1996 Jim Coleman

Jim Coleman
by Trent Frayne

In his time as a daily columnist Jim Coleman wrote wonderful, funny, inventive stuff. He always remembered that games were not, in Red Smith’s word, Armageddon.
In print, among many sportswriting jewels, Jim gave birth to the Curse of the Muldoon, to the mysterious Umlaut twins, and to a sudden decision to purchase Maple Leaf Gardens.

Jim Coleman

Jim Coleman

The Umlaut twins, Otto and Manfred, were an unscrupulous pair who first appeared in Coleman’s imagination during a world hockey tournament in Vienna.

“They are unscrupulous and amoral. They are the unseen hand,” he confided once. “Think of Calgary 1984.”

That was the final game of the glorious Canada Cup with the Soviets and Canada tied late. Paul Coffey lifts a shot from the point. The goaltender, Myshkin, moves to stop the puck but someone has hold of his stick. The puck hits Mike Bossy’s stick, changes direction and slides along the ice where Myshkin’s stick would have been. The winning goal. Who held the stick?
“The Umlauts,” Coleman said. “No question.”

Coleman, a Winnipeg native, lived in Toronto for 35 years, then moved to Calgary and became publicity director of Stampede Park. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the largest crowd of the autumn turned up for thoroughbred racing. Fifteen minutes before post-time the police rushed into Coleman’s office and said racing would be delayed.
“Outside, a guy had shot somebody and he’d run into the track,” Coleman said. “The cops wouldn’t let anybody out and they wouldn’t let the races start. We had to refund all the betting money, over a hundred thousand. Finally we had to cancel and tell everybody to come back tomorrow. The next day it snowed.The Umlauts. No question.”

Coleman considered purchasing Maple Leaf Gardens while a columnist at The Globe. He wrote: “My associates have given me permission to identify them publicly. We do this merely to clear up any public misconception that we might have been fronting for Chase National Bank or even J. Paul Getty (world’s richest man).
“My associates were: Phil “Canvasback” Lisner, Meat-Wagon Joe Brown, and a taxi-driver named Tex. We were sitting in Tex’s cab outside the King Edward Hotel one night when we decided to buy the Gardens.”
Canvasback Lisner, a local fighter, asked how to go about buying the famous rink.
“You just phone Stafford Smythe, stupid,” Coleman said. “Has anyone got a dime? I’ll make the call.”
Luckily no one had a dime, so Coleman stayed in the newspaper business.

Coleman invented the Curse of the Muldoon one spring evening when the Maple Leafs met the Chicago Blackhawks in a Stanley Cup playoff.
As his deadline approached his Muse had forsaken him, while up on Carlton Street the Blackhawks were being troublesome. A few seasons earlier the eccentric Hawk owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, had fired the coach, Pete Muldoon.
“Aha” Coleman cried, remembering.
He began to pound it out. The Leafs will win the Stanley Cup, he wrote. The Hawks are hexed. He revealed that when Muldoon learned he’d been fired he’d stormed into McLauglin’s office and, shaking his fist, had cried, “As long as you live you’ll never win the Stanley Cup. It’s the Curse of the Muldoon!”

And the Hawks didn’t, not until Bobby Hull’s time, long after McLaughlin’s demise. By then the Curse of the Muldoon had been accepted as a fact by Chicago scribes, who wrote gloomily of it each spring, blaming the owner.
But it was Coleman who did it. Unless…..unless…..unless…..it was the Umlauts!