Above the Glass
After five seasons of covering NHL and WHL hockey, there’s one thing I know for sure: I should never be left unsupervised in the off-season. Exhibit A: On the first official weekend of the WHL off-season, I promptly face-planted off a stair and spent the next 12 weeks on injured reserve. The diagnosis was one broken ankle, one ruptured tendon and one sprained ankle. Don’t be jealous now. It also left me with way too much free time to catch up on TV shows I missed during the season. Like one of my personal favorites about to begin its final season tonight: Strike Back (Cinemax, 10 pm). Naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the two lead characters -- Damien Scott and Michael Stonebridge -- were dropped into the middle of a hockey game instead of a secret military mission. Something tells me they’d come in pretty handy.
It’s been a busy week here in the Rose City: the Winterhawks released their pre and regular season schedules just days before several players were drafted into the NHL. And of course, there’s the buzz that the proposed NHL expansion has already generated. I would argue the NHL is already here, in the form of its future. This weekend, Paul Bittner, Adin Hill and Caleb Jones (brother of Seth) became the next generation of Winterhawks drafted into the NHL. Just like that, Columbus has become the new Portland, courtesy of Paul's former linemate Oliver Bjorkstrand and fomer Winterhawks Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky. And if by some chance the Coyotes were to move to Rip City, Adin Hill would land right back where he started.
Mother’s Day weekend should have exactly what my mom and I planned: a weekend in the country, enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty and perhaps a spa treatment or dip in the pool. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about best laid plans, it’s that they always go awry. And so they did two weeks ago, and instead I spent Saturday in an emergency room. The diagnosis: one fractured ankle, the other sprained. For the first time, I finally understand how one false move can change your whole year, that hockey players’ belief in superstition should be taken seriously and that the most devastating part of injury isn’t necessarily physical.
After a blockbuster finish to Round 2 of the WHL Playoffs, the final four teams have punched their tickets to the Eastern and Western Conference finals. In Brandon, the Calgary Hitmen will face the Brandon Wheat Kings. Here in the Western Conference, we are gearing up for a second consecutive showdown between the Portland Winterhawks and the Kelowna Rockets. It makes the second round look like mere child’s play compared to what’s on tap for the coming week.
We’re only in the second round of playoffs out here in the WHL, but it already feels like we’re much deeper into it. Maybe it’s the double OT it took the Portland Winterhawks to tie up the series with Everett 1-1. It could be that the Silvertips had to go to trip overtime to eliminate Spokane. Whatever it is, it’s wild and woolly out here as we head into a blockbuster playoff weekend.
From the first day he set foot on Portland ice, Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand has delivered on his promise. He was drafted 26th overall in the 2012 CHL Import Draft and signed that year on July 26. Oliver promptly bolted out of the starting gate with his first WHL career goal in his first WHL game on September 21, 2012 and his first multi-point game one night later (two goals, one assist). At the time, he looked like he was 12 and played like he was 25. But all that is child’s play compared to what he has achieved since leading Denmark to the quarter finals of the 2015 World Junior Championship. The past 60 days of his WHL career have been record-breaking and history-making. Columbus Blue Jackets fans, read on if you want to know what the young man we just call Ollie has been up to since returning from the World Junior tournament.
As of Sunday, February 22, 1980, I had never even seen a hockey game. I didn’t know a thing about the sport. All I knew was that the United States Olympic hockey team was about to play the Russians in a game they might lose. I was 12 and otherwise occupied with more important matters like boys, that new Star Wars movie that was coming out in the summer and calculating the exact amount of hairspray it took to maintain my perfectly coiffed Farrah Fawcett feathered hairdo. I could not have cared less. If iPods and noise cancelling headphones had existed at the time, I probably would have missed the game entirely, because my REO Speedwagon record would have drowned out all the noise coming from the living room, where my family was watching the game. And just like that, on a Sunday evening in the Arizona suburbs exactly 35 years ago, a single hockey game changed my life. Watching all the Miracle on Ice interviews and archival footage Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder how my life would have been different if I’d never seen that game. Things happen for a reason, but darned if I knew what it was when I was 12; I just thought Jim Craig was cute.
I've spent the better part of the past two months battling lower body injuries and flu-like illnesses, which can make one feel very old and very sorry for oneself very easily. Through it all, one thing made living on my couch tolerable: hockey, but of course. It saves the day when nothing else - not even modern medicine - will do the trick. It really, truly is the very best and most beautiful game in the world.
I’ve heard from a lot of friends, colleagues and fellow fans who were thrilled to bid 2014 farewell. I’m one of them, but here in Portland, things are looking up. Over the weekend, Portland Winterhawks Captain Nic Petan stole the World Junior show with a hat trick, paving the way for Team Canada’s gold medal in the World Junior Championship. Back at home, Miles Koules scored a hat trick on the same night and goalie Adin Hill posted his first and second career shutouts in back to back games. The weekend’s festivities have made me realize that thinking like a junior hockey player just might hold the key to a happier, less disaster-prone and more successful year in 2015.
Twitter is exploding today with news that Derrick Pouliot has been called up by the Penguins for tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers. His path to the NHL has come full circle: chosen first overall in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, Derrick was the first player Mike Johnston drafted as General Manager of the Portland Winterhawks. Judging from Twitter alone, Portland fans who had plans tonight are either canceling them or preparing to multi-task as we look forward to the professional debut of a former Winterhawk who will always be a fan favorite. In honor of Derrick’s NHL debut, kindly allow me to introduce you to the young man Portland just calls Pooh for short.
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