Thursday, September 27, 2007

Paul Friesen raises bar in Winnipeg/Phoenix flame war

What makes this story interesting is how a couple of comments that Randy Turner and Gary Lawless had tucked away in their September 20th articles of the Winnipeg Free Press would lead into a war of words between the Phoenix and Winnipeg hockey media.

As I mentioned in two blog entries in the last seven days, this non-story became one after Turner went on a typical Canadian media rant about how he believes NHL hockey is failing in the southern United States and named Phoenix as one of the cities. Lawless in his "highlight reel" section of his preseason game recap complained about the lack of a physical presence by the Phoenix media at MTS Centre for a meaningless preseason game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Three days later, East Valley Tribune hockey columnist Jerry Brown decided to not let Turner's and Lawless' rants go unanswered with his "Brownie Points" column. Some readers found his statements to be offensive to Winnipeg hockey fans while others applaud him for standing up to the harsh critics from north of the border.

But the latest development to this story was raised to an all new level altogether as Winnipeg Sun hockey columnist Paul Friesen went on the attack against Brown with a front page story (you can also access this hyperlink to a saved image as the article is directly accessible online for only a limited time). A very clever cartoon image of the Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote holding a sign reading "Winnipeg sucks" was plastered on the cover for all Winnipeggers to see. There is no doubt in my mind that Friesen's objective was to make a very public statement to a Phoenix-area hockey writer all in front of his hometown readers so he can sell a few extra newspapers.

It did the trick, didn't it? A number of Winnipeg fans ended up accessing Brown's column page and leaving some choice words for the Coyotes beat writer after reading Friesen's column. While a few showed some class, some were argumentative in nature while others were downright outrageous with their statements, valid or not. I certainly had a major problem with some of these readers' comments. So much so that on two occasions within the 24 hours that Friesen's column was published, I made my feelings very loud and clear.

Friesen has a right to speak his mind and respect his voiced opinions about hockey issues such as this one about what Brown said on September 23rd. I'd be ready to defend my town too if it was not said in the nicest words. Ever heard of "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me", people? Not that Brown went on a malicious tirade against Winnipeg, but did it warrant Friesen to attack Brown, the city of Phoenix, its sports market and the Coyotes in the manner he did? Seriously, Friesen made this headline news as if Winnipeg was under a nuclear attack. He has told me today that his column was all done in fun and given the reasoning I can see that, I buy it. It reaffirms my belief that his goal was indeed what I thought it was. At the same time I said to Friesen in a reply back that it stirred up a big debate.

The fact of the matter is, this flame war from Winnipeg's side is about their loss of the Jets to Phoenix. I have seen the good times and now the bad in Arizona. This flame war is about what some journalists and fan criticisms of the present-day NHL are about... cities that deserve NHL teams, but could sustain them in the economic climate of the league VS. Sun Belt franchises that have either struggled or even if they are doing well, the argument especially echoing from Canada from the fans and media has been, they're not supported the same as their NHL cities. Just look at today's edition of the Edmonton Sun where Robert Tychkowski just had to bring up the small crowd at Arena for last night's preseason game between the Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. If I must say this again to get it through observers' thick skulls... IT'S PRESEASON!

The thing is this. The Phoenix Coyotes as they are right now are struggling for reasons I've already stated in my earlier blog entries. It's no secret that the fans have stayed away in Phoenix. It is not because they don't care! They are disenchanted with the front office for how they've failed to put together a competitive team over the last five years. Will new Coyotes general manager Don Maloney right the ship? Who knows, but we'll be watching. Winnipeg fans as well as media critics in that city and across Canada conveinently fail to recall the success the Coyotes were seeing in the first five years despite US Airways Center not built to properly accommodate hockey and had a limited seating capacity for NHL games in the Coyotes' original rink. In turn, the Coyotes did not bring in enough adequate revenue to make them profitable and viable. But that reason didn't hold up enough by the time the Coyotes moved into Arena.

Then came the 2005 lockout. Does anybody in Canada remember that? That has had a major effect on the Coyotes and even cancelled an event that would've done some real good for them... the NHL All-Star Game. No, it wouldn't have cured their ills, but it would've helped better the situation.

The convenience of the Coyotes' struggles at this point in time only has given the Winnipeg media and other media across Canada their window to take shots at a team when they're down.

Here's my point in all this and some advice for the emotional fans that reside in Winnipeg. This advice can be given to others across Canada that echo the same negative sentiments. Get a grip on the fact that it's been 11 years since the Jets left Winnipeg and it's time to solely concentrate on supporting Darren Ford's "Return of the Jets Campaign" and getting behind it in full force. At the same time, an owner must step to the table ready to invest in an expansion or relocated team the very moment the NHL Board of Governors is willing to officially commit to Winnipeg as a renewed member of the league. The corporate community and the fans must put their money where there mouth is in saying they are unconditional supporters of NHL hockey in Winnipeg. That would be most suited at this point for the Winnipeg media and Jets fans to put forth their efforts on instead of whining and complaining about the Coyotes at every turn. Why? It won't change anything, that's why!

We'll see if any more words are spoken between journalists from the two cities, but at this point in the flame war, it'll lose its luster real fast if pointless bickering and arguments are made.

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