Above the Glass
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.
In about three hours, the Portland Winterhawks will begin their fourth straight bid for the WHL Western Conference in Kelowna, BC. There is no easy way to get from Portland to Kelowna, but the journey is worth it. When I departed Portland late Wednesday to stay overnight in Kennewick, I figured Thursday would be long but not overly so with a few stops along the way. Normally, it takes about 6 to 7 hours to drive north to Canada, and the road is a little more predictable. That is, if you follow the Mapquest directions that instruct you to stay on highway 24 where it turns into 240 instead of turning left on 24 to drive through Yakima before picking up highway 97 north. It took two extra hours of driving and a large McDonald's chocolate milk shake to survive the longer journey, but we made it. Along the way, I realized you can learn a thing or two about hockey by taking the road less traveled.
Both my blogs have been woefully neglected because the past two weeks went like so: 1) Celebrate the Portland Winterhawks’ victory in Game 1 of the WHL Playoffs by getting rear-ended at a stoplight by a sketch driver with sketch insurance. 2) Get a medical procedure bright and early at 9 am on a Monday. At least the doctor visit provided some much-needed inspiration for this blog. He told me a story about the time he went to a Winterhawks game and accidentally cheered the opponent’s goal. I’ve made the same mistake in the heart of the stretch run, when exhaustion and distraction have taken their toll, so I’m not one to judge. Instead, I came up with a few tips for non-hockey loving friends and family about enjoying the game.
Terry Trafford’s untimely and tragic death is gut-wrenching news no matter who you are, where you live or which team you root for. At the same time, here in the Dub fans are praying for and thinking of Tim Bozon, who according to the latest reports is stable and improving and emerging from a medically induced coma that was intended to slow down the progression of meningitis. Get well cards and posters and words of support for his family are pouring in from across the WHL and beyond. The WHL has established a trust fund to help cover his medical expenses. Bozon’s current team, the Kootenay Ice, are considered an archrival to the Winterhawks ever since the 2011 playoffs and the Saginaw Spirit play in a completely different sector of the CHL. But the universal truth of hockey is that such dividing lines don’t matter at times like these. At the end of the day, hockey players and fans are all on the same team.
Saturday night in Seattle reached playoff-like levels, as the Portland Winterhawks had the chance to extend their already ridiculous winning streak to 22, tying the record for most consecutive wins in a single season (previously set by the Estevan Bruins in 1967-1968) and clinching the U.S. Division title. For fans in the Rose City, it held the promise of an epic, history-making night that would go down in the record books. The Seattle Thunderbirds and their goaltender, however, had other ideas. And just like that, on a sold out Saturday night, the glorious winning streak that began nearly two months ago came to an end with a 4-1 loss to the T-Birds. Enter Winterhawks Captain and Flyers prospect Taylor Leier, who Tweeted how proud he is of the team for racking up the second best winning streak in WHL history. Leave it to a natural-born leader like Taylor to remind us all of how much the team has accomplished and more importantly, where will they go from here? They missed tying the league record by a hair, but the Winterhawks far surpassed their own franchise record of 15 consecutive wins, a record held since the 1997-1998 Memorial Cup season. What can one take away from such a glorious run? For me it means admitting that after a lifetime of living by the motto “it’s how you play the game that matters” there might actually be some truth to the expression” winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
We are heading down the stretch toward playoffs in the WHL, with an average of 18 games to go in the regular season. The talent fueling the push to the playoffs was recently on display at the CHL Top Prospects Game and World Junior Tournament and they are showing no signs of relenting now that they are back. Some of the best young talent in the league, however, flies under the radar. Whether they are making headlines or quietly building their draft stock on the third line, it’s safe to say that the future of the NHL is secure.
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