Above the Glass
After two spectacular comeback and championship seasons, Portland is dealing with the aftermath of downloading a good chunk of our star-studded roster to the NHL. One year ago, we had 10 draftees on the roster, eight of whom were all taken in the 2010 Entry Draft. Sven Bartschi had just blown into town. This season, we lost four overage players to the AHL (three draftees and one signed as a free agent), and two are still with their NHL teams. In addition, their departures have lowered the average age and average height of the team, as two of them were 6’7” (Brett Ponich) and 6’5” (Riley Boychuk). It’s like the junior hockey version of a Stanley Cup hangover. But there are good things too, like our fresh new ‘95 born talent and the chance to watch Sven and Ty Rattie step up to lead the team. It’s all just part of the ebb and flow of being a junior hockey fan.
You don’t know me, but I know someone who is about to become one of you: Ryan Johansen, who makes his NHL debut tonight. It seems like only a short time ago that we first watched Ryan on our ice, and not that long ago that I met him. And now he’s yours, all yours. The hope that saved us can save you, if the Blue Jackets use wisely the gift we have sent them. I only know Ryan from the time he spent here in Portland, and it was all too brief. But it was enough to know what we have lost and you have gained. If you didn’t keep an eye on him while he was in Portland, I would suggest you tune in tonight. Because his frequency is about to get very loud.
In hockey, late birthdays are thought to put players at a disadvantage. But tell that to Taylor Aronson, Joe Morrow and Sven Bartschi, late birthdays who were all signed, sealed and almost delivered to their NHL teams soon after being drafted. You’d never think that some of the best boys of winter were born in summer, but they were. So today, in honor of Sven’s 19th birthday, I did a little research and I found out that when it comes to hockey, a birthday means everything.
After tasting life in the NHL, local heroes Sven Bartschi and Ty Rattie returned to Portland last night to a rude awakening, as the Winterhawks lost to the Tri-City Americans 4 – 1. Sven especially had hoped he would stay with the Calgary Flames for a least a few regular season games, and it was clear last night that he was still visibly disappointed that didn’t happen. To return on a loss certainly didn’t help things, but all of our draft talent is already achieving more at their young age than I was in my late teens. I know them enough to know that they appreciate their good fortune and that they love playing here. But I also know how I saw the world at their age, and I’d be pretty tweaked right now if I were them. Which got me to thinking, what would I tell them about appreciating how lucky they are and how to make the most of this season?
As most Portland fans know, I have already declared four to be the Winterhawks’ magic number. By and large, they have proven it this weekend. Whether they are at NHL training camps or back with the team, it worked like a charm. What does it all mean? Not sure, maybe nothing, but if you were a Winterhawk in a hockey game this weekend and the number four or a derivative thereof was involved, it’s a good bet there was a victory.
Well, part of it anyway. After a trip to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, I’m happy to report that hockey’s future is bright. And a good chunk of it is from the WHL, including my hometown boys Sven Bartschi and defenseman William Wrenn. You may see some of the same players in this week’s pre-season action, so I’d suggest tuning in to their frequencies. Because if a few days in BC were any indication, hockey’s future is secure and they’ll be coming to an NHL rink near you.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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