” Romu said. “They had a pick-six for a touch­down, they had a blocked punt for a touch­down. Be­sides that, our de­fence played great. Our of­fence and spe­cial teams that kinda killed us a lit­tle bit.”

River East’s as­cen­sion to the top of Di­vi­sion II marked the end of an era. Olek­sewycz, in his fifth sea­son at the helm of the pro­gram, is tak­ing his tak­ing his team the Di­vi­sion I in

2019

“I want to be like Kelsey at Massey,” Olek­sewycz said. “I want to be like Stacy at St. Paul’s. I know I don’t have the re­cruit­ing bud­get those guys have, but I’m will­ing to put in the work. This is my liveli­hood. This is my life.”

River East’s Funk-Cle­ments was named player of the game.

AR­MANDO L. SANCHEZ / CHICAGO TRI­BUNE FILES

The Chicago Black­hawks fired head coach Joel Quen­neville this week.

PHO­TOS BY PHIL HOSSACK / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Tro­jans quar­ter­back Jack­son Tachin­ski looks to make the hand­off to Brey­don Stubbs in traf­fic Fri­day evening at In­vestors Group Field.

Vin­cent Massey Tro­jans run­ning back Brey­don Stubbs tries to fight off St. Paul’s Cru­saders de­fender Sam Oyetunji.

River East Ko­di­aks ball car­rier Sam Hezikiah clings to the foot­ball as he goes down to Kelvin Clip­pers de­fend­ers Fri­day in the Di­vi­sion II fi­nal.

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