Above the Glass
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.
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.
You never realize the true meaning of "there's no place like home" until you've either traveled to or lived in places far away from your home. I've done both, and there truly is no place quite like Oregon. I spent last weekend in Santa Monica, where the Independent Spirit Awards were held on the beach at the pier, five minutes from my hotel. It's currently 74 degrees there and there's no shortage of shopping, eating and people watching opportunities. But where was I on Friday and Saturday night? In my five-star hotel room, watching the Portland Winterhawks play the last of their Central Swing games. Can you say nerd alert, boys and girls? If you really want to be horrified by my evening plans in the land of skinny perfect people, I was also watching the tail end of a Blindspot marathon. What did it all teach me about hockey? I have a few ideas.
There's nothing like an invitation to your 30th high school reunion to make you realize that your day, if ever there was one, is over. Even worse is the realization that in the minds of the teenage hockey players you interview on a weekly basis, you're old. In fact, I'm younger than some of the Portland Winterhawks' parents. So you'll understand that when said invite arrived in my mailbox this week, I thought it was junk mail and almost threw it away; I even laughed at the poor soul who had to deal with the reality that three decades of his or her life had just blown by like a hurricane. That is, until I turned it over and realized it was addressed to me and was in fact from the high school I attended in my senior year. I started thinking about where the past 30 years went and what did I have to show for them? That's when I realized that the math on every major achievement and milestone in my life added up to one thing: hockey.
My birthday wasn't supposed to be January 26 (Australia Day and Wayne Gretzky's birthday); it was supposed to be Valentine's Day. But I decided it was go time a few weeks early et voila! My fate was sealed. It only seemed right to plot a vacation to Australia on my birthday. That is, until I discovered that there is hockey Down Under and it's played during our off-season, which is their fall/winter. If all goes well and my employer gives me the time off, I'm off to Melbourne and Sydney for the start of the Australian Ice Hockey League regular season in April. The Melbourne Mustangs have already made me feel welcome and I haven't even touched down in their city yet. It all made me realize that after a lifetime of living in different cities from San Diego to Tucson to Portland to New York and back again, there's really only one place that feels like home and you can find it almost anywhere.
When Dominic Turgeon was signed by the Portland Winterhawks in early 2012, local fans' thoughts didn't automatically turn to the team's new recruit: everyone who's being honest automatically thought "I can't wait to meet his father." On the off-chance you don't know who I'm referring to, Dominic's father is five-time NHL All-Star Pierre Turgeon. Aside from being a dead ringer for his father, Dominic has carved his own path to the NHL. It didn't start out on a easy note and if the Winterhawks' performance this season is any indication, it's not going to end easily. But that's what makes his story worth telling. His father may be the name we all know, but if you've been following Dominic's junior career, you already know that he's made a name for himself.
When I declared “Bring it, 2015” I thought I was ready for it. It all started out so well: the Portland Winterhawks were making the push for the “drive for five,” I was training for the Shamrock Run and spring came early to Portland. Then came April; after finishing my first 5K, I promptly went onto injured reserve and the Winterhawks lost the Western Conference title to archrival the Kelowna Rockets, marking the first season the Hawks have gone without a championship since 2010. About a week before Winterhawks training camp, Keith McKittrick was arrested on domestic assault charges; he recently entered a domestic diversion program and subsequently resigned as assistant coach of the Winterhawks. On the same weekend the team hosted the annual holiday Teddy Bear Toss, Paul Bittner underwent hip surgery (out indefinitely) and Mike Johnston was fired by the Pens. The lesson learned: in hockey and in life, wanting to win isn’t enough. In fact, if you want it too much, it can lead to total disaster. What’s a fan to do? I have the answer: reverse psychology. In 2016, I think the best game plan is no plan at all.
It was only a few short months ago I was on injured reserve, with way too much free time on my hands. Flash forward to September, at which point the last 90 days of my life disappeared into thin air. And I'm not even talking about how busy the hockey season has been. I'm talking about a little thing called my day job, where it's expected that we sacrifice our family and personal time, including well-earned vacation, for work. It all got me to thinking how some people have their priorities out of whack. For the past 90 days, that included me. Clearly it's time to get with the program and put hockey first, like it should be. Just how does one get back on track and keep hockey top of mind, all the time, no excuses, no exceptions? I have a few ideas.
Now that Strike Back is over and NBC has cut short Philip Winchester’s new gig on The Player, I’m paying closer attention to his former co-star’s new series, Blindspot. If you’re tuning into this intriguing new show, you know the premise: a woman with no memory is left in Times Square, in a duffel bag labeled “call the FBI.” She’s naked and covered head to toe in tattoos that include the name of FBI agent Kurt Weller. In trying to keep track of the plots, characters and anagrams/clues the writers have embedded in the episode titles, it occurred to me that Jane Doe’s experience is a lot like being a rookie in junior hockey. Really.
I've spent the past five months on injured reserve, waiting for the day when I could be cleared for contact with the real world again. That day came this past week, but I realized that maybe I didn't really want to get back out there after all. Life outside the rink is full of complicated entanglements, ordinary dullness and everyday annoyances like bills, gridlock, forgetting to buy the one thing you really needed on the grocery list and losing socks in the dryer. And for me and my fellow fans, the series finale of Strike Back. Watching the last hurrah of my favorite series on the same night the Winterhawks shut out a prime U.S Division rival, I realized that there is safety in injured reserve. Why? Because when you spend all your time focusing on one broken part, you tend to forget about the other things in your life that may need fixing. What did it all teach me about hockey? Safety first, boys and girls. Keep reading...you'll see what I mean.
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