Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Welcome to Portland

This weekend provided a good look at the WHL Trade Deadline in action. If the final scoresheets are any indication, most of the big blockbuster trades will pay dividends. That includes Portland, where Dennis Cholowski has already played in three games with four more on deck this week. It's early yet, but from what I can see here in Portland, the epic deal the team made to acquire Dennis will pay off. 

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From the Dub: Go Big or Go Home

To say that teams in the WHL went all in at the January 10 trade deadline would be an understatement. I have never seen a shopping spree like the one that transpired this week. The trades changed the landscape of both the Western and Eastern Conferences and clearly signals that most teams are gearing up for a deep playoff run. Alas, only one will really get what they want: the Memorial Cup. But watching them try is going to be one heck of a ride. Here in Portland, the Winterhawks made headlines when they swung a nine-player deal with the Prince George Cougars, which wasn't announced until the final five minutes of the deadline. The jewel in the crown: Detroit Red Wings first round pick Dennis Cholowski. 

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From the Dub: Welcome Home

The natives are restless here in Portland, where the Winterhawks suffered their worst loss of the season on Friday at the hands of Kailer Yamamoto's hometown team, the Spokane Chiefs. The Hawks quickly rebounded on Saturday, but it has some local fans in a blather about how the team isn't really that good without its top players.To the contrary, stats just released by the team's play-by-play analyst show that individual players actually did quite well while Henri Jokiharju, Kieffer Bellows and Joachim Blichfeld were in Buffalo. It's all why I look forward to welcoming back the players who did us proud at the World Juniors, and more importantly, to what the team as a whole will do in 2018. 

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From the Dub: Keep the Enemy Closer

When I first looked at the schedule for World Juniors it seemed like it would go on forever, with multiple games every day. But time flies and here we are, gearing up for the semi-finals already. Kieffer Bellows is the only Portland Winterhawk left standing, which leaves me with a little more free time to focus on the other Dub talent still in the hunt for a medal. 

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From the Dub: Never Say Never

As the defending gold medalists playing on home ice, Team USA is the obvious favorite to win the World Junior Championship again this year. At first, it looked like a sure thing, until Slovakia clipped their wings in what theoretically should have been an easy win for the United States. But that's one of the most important rules of junior hockey, or hockey in general for that matter: never underestimate the opponent and never assume you already know what the outcome of a game will be. Especially when epic comebacks are Team USA's signature move. 

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From the Dub: Yes, They Are

"Is he really that good?" I hear this all the time from casual fans who don't truly understand the talents of top junior players like Cody Glass, Henri Jokiharju and Kieffer Bellows. The answer is yes, they are and the World Junior Championship is a chance to see it for real. Cody was cut from Team Canada, but Henri, Kieffer and Joachim Blichfeld are on full display, along with other top WHL talent like Sam Steel, Tyler Steenbergen, Kailer Yamamoto and Carter Hart. With regard to the players from the Dub, it's all good. 

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From the Dub: World View

The WHL has dispatched some of its best talent to the World Junior selection camps, which are still underway now. Three Portland Winterhawks are still with their respective teams and all three are in good position to make the final rosters. I am excited for players like Henri Jokiharju and Kieffer Bellows, but it's tempered by a sudden downturn in the Winterhawks' performance following a nearly perfect November. Thankfully, the league is on a much-needed holiday break. It's given me time to pause and look at the bigger picture, starting with the World Junior Championship.  

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The Upside of Down

2017 has been a long, strange year for me personally. I had a lot of good times and adventurous travel, but I had a feeling something might go awry. And indeed it did, when I was laid off from my non-hockey day job last week. The upside is that I've had more free time to focus on hockey. And it occurs to me that there are also lot of hockey-related lessons to be learned from being temporarily down on your luck. 

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From the Dub: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

As a longtime junior hockey fan, I've learned that a player's post-NHL draft year is the true breakout year. It's the one where teams discover whether that first round pick really is worth all the hype. It's also the year scouts start paying closer attention to players picked in later rounds. As such, it's typically when first-round draft picks really get to work and lesser known draftees make their move. The WHL is almost 20 games into the regular season, and it's clear that NHL-drafted players are already delivering on their promise. 

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There’s a First Time for Everything

Some hockey games are bigger than the game (think Miracle on Ice) and sometimes, so is the player. Such was the case when Nathan Walker became the first Australian to play in the NHL. It followed a string of firsts that also include being the first Australian to be drafted into the league, play in the AHL and play professionally in Europe. Walker's road to the NHL was long and it wasn't easy, but that's exactly why it's the stuff sports dreams are made of. How could you not be excited for him? Or for his whole country, for that matter. This past week should have given me even more reason to get excited, as Adin Hill made his NHL debut and the Winterhawks winning streak hit seven. But it was tempered by the awful news that Gord Downie had passed away. I remember the first time I heard a Tragically Hip song as clearly as I remember the first time I watched a hockey game. There is some comfort in knowing that even now, whether I'm listening to the Hip's music or watching a game, it's still just like the first time. 

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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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