Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

The Upside of Down

2017 has been a long, strange year for me personally. I had a lot of good times and adventurous travel, but I had a feeling something might go awry. And indeed it did, when I was laid off from my non-hockey day job last week. The upside is that I've had more free time to focus on hockey. And it occurs to me that there are also lot of hockey-related lessons to be learned from being temporarily down on your luck. 

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From the Dub: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

As a longtime junior hockey fan, I've learned that a player's post-NHL draft year is the true breakout year. It's the one where teams discover whether that first round pick really is worth all the hype. It's also the year scouts start paying closer attention to players picked in later rounds. As such, it's typically when first-round draft picks really get to work and lesser known draftees make their move. The WHL is almost 20 games into the regular season, and it's clear that NHL-drafted players are already delivering on their promise. 

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There’s a First Time for Everything

Some hockey games are bigger than the game (think Miracle on Ice) and sometimes, so is the player. Such was the case when Nathan Walker became the first Australian to play in the NHL. It followed a string of firsts that also include being the first Australian to be drafted into the league, play in the AHL and play professionally in Europe. Walker's road to the NHL was long and it wasn't easy, but that's exactly why it's the stuff sports dreams are made of. How could you not be excited for him? Or for his whole country, for that matter. This past week should have given me even more reason to get excited, as Adin Hill made his NHL debut and the Winterhawks winning streak hit seven. But it was tempered by the awful news that Gord Downie had passed away. I remember the first time I heard a Tragically Hip song as clearly as I remember the first time I watched a hockey game. There is some comfort in knowing that even now, whether I'm listening to the Hip's music or watching a game, it's still just like the first time. 

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Please Return to New York for a Left-Behind Item

Let's face it. Every off-season there comes a point where enough is enough. The warm weather and free time on weekends are nice, but I'm over it. Here in the Rose City, relief is in sight. The Portland Winterhawks have released their training camp schedule. The Neely Cup opens on August 24 at Moda Center and that means it's almost time to bid farewell to the off-season.  But first, it's time to reflect on hockey lessons learned during my summer holiday. My spring/summer break was going just fine until I went on a seemingly easy three day trip to New York, courtesy of my day job employer. And that's how I learned once and for all that there's no place like home. 

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From the Dub: Play on!

The major junior hockey season ended this past weekend with the Memorial Cup Final, in which the Windsor Spitfires won their third title. All three league title holders (Seattle, Erie, Saint John) were eliminated. We now turn our attention to the Stanley Cup Final, but in a few short weeks the North American hockey season will be over. It's comforting to know that in Australia, fall and winter sports are in full swing. The AIHL and Aussie Rules Football seasons are well underway. Like hockey, Aussie Rules might look to the unfamiliar eye like organized chaos, punctuated by whistles, stoppages of play and the occasional argument with officials. But there is one thing I do understand; the call from umpires to "play on!"  It's a good reminder that as the hockey season goes out with a bang, there are plenty of other sports fish in the sea. 

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From the Dub: Keep the enemy closer

It's not often you will find Portland fans saying anything about the Seattle Thunderbirds that doesn't involve a four letter word, but let's face it: they have earned their place in the Memorial Cup. After capturing their second consecutive WHL Western Conference title, they made history when they won their first-ever WHL Championship. It's even more epic when you remember that last year, they wre eliminated from the WHL finals by the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Seattle Thunderbirds aren't just representing the league at the Cup: they are also representing the Western Conference and the U.S Division. They will be smarter and stronger for it next season, which is exactly why I'm keeping our chief U.S. Division rival closer. 

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From the Dub: We’re All On the Same Team

This weekend, the junior hockey world headlines were dominated by two very different but significant events: the unveiling of the Swift Current Broncos Memorial and the World Junior Championship. We also received an update that former WHL player Craig Cunningham's health has improved as he starts down the long road to recovery. It's all a good reminder that at the end of the day, we're all on same team. 

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Start Your Engines

It just occurred to me that I haven't posted on this blog since August, largely due to the fact that I'm also a Formula 1 race fan. The battle for the Formula One Drivers' World Championship may be decided next weekend in Brazil. If Nico Rosberg wins, he will capture the title, regardless of where his Mercedes teammate and current world champion Lewis Hamilton  finishes. On six previous occasions, the title has been settled in Brazil, including Hamilton's world championship win in 2008.  Rosberg would be following in his family's footsteps: his father Keke won the world championship in 1982. But it's what happened last weekend at the Mexican Grand Prix that made me realize why I like Formula 1 racing so much. You guessed it; it's a lot like hockey. 

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From the Dub: Play On!

At first glance, Aussie Rules Football looks like really well-organized chaos. Stay past the first quarter and you'll begin to wonder "who invented this sport and how high were they when they did so?" If you're new to the sport, your perception of Australia's beloved national pastime probably goes something like this: Beer. Watch first half. Meat pie and another beer because obviously trying to understand this game while sober is an exercise in futility. Watch second half. Stumble home. But take a closer look and it's really a lot like hockey. And I'm not just talking about the beer.

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Location, Location, Location

When I declared several months ago that I was traveling 8,107 miles one way to watch hockey in Australia, I wasn’t kidding. I did it. And I’m here to tell you that if you get the chance, you should go. In fact, June would be an excellent time to trek Down Under, seeing as how John Scott and Wayne Gretzky are going to be there next month. Oh, and there was that gold medal the Australian hockey team just won at the IIHF World Championships (Division IIB). Hockey in Australia is rising and now is the time to check it out for yourself. 

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com

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