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Jason Bell Behind the Bench
Free Press
You’re welcome to step Behind the Bench
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You’re welcome to step Behind the Bench

Hello!

Consider this the official launch of my twice-weekly newsletter, Behind the Bench, featuring the idle ramblings of someone extremely pleased to have a platform and to be delivering the best of our stories to your inbox every Tuesday and Friday. This newsletter replaces Playbook.

Appreciate your readership. Now, to back up a bit…

THE WARM-UP

The office is rather bland — awash in beige, save for the hospital-green ‘feature’ wall — and includes a torn and faded blue loveseat that should mercifully be trucked to the Brady Landfill, and a bookcase with stacks of loose paper, a Kleenex box, and a mishmash of power cables.

The lighting isn’t great and it’s already clear that maintaining a proper room temperature is going to be an exercise in futility, no matter the season. The south-facing window offers an uninspiring view of the  Inkster Industrial Park, although faraway Sisler High School is a beacon of encouragement.

An expansive desk and a somewhat ill-suited vintage wooden coat tree are the other furnishings in the room.

The place could use a good dusting, and a picture or three.

But it’s my office and I quite like it. I’ve never had one before. Not even at home, where I have a makeshift workspace set up at the dining room table. We’re empty-nesters and rarely subscribe to the act of formal dining. My home workspace is kitty corner to the cage of Marty Byrde, our nattering pineapple conure. If you’ve seen any of my appearances on the Illegal Curve Hockey Show, you’ve also seen our little parrot steal my spotlight.

Owning, in the loosest of terms, a small corner of real estate at 1355 Mountain Ave., as part of my employment as the new Sports Editor for the Free Press is kind of a cool perk. So, too, is the title, and seeing my name below the banner on the front of the print section.

But it’s the job itself that has me on Cloud 9. I’ve been handling the duties since December, when Steve Lyons retired, but now have officially dropped the ‘interim’ tag. It’s the latest — and, hopefully, final — chapter of a career in journalism that began nearly 33 years ago when I left the Creative Communications program at Red River College two months early to take job with the Interlake Spectator in Arborg.

Fast-forward through an enjoyable year spent with the weekly paper and five more in sports with the Brandon Sun, followed by ‘The Lost Years’ in corporate communications, about 20 months selling mattresses — don’t even ask — and we (finally) get to my big break.

Fired by phone from that sales job in January 2002, I took a month off to sulk and then launched a relentless campaign to convince then-Free Press assistant sport editor Chris Cariou to hire me. Fortunately, a term position opened a few months into unemployment, and I was given a shot.

The newsroom was the place to be back then. Loud. Hectic. Exhausting. I immediately felt like I was finally home. Twenty years later — one in sports, four in news, five more as assistant city editor, three in management as breaking news editor and, finally, a little more than five as hockey writer and assistant sports editor — it’s still home. And the last place I’ll hang my hat.

Manitoba is a vibrant sports province, with passionate fans that live and die with the successes and failures of their pro teams (the Jets, Bombers, Goldeyes and Valour FC). Equally vital is a thriving and diverse amateur scene, with female and male athletes of all creeds and colours working hard to perfect their skills and reach their goals.

Our sports reporters are dedicated and hardworking, prepared to stretch themselves to produce the best and most relevant news for our readers, seven days a week.

My pledge is we will not only maintain the high standard of journalism — unique, incisive, and compelling coverage — you have come to expect from us, but also push to experiment with new ways to tell stories through our print and digital platforms.

Couple of other things you should know about me: I savour weekend lake life, prefer movies without car chases and explosions, dig Thai food, and cheer, unabashedly, for the Toronto Blue Jays.

If you have ideas for us, don’t hesitate to call me at (204) 697-7285 or drop me an email by hitting "reply" on this note or writing me at jason.bell@winnipegfreepress.com.

Jason Bell

— Sports editor Jason Bell

Jason Bell

OUR COVERAGE

Off course: The Winnipeg Jets have veered sharply off their flight path, yet astonishingly the individual at the controls — GM Kevin Cheveldayoff — has been given another three years to fix a broken culture and get the NHL club back on track. FP columnist Mike McIntyre takes a look at the embattled franchise.

A room divided? A parade of Winnipeg Jets in recent days has made similar statements about the state of the hockey team, providing a glimpse of a problem-filled dressing room. Jeff Hamilton has the story.

Star on the rise: At just 15 years old, Jonas Woo is already making an impact with the Winnipeg Ice — one of the best junior teams in the nation — as they push toward a WHL title, Mike Sawatzky reports.

Raiders to the end: A pair of former Oak Park standouts, Blue Bombers’ Nic Demski and Brady Oliveira, returned to their old high school and brought a souvenir, the Grey Cup, much to the delight of the student body. Taylor Allen was there.

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The future of 55: Mark Scheifele, the best centre in Winnipeg Jets 2.0 history, says he needs to hear a concrete plan from management before he commits to staying put.

Ice, ice baby: Winnipeg’s WHL team cruised past the Prince Albert Raiders over the weekend en route to the second round of the playoffs.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

A real pro: Luc Magnan from tiny Pine Falls, Man., is gearing up for the National Lacrosse League playoffs with his Halifax Thunderbirds teammates. Tyler Allen has the story.

Making a splash: Mia West was recently named Manitoba’s junior athlete of the year for 2021, and the future looks bright for the competitive swimmer. Taylor Allen caught up with the West family last week.

Big potential: The University of Manitoba Bisons men’s basketballs squad believe they have a blue-chip prospect in Winnipeg’s own Simon Hildebrandt, Mike Sawatzky reports.

A return to court: Former teen squash sensation Becks Dudley returns home for a local tournament after years of mental-health struggles. Mike Sawatzky offers this powerful piece.

Better days ahead: Winnipeg Jets prospect Cole Perfetti faced a number of obstacles in his first full season as a pro but the eternal optimist refuses to get down in the dumps.

ONE GREAT PICTURE

Runners start the Winnipeg Police Service Half Marathon in Assiniboine Park Sunday. Funds raised support the Canadian Cancer Society. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

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