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2013: You don't really want to remember

Few bright spots in a year marked by mediocrity

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Chris O�Meara / The Associated Press files

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Chris O�Meara / The Associated Press files

With 2013 fading into darkness, the scent of anger, frustration and burnt dreams attacks the senses of Winnipeg sports fans. Losing, firings and mismanagement were the hallmarks of Manitoba's year in pro sports.

There were villains, zeros and few heroes in 2013. Fumbling and bumbling filled the sports pages and radio shows. Excuses were offered up far more often than results. Let's face it, 2013 sucked for the folks buying the tickets in this town.

Hard as this is to say, 2013 was actually a worse year in sports than it's predecessor.

At least 2012, which was truly a challenging year for Winnipeg sports fans, included a championship for the Goldeyes.

Hope, however, springs eternal and the early indications are 2014 will be an improvement over one of the darkest years in recent Winnipeg sports history.

The Jets have a pair of rookies that are the envy of the NHL, Bombers GM Kyle Walters is bright, Jen Jones will curl at the Olympics and Rick Forney has picked up a lesson or two about life at the top of the mountain in pro baseball.

Here's a look at the year that was. Let's hope for better results beginning in January:


1. The kids are all right


KEVIN Cheveldayoff's first two top picks Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba finally arrive in Winnipeg and, after some early ups and downs, establish themselves as the best rookie duo in the NHL. With 2013 ending, the two first-rounders are making a case to be the best players on the Jets roster. Scheifele is Top-10 in rookie scoring and fighting for No. 1 centre ice time. Trouba is trending to be Winnipeg's best all-around defenceman already when the elements of defensive zone responsibility, physicality and offence are considered.


2. Wade's World


MEET the new boss, nothing like the old boss. CEO Wade Miller has put the all important football decisions in the hands of rookie GM Kyle Walters and the Bombers look to be making solid decisions and then acting on them. Walters has hired rookie head coach Mike O'Shea and been active on the free agent market locking up some key pieces such as Jason Vega and Bryant Turner. The biggest question, finding a starting quarterback, is still unanswered but the Bombers appear to be well ahead of the old regime in terms of plan and the ability to execute it.


3. See ya, Cindy


WINNIPEG'S great winter Olympian announced in early December she would not be returning for a fourth consecutive games. Klassen became the first Canadian to win five medals at a single Winter Olympics in 2006 where she earned gold in the 1500-metre, silver in the 1000-metre, silver in Team Pursuit, bronze in the 5000-metre and bronze in the 3000-metre.

Klassen also won a bronze medal in the 3000-metre in 2002. Skating for Canada in Vancouver in 2010, Klassen did not earn a medal.


4. Heritage homer


MARK Chipman told the Free Press in December that Winnipeg would be hosting an NHL outdoor game. "The NHL has confirmed to me they are going to do an outdoor game in Winnipeg. I don't have a specific date to announce but it would be our preference that we do it in the 2015-16 season," Chipman said. "The date hasn't been confirmed but our preference is to do it then. The league's commitment to doing an outdoor game in our city is fantastic. It's something we've been talking about for some time and it's part of a significant strategy to do outdoor games and it will be great to be a part of it. We just have to firm up some details and hopefully we'll have a date to announce fairly soon."


5. Good luck, Jen


JENNIFER Jones, just a handful of months after delivering her first child, stepped back on the pebbled ice and captured the Roar of the Rings qualifying event to become Canada's skip at the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The Jones team, dominant in women's curling over the better part of a decade, will be making their first trip to the Olympics. Jones was brilliant in the Olympic trials and her crew followed her along. While getting there was big news in 2013, a win in Sochi would almost guarantee her a top spot on this list in 2014.


6. A friend, not an agent


DON Baizley, one of the most quietly powerful people in hockey, died June 27 after a 14-month battle with non-smokers's lung cancer. Baizley was a key figure on the Winnipeg hockey scene as the agent for luminaries such as Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Teemu Selanne.

"I never liked to use the word 'agent' with Don and I never considered him that way," said client Paul Kariya. "He was family. First and foremost, he was a friend. My parents really liked the fact that Don was a lawyer and really humble and down to earth. Don was probably as far away from the Jerry Maguire type of agent -- which is maybe what people in the general public think of player agents. Don was 180 degrees removed from Jerry Maguire and that ilk."

Baizley was also a confidante of many NHL power brokers including Commissioner Gary Bettman and former union leader Bob Goodenow. Many credit Baizley's ability to work with both sides on an issue to creating a path for a new CBA in 2005.

Baizley may be gone but he won't and should not be forgotten. The Hockey Hall of Fame should be his next stop.


7. No Fish repeat


MANAGER Rick Forney felt the joy of a championship in 2012 and then had the realities of life at the top of the mountain set in for the 2013 season. The Goldeyes never managed to get on the same page. When the hitting soared, the pitching dived. When the bullpen got healthy, the bats went cold. Forney's Fish missed the playoffs altogether leaving the veteran manager with next year to ponder.


8. Lockout ends


BEFORE the NHL lockout began, the end result of 50-50 was predicted in a number of places. There were some other issues to iron out but in the end an even split and renewed partnership between the NHL and its players was forged. Jets chairman Mark Chipman declared the deal a win for small-market franchises such as his own and predicted it would clear a path towards a competitive team here in Winnipeg.


9. Scorched earth


THE Joe Mack era ended one morning in August and tied to his wagon was CEO Garth Buchko. Both men were fired and Wade Miller stepped in as new top boss and immediately promoted Kyle Walters into the GM's chair. Mack had mismanaged the Bombers on-field product to a point where the club was able to collect just seven wins over the last two seasons. That's 7-29 for those counting at home. Buchko was handed a host of problems created by the club's board of directors and they conveniently used him as a scapegoat. Miller stepped into power amidst a landscape of scorched earth.


10. Bisons bash


THE province of Manitoba built itself a new $200-million football stadium in hopes of watching its teams, both pro and university, soar to new heights. But it took two months after the first football game was played at Investors Group Field before a win was recorded. The University of Manitoba Bisons defeated the Alberta Golden Bears 65-41 on Aug. 31 to earn the first win at the new park. The Bombers would go 0-4 at home before beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sept. 8. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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