Above the Glass
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.
When four days of business travel got put on my work calendar during the heart of hurricane season, I knew I was in for it. Last week, the pre-cursor to Hurricane Joaquin passed right up the East Coast, where some blissfully unaware colleauges decided it would be a good time and place for client meetings. I used to call New York City home and my time there was a lot like my business trip: too long, turbulent and a daily battle to keep up with the skinny, pretty people who surrounded me. What does it all have to do with hockey? I can think of one or two lessons learned from life at 30,000 feet.
The new season is officially underway here in the WHL, where top Western Conference held training camps over the past week. In Portland, top NHL prospects Paul Bittner, Dominic Turgeon and Jack Dougherty were on display. North of us, Mathew Barzal, name-to-watch Nolan Volcan and Nick Merkley were getting it done at training camps in Seattle and Kelowna. In Everett, the big news was about a player who didn't report to training camp: Auston Matthews, who has chosen to play in Switzerland this year instead. It's just another week at the office here in the Western Hockey League, where pre-season drama and hype are just part of the major junior hockey game.
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.
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