Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Let’s Do This

The Western Hockey League had a good year in 2019, with 28 players drafted in June and 105 dispatched to NHL training camps this month. Lesser known talent like John Ludvig, Reece Newkirk and Dustin Wolf made the second day of the draft worth watching. Seven players were taken in the first round, notably Bowen Byram and Dylan Cozens. The only damper was the Prince Albert Raiders' quick exit from the Memorial Cup after a perfect season. After two weekend road trips to preseason tournaments, I can safely predict that the WHL has produced another good vintage for the 2019-2020 season. The regular season opens Friday night with seven games and continues through Sunday. Here in the Dub, it's time to get things started. 

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From the Dub: So It Begins

You know you've had a really bad year when someone asks midway through the Stanley Cup Final, "so who's winning?" and your answer is "uuuummmmm." Not that I would ever say such a thing, but if I did, I'm just sayin; it's a good thing I have a chance to reboot the system with the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The Western Hockey League did well this year, with seven players taken in the first round and 21 picked up in rounds two through seven. They're not Jack Hughes, but this year's WHL draft class has a lot to offer. Among the players I'll be watching more closely in the 2019- 2020 season are hidden gem Sasha Mutala, old-school hockey defenseman John Ludvig and goalie Dustin Wolf. 

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From the Dub: Giant Leap Forward

One team has owned the Western Hockey League all season long, even before playoffs: the Prince Albert Raiders. En route to the WHL Championship, they earned the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for best league record, the East Division and Eastern Conference titles. The Raiders have played like an NHL team all season long. Very little has stopped or even slowed them down. The Raiders were leading the Vancouver Giants 3-1 going into Game 5. The easy prediction was to give Prince Albert the edge. If it were easy, it wouldn't be any fun. 

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From the Dub: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

The conference finals are already well underway here in the WHL.The Edmonton Oil Kings are playing the virtually unstoppable Prince Albert Raiders for the Eastern Conference title. In the West, it's the Spokane Chiefs and the Vancouver Giants. The Chiefs eliminated my Portland Winterhawks and nearly swept the Everett Silvertips. It's hard to get excited about playoffs when your own team is done, which is why I'm shifting gears. The Winterhawks couldn't beat the Chiefs this year, so that leaves one option: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. 

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From the Dub: ‘Tis the Season

As a hockey fan, I live by a different clock than the average person. It's comprised of the pre-season, the regular season, the post-season and the off-season. Using this logic, the year doesn't really start until August and it hits the halfway mark around January. The true holiday season is starts with  World Junior selection camps, runs through the tournament itself and ends after the WHL trade deadline. I might argue that January 11 is the real start of the WHL season. World Junior players have returned with world-class tournament experience under their belts, draft year players are turning up the heat and trades brought new talent to town. Indeed, here in the Dub it's starting to look like a whole new hockey season. 

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From the Dub: Away We Go

Tomorrow is the start of autumn, which also means it's time to bid farewell to the off-season. Summer was a long, strange trip for me this year, but I'm back at full strength. So is the WHL and there's no shortage of news in the headlines. On the alumni front, Ty Rattie is finally getting the chance to show the NHL what local Portland fans already knew. This year, I'll be watching the lesser known names who are either new to the league or coming on strong in the latter half of their junior careers. That includes Everett Silvertips captain Connor Dewar and Seattle Thunderbirds captain Nolan Volcan. The WHL regular season opens tonight with eight games. At long last, we're officially off to the races. 

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From the Dub: The Future Is Now

June provides a good preview of things to come this fall in the WHL. Coaching changes, the 2018 - 2019 preseason schedule, player signings and the NHL Entry Draft all make for a busy month. And let's not forget the nine league alumni who are celebrating their Stanley Cup win as members of the Washington Capitals. June marks the convergence of the past, present and future here in the Dub. The future is now and the future is bright. 

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From the Dub: The Final Four

As the world counts down to the royal wedding, the Regina Pats are rolling out the red carpet for junior hockey's royalty. Memorial Cup games start tomorrow. It's a wide open field of contenders this year. The Pats are hosting the Swift Current Broncos, Hamilton Bulldogs and Acadie-Bathurst Titan.Top NHL prospects will be on display, including goalie Stuart Skinner, World Junior hero Tyler Steenbergen and Regina Pats captain Sam Steel. One of the biggest weeks in the junior hockey season is about to begin. Who will come out on top? All the teams are too good to pick a sure thing, but I do know for sure that the WHL is going to be in the spotlight. 

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From the Dub: Long Weekend

I was all about the underdogs winning their respective WHL conference championships. The Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Tri-City Americans have come a long way in a short time, and they deserved to win. Alas, it was not to be. The Everett Silvertips eliminated the Americans 6-5 in OT and the Swift Current Broncos launched a 96-second, three-goal assault that led to their 5-1 elimination of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. My underdog favorites may be going home, but they have nothing to apologize for. The Americans and the Hurricanes fought hard and played well this year. It also means that two of the league’s top teams will vie for the WHL Championship.

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From the Dub: Spring Fever

It's been seven months since I had to face a weekend without Winterhawks hockey. The first weekend without local hockey is always weird, even when the Winterhawks make a deep playoff run. The Everett Silvertips eliminated the Winterhawks last Friday, which wasn't exactly a surprise. The real headline involves the Tri-City Americans, who went undefeated in the first two rounds of playoffs. The Western Conference final begins tonight in Everett. Meanwhile in the East, the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Swift Current Broncos will vie for the Eastern Conference title. The Silvertips and the Broncos have the edge on paper, but I like the underdogs. I'm all in for the Americans and the Hurricanes to take their respective titles. 

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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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