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You have to hand it to the organizers of Limmud: They don’t limit the kinds of sessions to what would ordinarily be considered “Jewish” subjects, per se. If you’re a Jew – or maybe you just like Jews, or perhaps you just like Jewish food, then you’re sure to enjoy something at Limmud – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be given a time slot at Limmud to boot.

So – when I saw that one of the afternoon sessions was titled “Ahead of the Curve: The Story Behind and Origins of the Illegal Curve Hockey Show”, with Drew Mindell presenting, I thought to myself: “So many of the learning sessions at Limmud are kind of heavy – with a strong emphasis on Jewish religion, here’s something for someone really superficial – like me!”
Now, ordinarily, sports stories in this paper are the purview of our inimitable sports writer, the great Harvey Rosen (who continually astounds me with the depths of his knowledge of anything related to the Jewish sports world). In fact, Harvey has written about the guys behind the “Illegal Curve” hockey show before, but when I saw the chance to hear firsthand the story how the show came about from one of its creators, I decided to attend Mindell’s presentation. I wondered whether it was going to be somewhat light-hearted, but when I saw that Mindell had prepared a Powerpoint presentation I understood immediately that he was going to be taking this very seriously.
During the hour that he had to give his presentation, Mindell interspersed stories and anecdotes with audio clips from past radio shows and the occasional visual showing how the show had grown in popularity since it was first launched in the radio studio of Red River College six years ago.
By now you might be wondering just what “The Illegal Curve” is? Well, it’s both a radio show focused on the National Hockey League – with a heavy emphasis on the Winnipeg Jets, and a website that provides a wealth of arcane information on the same subjects.
According to Mindell, the idea for “The Illegal Curve” first came from the febrile mind of lawyer Richard Pollock (whose real job is working for Evans Family Law Corporation) eight years ago, when Pollock launched a website by the same name. The website was a hodge-podge of information about hockey but, where it gained some currency among devout hockey fans, Mindell explained, was in its linking to a great many other hockey-related websites.
Two years later, Pollock, along with four other guys who had all been friends since childhood: Mindell (a business analyst and change management specialist for Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries); Ezra Ginsburg (a marketing and research coordinator for Cushman & Wakefield, a local commercial real estate firm); Michael Remis (a radio producer at 1290); and David Minuk (an entrepreneur), began producing podcasts in the basement of the aforesaid Red River College, soon moving into the college’s radio studio, where they launched a weekly radio show.
Their motivation was entirely a love of the game, Mindell explained. When I asked him whether they make any money from doing the show, he shrugged and said they now get paid something by radio station TSN 1290, but none of them are in it for the money (although Michael Remis is now working for the station on a regular basis as a producer, so at least one of the guys was able to parlay what was a volunteer position into a paying gig).
By the way, it’s worth pointing out that TSN 1290 also has at least one other notable Jewish on-air personality in the person of Matt (who used to be known as “Matthew”) Leibl. Leibl can be heard in the important weekday morning time slot of 6-11 on what’s called the “Big Show”, along with co-hosts Troy Westwood and Brandon Rewucki. One thing I love about Leibl is that he’s very upfront about his Jewishness, constantly dropping references to his “bubbie”’s cooking and other such parochial remarks.
To return to the story of “The Illegal Curve” and how it has morphed into a very popular radio show twice a week on 1290, Mindell explained that the boys began doing their radio broadcasts at Red River College in February, 2009. At the time Pollock was still maintaining his website which, according to Mindell, garnered him the respect of hockey aficionados throughout the hockey world, including many hockey commentators.
As a result, when the radio show was launched six years ago, the three on-air hosts – Pollock, Mindell, and Ginsburg, found that they were able to attract a long list of A-list hockey guests. For instance, Mindell noted, the show was the first one to feature former NHL star Theo Fleury discussing his past history of molestation by his boyhood coach Graham James – something that was considered quite a bit of a coup for the show at the time.
Some time before the NHL actually returned to Winnipeg, however, the boys began to speculate among themselves about the possible return of the league to this city. They noted that every NHL city had an all-sports radio station and wondered which radio station here might eventually fill that bill. Their conclusion – and it wasn’t really much of a guess, was that it would be 1290 – since 1290 had already had a previous, but unsuccessful fling, with an all-sports format.
Thus, they decided to approach 1290 with the idea of moving “The Illegal Curve” from the Red River College radio station to 1290 and the station which, by then, was now owned by the sports network behemoth TSN, bought the idea. In September, 2010, TSN 1290 was officially launched and, some months later, “The Illegal Curve” became the first locally-produced show on the station. (In the beginning, all the programming on 1290 emanated from the American sports network, ESPN, Mindell noted.)
The year 2011 proved to be a momentous one for hockey-starved Winnipeggers, as that was the year the NHL announced it would be returning to Winnipeg. Without any foreknowledge of that, however, “The Illegal Curve” website, which had been put on hiatus by Richard Pollock a couple of years before, was reinstated in March, 2011– something that proved to be prescient once the news of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg was announced.
According to Mindell, it was on their radio show that the first hint that it would be the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers that might be moving to Winnipeg – and not the Phoenix Coyotes (which had been everyone’s expectation to that point, if there were to be a move of any NHL franchise), was disclosed. It was during an interview with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly that Daly casually mentioned that the Atlanta Thrashers might be moving. At the time the boys didn’t realize how significant a revelation that was, Mindell admitted.
In short order though – in May, 2011, the NHL did make the official announcement that it would be the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg. Ever since there has been an insatiable appetite for news about the Winnipeg Jets within certain circles here – and “The Illegal Curve” has been filling that need to a large extent.
If you’ve never heard the show (and I admit that I’ve listened to it very rarely myself as I’m a committed CBC listener when I do listen to the radio), it can be heard Wednesday evenings from 6-8 and Saturdays from noon-3. “The Illegal Curve” follows a format of having the three on-air hosts discuss what seem to be the most esoteric minutiae of hockey-related subjects, with guests from a variety of different NHL cities.
Considering that the show is aimed at a particular, but highly sought-after demographic, i.e. young males, it is doing quite well, says Mindell. “It’s the number one rated show in our time slot on Saturdays among men age 18-49”, he says.
Yet, despite the show’s success, Mindell admits that the boys themselves are largely responsible for procuring their own sponsors. Three of those sponsors are well-known in the Jewish community: Bernstein’s Delicatessen, Rumor’s Restaurant and Comedy Club and Linden Market Dental Centre. Mindell said that the boys are OK with having to find their own sponsors, in addition to receiving some payment from 1290 because, “we enjoy being masters of our own domain. While we have an excellent working relationship with TSN 1290, we appreciate the flexibility and freedom that comes part and parcel with being independent contractors.”

Of course, one of the perks attached to the show is that all five guys are able to sit in the Jets press box for all games. When Mindell sent me a picture of them at a Jets game, I noted that they were all wearing suits and ties. I asked him whether that was a prerequisite in order to be able to attend Jets games. According to Mindell, “it’s not mandatory, but that’s the generally accepted press code.”
The thought occurred to me: “The Illegal Curve” airs Saturday afternoons at noon – when synagogues are just about to conclude their Musaf services and have their kiddushs. All five guys are Jewish, they wear suits and ties to Jets games. Why then, not broadcast the show from a synagogue auditorium during the kiddush – with live audience participation? Surely that would be a way of increasing attendance at synagogue among the coveted (but sparse synagogue-attending) male 18-49 age group. And, since the Jets are the new religion for so many Winnipeg Jews, it wouldn’t be that radical a departure to include a prayer for the Jets into every Shabbes service, would it?

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