Above the Glass
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?
The Portland Winterhawks recently dispatched four players to the NHL Combine, including the son of Pierre Turgeon, the hero of Game 6 in the WHL FInal and the Rose City’s resident ladies man. Dominic Turgeon, Keegan Iverson, Alex Schoenborn and center Chase De Leo were among 23 WHL players invited to the annual event, where they were put through the mother of all job interviews by NHL scouts. But I find that you don’t truly know a player until you also know his favorite childhood TV show, which Selena Gomez song is on top of his iPod list and whether or not he likes zombie movies.
2014 is turning out to be a “do-over in summer” year, in which I’ve experienced the following: gotten into a car accident; seen my car insurance increase from a two-year old speeding ticket; watched the Portland Winterhawks lose the WHL title to the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 7 and now, the cherry on top, lost my job. Here in the Dub, the off-season has begun for every team that isn’t the Oil Kings, who are enjoying an extended season as they celebrate their Memorial Cup victory. So you won’t be surprised to learn that on Thursday when my doctor who is still learning the game asked me “didn’t one of the games with Edmonton go to a shootout or something like that?” I drew a complete and total blank on Game 6, which I’ve written about at least three times in the past two weeks. I’m referring to Game 6 of the WHL finals, where the Portland Winterhawks launched an epic third-period comeback from a 5-2 deficit to a 6-5 overtime win, courtesy of top prospect Keegan Iverson. The good news is that it can only go up from here and taking an unplanned break from the rat race means more time for more important matters like Game 7 of the Western Conference finals and the NHL Entry Draft. Still, the Game 6 brain freeze made me realize that for fans whose off-season is already taking shape, now might be a good time to refresh on the signs and survival tips for the season non-hockey fans refer to as “summer.”
Greetings from Portland, where an epic battle between the Portland Winterhawks and the Edmonton Oil Kings will begin this evening. This marks the third consecutive year the two teams will play for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. While the rest of the hockey world was gearing up for opening faceoff, I was recovering from illness that has thankfully disappeared just in time for the WHL Championship series. But a week of being out of the loop meant a week of watching my Lord of the Rings DVDs for the 100th time. That’s how I realized that the third installment of this epic trilogy is a lot like the third showdown with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Kelowna Rockets and the Portland Winterhawks will face off tonight at Prospera Place on two very different sides of the Western Conference finals. The Winterhawks lead the series 3-1, and we all know what that means. The Rockets have been one of the few teams to truly challenge the Winterhawks this season, so I wouldn’t count them out just yet. Here on the edge of either an epic comeback for Kelowna or a fourth Western Conference title for the Winterhawks, anything is possible 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