Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Finding beauty in hockey

One of the things I get asked by people who find out that I lived in Manhattan for 10 years is “where were you on September 11?” I have never been able to think fast enough to come up with a more socially appropriate answer than the truth: “I was in it.”  “It” being the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., in the North Tower, 1 WTC. If you ever want to bring perfectly polite dinner conversation to a complete halt, I’m your girl. Or, if you’d just like to know how that day inspires my view of the game, read on.

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What if?

The death of Wade Belak has hit home in the WHL, where he once played with the Saskatoon Blades.  The grown man who is lost to us now was once an eager teenager working towards being drafted by the NHL, just like today’s junior players.  For those of us who live in a hockey town in the Dub, you cannot help but think what if that was one of our players? What if something like that were to happen to one of the Portland Winterhawks? I truly hope changes are on the way in the NHL that will help prevent any future tragedies like this and we never have to answer that question. But since I know some of the Winterhawks personally, I couldn’t help but think: what would I do to keep them safe from harm? And what advice would I give them so something like this never happens to them?

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Youth only comes once, enjoy the ride

This weekend was supposed to be exciting, what with the Portland Winterhawks kicking off their season with training camp and the Neely Cup and all. And it was, for the most part. But it was also the first time I realized that while I spend much of my free time reporting on the hockey comings and goings of young people, I myself am not in the prime of my own youth. Case in point: on Saturday after attending the Neely Cup I drove down the street to my 25th high school reunion. Because apparently, I need a reminder of my age, lest I forget. But that’s not likely to happen, seeing as how the next morning I was sitting next to some dude at the Neely Cup finals who asked me “is one of these boys your kid?” Now, I can lament this unfortunate situation or I can deal: I am choosing the latter. So here’s the deal: we know what the coaches and scouts and NHL GMs are telling the boys about what they need to develop to make it in the NHL. But what if we, as humble fans, gave them advice about their future? What would we tell them?

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Don’t be jealous now

For those still awaiting the start of the NHL pre-season, you can always tune in to us out here in the Dub, where 12 WHL teams have opened training camps and more will follow this weekend. That includes the Portland Winterhawks, whose camp includes the Neely Cup, a four-day extravaganza ending with a shiny object named for one of the team’s most famous alumni. I’m still sorting through what to watch throughout the league, but I can tell you the future is bright here in the Rose City. Our draftees made the most of summer, several injured players are back and ready for action, and there is plenty of talent on the horizon.

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There is hope, Columbus

During the off season, I try to remember that between players training in the off season, and youth hockey camps and the Stanley Cup traveling about, there is hockey somewhere. This week, that somewhere is Portland, Oregon, where the Winterhawks will open their training camp. Among the question marks for us is whether or not some of our highly drafted players will return to Portland this season or stay with their NHL teams. We are already preparing ourselves for a Winterhawks roster without Nino Niederreiter. But some hold out hope that Ryan Johansen will return to us this season. For Ryan’s sake and that of the Columbus Blue Jackets, I hope he stays with his NHL team. Because it’s what he wants and I want him to be happy. And because I assure you Columbus, there is hope: its name starts with an R.

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What wine goes with petting the Stanley Cup?

In case you’re wondering where the Stanley Cup has been the past 48 hours, I can assure you we are taking good care of it out here in Portland, where it is visiting ice rinks, downtown squares and being generally worshipped. We lined up, we saw, we petted, we hugged, we kissed and we photographed it. Tonight, it will also make a stop at a local bar, but of course.  Clearly, a second viewing is in order this evening. More pictures, more worshipping and more whatever will follow. That being said, the main question is what adult beverage goes with such a momentous event?

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I wonder if they’ll let us touch it?

Whilst we wait out the final days of the off-season, Portland hockey fans will get a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and greet the Stanley Cup. Next Wednesday, August 17, courtesy of former Portland Buckaroo and Boston Bruins’ scout Tom McVie, the Cup is making an appearance in Pioneer Square. Fans will get to view it, have their photo taken with it and partake of some family-friendly festivities. I’m pretty sure they won’t let us touch it, but I can guarantee that if they do, I will avail. It also got me to thinking about “The Day With The Cup” that the players get, during which they can pretty much do anything with it except drive over it with their cars. What if fans got their own day with the Cup? What would we do?

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Everything old is new again

Seeing all these new, enthusiastic bloggers here on Kukla’s is making me a wee bit nostalgic for this time last year, when I was a newbie. Welcome all. It also made me realize I’d better get it together and start reporting some actual news from here in my sector. That being said, those of you who are looking for more junior and minor hockey are in luck. I will be expanding beyond my Portland Winterhawks universe to cover the Western Hockey League this season. There’s plenty happening out here in the Dub, and I’ll do my best to bring more of it to you.  In the meantime, it’s only 26 shopping days until the Hawks open training camp, so here’s a little preview of the up and coming players and other tidbits to tide you over.

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Gotta keep it simple

In the ongoing search for mature, responsible off-season hobbies, I was sure decrypting the math that goes into the plus/minus rating would keep me busy for several days. I envisioned a complicated formula devised by MIT graduates that used a top secret combination of morse code, algebra and calculus like multiplying the number of games played by the number of goals scored minus the number of goals allowed plus the number of players on the full roster, minus the number of players on the ice at the time the goal was scored. Imagine my surprise and delight when, at last, I discovered an NHL rule that is exactly what it sounds like: a statistic that measures goal differential, it awards a plus to players on the ice at the time their team scored a goal, and a minus to players on the ice at the time their team allowed a goal. Genius. Now that I know what goes into the on-ice math, it occurred to me that there isn’t a rule for the things that can’t be calculated with math, like heart, soul, character and other intangibles that make a player who he is. But what if there was?

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So, no overtime pay, then?

Readers who were brave enough to read my last entry will be pleased to know that I have found a useful, grown up hobby: reading and interpreting choice bits from the Collective Bargaining Agreement. On tap this weekend: Article 50, which governs hockey-related revenue, player salaries and bonuses. So far, I only have one question. Is there anything for which NHL players don’t receive a bonus?

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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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