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Several thoughts crossed my mind when I learned via email just minutes prior to my departure for the Rady JCC 43rd Annual “Y” Sports Dinner   at the RBC Convention Centre on May 7th that headline speaker NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman would not be attending the function because he had been “sidelined by a kidney stone attack.”

(Ed. note: Is it the “Y” Sports Dinner or the “Rady JCC” Sports Dinner now? The name seems to have been changed, but it’s not clear whether it’s officially now the Rady JCC Sports Dinner.)
Surely the now 62-year-old Cornell University law grad, who majored in Industrial and Labor Relations, could come up with a better alibi than that. Besides, didn’t he understand that he is no longer an enemy of the people and had long ago been forgiven for any role he may have played in Winnipeg losing its’ original NHL franchise back in the mid-nineties.
Now, who was going to dart into the fray and save the day? Well, it wasn’t as if Blair Worb, the Sports Dinner Committee Chair and his hard-working group, were going to have to find a replacement for a headliner of the calibre of  a “Magic” Johnson, Drew Breese, or Joe Montana when the solution was right under their collective noses.
As it turned out, representing the NHL in Gary’s absence would be a collection of incomparable hockey minds including NHL Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly, Winnipeg Jets’ Executive Chairman Mark Chipman, Jets’ Executive VP & GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, plus Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice.
The panel of experts would be queried by the classy and talented Sara Orlesky in a so-called hot stove league format.
Prior to the new game plan, which was set to begin at approximately 8:45 p.m.,  I roamed the hall and unofficially queried a number of attendees as to whether their interest had waned upon learning that the original guest speaker was now unavailable because of a lower body injury.
Perhaps, like any reporter worth his unsharpened pencil, outdated fedora, and schmaltz-stained trench coat, I was silently hoping for a sort of palace revolt whereby crusty rolls would be tossed in disgust and bread sticks used as weapons would be the outcome. Not !
Quite to the contrary. -  most of those queried had a generally positive attitude and felt that the substitutes were more than decent facsimiles. In addition they also shared, in so many words, that they understood that the Rady JCC is a registered charity and that funds raised at the dinner went to a variety of worthwhile programs and services. Oops, there went my potential Pulitzer Prize or at the very least a scoop du jour.
Some interesting questions were posed to the panel by Orlesky, plus a few others prepared in advance by audience members. Many responses elicited loud applause from an obviously hockey-adoring gathering that came to praise.
To wit:
Cheveldayoff shared where his interests as GM now lay when his team is out of the playoffs:  “When the party abruptly stops for us, my focus turns more towards the future. This whole week we’ve had our amateur scouts in Winnipeg here and we hunker down in the dressing room working on the draft list. It’s an important opportunity for us to get together and ultimately make some decisions how we’re going to spend some of our draft picks.”
As for the arrival of the American Hockey League Moose in Winnipeg, Kevin shared his excitement with the audience. “I’m a fan of the AHL. We’re beginning to see the fruits of our labours. Players, like goaltender Michael Hutchinson, Ben Chiarot, and Adam Lowry and the impact they’ve made is heartening. It’s so important for us and having the team here now it gives us an opportunity to grow in front of us. Our team is truly going to be a development team; extremely young. We were fortunate to have a good draft two years ago, ten in number. Having them here now will make them feel a part of it. That’s what our culture is all about. For me, I’m living a dream right now to be where I am and it’s a privilege.
Kevin also added that he is also a big football fan, but it’s not of the National Football League. Instead,  he said that he’s a big fan of the Canadian Football League, which drew  loud applause. “I lived in the US for many, many years and I honestly have never been to an NFL game. I grew up as a fan of the Roughriders in Saskatchewan and I think it’s a good product. All of the times I was in the States I watched the Grey Cups religiously.”
What does Paul Maurice do in the off-season? “I’m like everyone else,” he laughed.  “I have three kids which means 90 percent of my day is shot. I’ve got a lot of shallow interests. I like to fish, but I don’t. I like to read, but I’m not very well read. We’ve moved five or six times, but this is home for now. I go to Home Depot and meet people and buy some flowers. I think I’m a good golfer, but I’m not”
Daly was asked whether or not Winnipeg will ever get to hold the June draft here and he assured the audience that in the not too distant future it was entirely possible. He was here for game three in the recent Anaheim-Winnipeg series, thought that it was fantastic and said  that he felt very privileged to be in such an enthusiastic environment.
Chipman was asked what the chances were of Winnipeg hosting a hockey double header with the Jets and Moose in action on the same day. “Yes, I think it’s very possible. It will depend on the same schedules working out. It’s a little bit tricky . Ice quality is paramount for the NHL and, therefore, the Jets would have the first game, say in the afternoon, followed by the Moose in the evening.”
Fans were concerned about the re-signing of Michael Frolik and Kevin noted that they definitely wanted the forward back and would be working this summer on that becoming a reality. Change (however) is inevitable and that is not a bad thing, but I’m really positive about this team that I think it is really on the verge. We need a good mix of veterans and youth in order to keep things moving forward.
In general, audience reaction appeared to indicate the panel participants may even have outdone the originally invited guest speaker by a score of four kidney stones to one.
Caps off to fastball pitcher Mandy Greenberg, 24, of the Smitty’s Terminators, who also led her alma matter, Minot Division Two NCAA tournament team to its’ first ever championship, and captured the Jewish Athlete of the Year Award.
Justin Odwak with Connor Derraugh on piano were beyond superb in their performances of O Canada and Hatikvah.
Dinner honourees this year were the Frieman (Arnold and Myra) and Leibl families (daughter Nona and husband Ashley). All of them were certainly worth listening to and audience reaction indicated that in spades. I was especially touched by Mr. Frieman and Nona’s speeches. May these wonderful families all live many more years and enjoy good health.
The Bert Knazan Award winners this year were Mackenzie Miller and Serena Buchwald.
This year’s Maccabia Hockey title went to Atlas Property Management, consisting of  Jesse Garber, Doran Yehudaiff, Daniel Glesby, Justin Silverstein, Jacob Douglas Zachary and Bobby Goldberg, Trevor Bebchuk, Riley Streifler, Jordan Vine, Sam and Joel Shuster, and James Cohen.   

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