Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Good riddance, 2012

As years go in sports, you kinda sucked

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As 2011 ended with the Jets dumping the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game on New Year's Eve in Winnipeg, all seemed right with the world.

But 2012, despite beginning with such promise, would turn out to be a most difficult year in sports in this city.

To be sure, there were bright spots, such as the Winnipeg Goldeyes capturing this city's first professional sports championship since 1994, but mostly this year went from bad to worse.

The Jets missed the playoffs, the new football stadium hit snag after snag, the Bombers were awful and head coach Paul LaPolice wouldn't make it through the season.

Then came the cruellest blow of all as the NHL and its players decided to stare each other down over money rather than hold games.

Certainly, 2012 came in like a lion, with the Bombers losing in the Grey Cup and appearing to be heading for good days and the Jets back in Winnipeg where they belong.

But 2012 ended like a dud. To say it went out like a lamb would be to insult the woolly animals that provide our sweaters. Here's hoping 2013 has better stories to tell when we get around to this exercise next year. No doubt, some of you will disagree with the order or have issue with a story not being included. Send us an email -- we're always glad to get feedback.

Drum roll, please. Ladies and gentlemen the sports stories of 2012...

 

1. The lockout

WINNIPEG waited more than 15 years to get its NHL team back, and after spending the front half of 2012 basking in the glory of our Prairie hockey resurrection the city was bumped back to puck purgatory. St. Peter opened the doors to heaven and let Winnipeggers look around, but then had a change of heart and revoked the pass. Some might take solace in the fact it's likely only a break in the action with all of the NHL shut down, but the fact remains there is no big-league hockey in Winnipeg right now.

 

2. Stadium gaga

FIRST it was going to be done by July. Then it was August. Then it was just after Labour Day. Then it was see you next year. Winnipeg's state-of-the-art football facility, what Blue Bombers CEO Garth Buchko refers to as an NFL stadium sized for our market, was supposed to open in time for the club's home opener on July 26, but that date and several others came and went with nothing but excuses. Buchko inherited a bagful of foolishness and accepted the word of others on stadium issues early in his tenure as a rookie professional sports executive. On this issue, he never recovered. False promises topped with bad advice had Buchko reeling by mid-summer. Finally he pulled the plug on 2012 and turned his attention to getting the facility ready for 2013. The stadium saga wasn't of Buchko's making but he wore it all the same. When it finally does open, he'll deserve some credit for what he went through to finally deliver what should be a source of pride for this community.

 

3. All hail the Fish

GM Andrew Collier, field manager Rick Forney and play-by-play man Paul Edmonds along with countless others finally were able to revel in the good times of a title run. Collier structured a first-rate organization, Forney found the players and Edmonds painted a picture over the airwaves as the Goldeyes ran through the post-season to capture the American Association championship. Winnipeg knocked out the favoured Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in the first round of the playoffs and then captured the pennant in a sweep of the Wichita Wingnuts. The Goldeyes went 6-0 in the post-season catching lightning in a bottle at just the right time.

 

4. Long gone Lapo

Paul LaPolice went from a berth in the Grey Cup and a coach-of-the-year nomination to the unemployment line in just eight short games. Bombers GM Joe Mack fired LaPolice prior to Labour Day with the club sitting at 2-6. LaPolice's team clearly regressed in 2012 after losing in the final game of the 2011 season to the Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions but he was the scapegoat for a host of organizational issues beyond his control. No viable plan at quarterback, four games on the road to open the season because of a major error at the board level on stadium scheduling and finally roster turnover that left his locker room without leadership. LaPolice was unable to rise above this adversity and there was a case for firing him. But he shouldn't have been alone. Mack and the board members responsible for the stadium debacle were just as culpable. Last I checked, they still have their positions.

 

5. Pav-electricity

On Feb. 21, in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec flashed his glove into the air and snared a sure-goal off the stick of Jakub Voracek. The play was selected as TSN's Play of the Year. Pavelec faced Ottawa Senators forward Jason Spezza in the final and collected 54 per cent of the votes. Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen took a slap shot towards Pavelec which he turned aside while leaving a juicy rebound. Voracek had a wide open net to score but Pavelec moved across the crease on his knees and swung his trapper into the air to snag the puck. Pavelec wasn't done making news, however, as he entered into protracted contract negotiations with the Jets. Agent Allan Walsh and Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff played cat and mouse before sitting down at the NHL draft in Pittsburgh for a conversation that eventually led to a deal. Shortly after signing a five-year deal worth $19.5 million, word broke that Pavelec had been charged and convicted of drunk driving during the negotiations but had not disclosed this to the Jets.

 

6. Everything Evander: Jets left wing Evander Kane asserted himself in 2012 as a player to follow on and off the ice. First and foremost, Kane scored 30 goals and began to live up to the vast potential that saw him drafted 4th overall in 2009. While Kane was making great things happen on the ice he was also dogged by off-ice rumours. Nothing nefarious but always something seemed to be brewing with Kane. Then came the summer and as contract negotiations stretched longer and longer, there was talk of trade demands and finally a last minute flurry to get a deal done. Kane signed a six-year deal worth $31.5 million and then made the trek to Minsk of the KHL when the NHL season didn't start. Jets fans watched closely to see how Kane would fare and were disappointed when he was released from his contract after putting up just one goal and no assists in 12 games.

 

7. Great Scott: Winnipeg's Desiree Scott turned in a tour de force performance at the 2012 London Olympics earning a bronze medal as part of Canada's women's soccer team. Scott raised her game and was lauded for her role as a stalwart midfield defender. Scott made one of the plays of the tournament in Canada's bronze medal game 1-0 victory as she cleared a ball off the goal line to prevent a France goal. Scott returned to Winnipeg after the Olympics to a large crowd at the airport where they chanted her name and sang Oh Canada.

"I'm a very emotional person. To come home and hear my name being screamed... I'm holding back tears right now," said Scott.

 

8. Mack back: The Bombers came close to firing their GM late in the season but had a change of heart over the last four games of the campaign and just prior to their finale held a press conference to announce Joe Mack would be back. Mack owns a 20-34 record as GM of the Bombers and has sandwiched one Grey Cup appearance with a pair of non-playoff seasons. Upper management has said this is the season Mack's plan must come into focus. A winning record and a playoff appearance are a must to keep his job secure according to CEO Garth Buchko and chairman of the board Bill Watchorn.

 

9. Tim at the top: The Bombers named Tim Burke interim head coach after they fired Paul LaPolice prior to Labour Day. Burke's first couple of weeks on the job were brutal as the club lost 52-0 in Regina, dropped a 25-24 game to the Riders at the Banjo Bowl and then were dreadful losing 44-3 to the Calgary Stampeders. Burke finally got his first win in his fourth try defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 34-12. Burke finished 4-6 and if not for a rookie mistake in the Banjo Bowl could very well have finished 5-5 and potentially have gotten the Bombers into the post-season. Burke seemed to have the confidence of the organization and on the day he was announced head coach the entire team came up from the dressing room to sit in on the press conference.

 

10. Crosby's better: Winnipeg Jets fans became known around the NHL not only for their passion but their clever approach to treating star players from the opposition. Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin was serenaded with, "Crosby's better." Carolina Hurricane's centre Eric Staal had to listen to a night of, "Jordan's better," referring to his younger brother, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was treated to a chorus of, "Silver medal," in honour of his second place finish at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics behind team Canada. The rink was full for every Jets game and on many nights the crowd was the first star.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2012 C1

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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