Above the Glass
For the past four seasons, Portland Winterhawks fans have been immune to the cyclical nature of junior hockey, in which teams rebuild every few years. On Mike Johnston’s watch, the Winterhawks didn’t rebuild each season; they simply reloaded. We all knew the day would come when Mike would leave and things would change. He told media on a regular basis that his ultimate goal was the NHL, so it’s not like we weren’t warned. But there were no warning signs that the team would fall so quickly to last place in both the US Division and the Western Conference. One of the great mysteries of hockey, however, is how quickly the game can change. Last night, the Winterhawks broke out with a 6-2 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors, the same day they named Nic Petan Captain and welcomed overage goaltender Bolton Pouliot (cousin of Derrick) to the team. It’s a long way back to the top, but it’s a start. It all got me to thinking: as a fan, just how loyal am I? The choice about whether to stand by the team is mine; which way do I go?
I'm really glad I decided to save this season as draft, because the Portland Winterhawks are off to a start that no one saw coming: 1-7-0-2. It has more than a few fans wishing Mike Johnston was still here, but we are happy to see him achieve his life's dream of making it to the NHL. He's wasting no time in making the same impression on Pittsburgh that he did on Portland. Having known him for the past four seasons, I have one thing to say about Mike Johnston's undefeated start to the NHL season and I mean it in the very best way: Duh. Pittsburgh is the new Portland, where I hope that local Penguins fans will soon see why Portland's motto will always be "in Mike we trust."
Here in the WHL, the long wait for the new season is over. The regular season is underway across the league. With nine players away at NHL Camps or injured, the Winterhawks found themselves in unfamiliar territory with two consecutive losses to the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Prince George Cougars last weekend. But It didn't dampen the excitement of a new season, nor did it lessen the thrill of seeing seven new players suited up in a Winterhawks jersey, one of whom is already a fan favorite (16-year-old Skyler McKenzie). It's a brave new world here in the Dub, and not just in Portland. It's that festive time of year when my thoughts shift to how our new players see the season to come.
One of the many adventures of working for a tech company is that nobody communicates via old school methods of communication like snail mail, phone calls or personal meetings. Everything is conducted via the latest and greatest automated technologies. One of those technologies is a safeguard in our email tool called "save as draft." Clicking on this button prevents us from inadvertently publishing an email that isn't ready or sending it to the wrong people. After a year that was a bit of a roller coaster on and off the ice, I think it might also be a good idea to save the upcoming WHL season as a draft.
It's hard to believe that it’s almost time for the start of the WHL pre-season. 2014 began on a high note on the ice, as the Portland Winterhawks went on a ridiculous 21-game winning streak that lasted into March. Off the ice, however, it was filled with unexpected changes, fender benders and various misadventures for yours truly. The good news is that the Hockey New Year is about to begin in the Dub, but these final few weeks of the off-season can seem like permanent midnight. As we look ahead to the return of hockey in late August, I’ve found a few ways in which fans can stay sane in the meantime. Top of the list: embrace alternative sports, save the pennies for a triathlon race bike and put the chocolate chip cookies down and walk away..
2014 is turning out to be the year of new beginnings, on and off the ice. In the past three weeks, the Portland Winterhawks have seen four players get drafted, bid farewell and best wishes to Head Coach and GM Mike Johnston and Assistant Coach Karl Taylor, and welcomed Jamie Kompon as their new Head Coach and GM. Further north, the coaching merry-go-round is in full swing as Derek Laxdal and Ryan Huska recently transitioned to head coaching duties in the AHL. In the middle of it all, I found a new job. In light of recent developments, I have changed my summer plans to move to a cave and embraced my mother’s attitude. Whenever the Winterhawks lose, she’s only interested in three things: 1) Did Chase De Leo score? 2) Did the boys try their hardest and play a good game? 3) If the answer to the previous questions is yes, then she simply declares “onward!” and carries on with her life. She’s right: the magic of hockey is that each new season is a chance for all 22 teams in the WHL to renew their commitment to winning. If this summer is any indication, it’s going to be another highlight-reel season here in the Dub.
Here in the Rose City, news of Mike Johnston’s new role as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins is bittersweet. Since Coach Johnston arrived in Portland in 2008, Portland Winterhawks fans have grown accustomed to winning streaks, championship seasons and shiny objects. We are sad to see him go, but Winterhawks fans and players wish him all the best. So to my fellow Pittsburgh Penguins fans, I say get ready. Having spent the past six years watching Mike Johnston change Portland’s game, I can personally guarantee you it’s going to be one sweet ride.
The primary reason I’ve never been a huge soccer fan is that I cannot stand diving, otherwise known as “flopping.” Reviled in hockey, it’s an art form in soccer. But with the World Cup dominating the media, I have given in and actually watched the sport I love to hate. After a week of total immersion in all things soccer, I’ve come to realize that the two games might not be so different. In fact, they are so alike that the Netherlands actually looks to field hockey as inspiration for its success on the soccer field. Which got me to thinking: what if the opposite were true? What if soccer’s rules, customs and playbook were applied to hockey?
I should be sitting here sending out resumes and hitting the gym, but I have bigger priorities today; like watching the Stanley Cup victory parade and learning about soccer, my new off-season sport of choice. It’s all part of a three-day weekend that started on Friday night, when Game 5 ended here on the West Coast at a relatively decent hour: 9:26 p.m. Pacific Time. That didn’t include the post-game celebrations. In New York, however, it was 12:26 a.m. My non-hockey loving friends checked out after the first overtime, having lost interest in watching to the bitter end. My Rangers-loving friends were still up in the midnight hour, still hoping things would turn out differently. In the WHL, we’ll do it all again during the regular season, as many of us sacrifice beauty sleep to watch the World Junior and other international tournaments live at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning. For hockey fans, it's a moral imperative. But how do I explain to non-hockey friends and family that these noble sacrifices are worth it and that hockey really is the best game in the world? Exhibit A: The 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
When I first moved to New York City in 1994, the first thing I did was spend all my extra income on a ticket to see the Rangers raise the Stanley Cup banner. After growing up in cities without NHL hockey, it was the first time I attended a real live major league game. I had $3000 in the bank, an entry-level job I got after answering a classified ad in the New York Times and everything I owned fit in a storage locker in the West Village. 20 years have flown by since then and I'm living on the West Coast these days, but that night still seems like it happened five minutes ago. It’s the reason I’m still a Rangers fan to this day, but the Stanley Cup Final has posed a major dilemma; I’m also an LA Kings fan. You could say it’s a win-win situation for a bi-coastal hockey fan, but when you’re actually watching the game it’s a major dilemma: how do you choose a side when you’re rooting for both teams?
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