November 9, 2004
'Peg still has potentialDidn't deserve bad rap: Essensa
By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun
It's mind-boggling when you think about the hockey history that graced our city on the weekend.
Many of the ex-Jets here for the Arena farewell didn't mind talking about the future, either -- specifically, whether the NHL will ever make a comeback in Winnipeg.
If it were up to them, it would happen. And I didn't get the impression they were just blowing smoke up my breezers, either.
The most interesting comment about the new, downtown rink came from Dave Ellett.
"It's 15 years too late," Ellett said. "It would certainly have helped the franchise. This new arena's going to be a great stepping stone for the future of hockey, whether it be American League or, potentially, the NHL.
"I'd love to see it happen. The people here deserve it."
The next guy to cast his vote was Eddie Olczyk, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"In the right environment, there's no question in my mind," Olczyk said. "It'll always be an NHL city."
Of course, Olczyk could probably sell a Grey Cup ticket to a Blue Bombers fan (a skill that comes in handy trying to sell the Penguins in Pittsburgh). But, again, you got the impression he meant it.
Retired goalie Bob Essensa agreed, saying this city would fit in, given the proper solution to the lockout.
"We'll have to see how this next CBA shakes its way out, to allow, not only Winnipeg but the other small-market cities ... to flourish," Essensa said. "If that's the case, then yeah, I think they can support another team."
Of course, all the ex-players in the world could say the same thing and it wouldn't mean diddley. It's the owners who control this thing.
The weekend reunion, though, provided a reminder of how players who thought Winnipeg was the armpit of the league before they came often left with an appreciation for the city and its fans.
"It always got a bad rap, for whatever reason," Essensa said. "But all the players seemed to band together. Everybody was in close proximity, so it made it really easy for guys to bond. I found that out in my travels around the NHL. It's not all that common to have as close-knit a group."
CAN'T DO IT: Confession: I'd like to pull for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but can't because they keep shooting their mouths off.
The latest case of verbal diarrhea comes courtesy of running back Kenton Keith, after Sunday's victory over Edmonton in the West Semifinal.
"Now that we've got our offence down to a T, nobody can stop us," Keith chirped. "You can quote that. Send it nationwide if you want to."
Uh, Kenton, if putting up 14 points and 293 total yards makes you unstoppable, what does that make your opponent in the West Final, the B.C. Lions, who average 32 points and 429 yards per game?
TIME'S UP: It seems Eskimos boss Tom Higgins has lost whatever confidence his team had in him, after that awful decision to fake a punt on 3rd-and-19.
"I don't think that was a good call at that point of the game," Esks linebacker Singor Mobley said.
"I don't know where the hell that came from," was wideout Ed Hervey's take.
Part of Higgins' explanation was lame, too.
"If we punt the ball they could have a big return and had the ball back," he said.
Can't that happen every time you punt the ball away?
Higgins has now blown it twice in big games, including that third-down gamble in the 2002 Grey Cup.
Your time's up, Tom.
By the way, wouldn't Hervey, a soon-to-be free agent, look good beside Milt Stegall in the Bombers lineup?
AND FINALLY: Memo to running back Mike Pringle: You've accomplished everything there is to accomplish. Retire while you still have the respect of most of us.