Above the Glass
I'm as jazzed as the next fan that NHL hockey is back, but I was a bit twerked by their chosen Twitter hashtag of #hockeyisback. For those of us who live in towns with AHL, WHL, college or prep school hockey, it never left; only the NHL did. Major junior hockey, for example, is knee deep in the stretch run, where some teams are close to clinching a playoff spot. Here in the Dub, the Kelowna Rockets are coming on strong, Kamloops is back on track, the Victoria Royals are on a winning streak, and the latest generation of European rookies are proving their draft worth. So you see, NHL, hockey never left; it's been here since September and in the WHL, it's on one collective league-wide roll.
We've heard his name, we know who his father is, and we all know about his feats of hockey derring do. Since arriving at Portland Winterhawks training camp last August, Seth Jones has delivered on the hype and far exceeded expectations. I’m here to tell you he’s all that in person too, but interviewing the NHL’s future superstars does come with its risks. Which is how I know that if Seth ever decides to switch careers, he’d make an excellent NFL quarterback.
The long overdue start of the NHL regular season means that it's time to put hockey first for a while and everything else second or third. The challenge is helping our non-hockey appreciating friends, family and colleagues understand that they too can benefit from our priorizting the game above all else. I have come to realize over the years that putting hockey first ultimately makes us, kinder, more supportive partners or spouses, better team players and better people in general. That’s why I’ve devised a list of semi-bulletproof explanations for those non-hockey appreciators in our lives who need a little convincing on this point.
I’m as excited as the next person about the start of the NHL season, but it also means adios to things like free time, going to bed at a reasonable hour and spending money on non-hockey endeavors. With the NHL regular season around the corner, it’s time to re-enter major league hockey’s atmosphere by switching gears to all hockey, all the time mode. That means late night replays instead of sleep, chips and beer in place of three course home-cooked meals, and of course, counting the days until the Calgary Flames lay out the welcome mat for Sven Bartschi.
Never mind all this crap about salary caps and floors, pension plans and hockey-related revenue, blah, blah, blah. Portland, Oregon is the home of the answer to all this mess; meet Maddy, pint sized Portland Winterhawks fan extraordinaire. At just four years old, she’s already a well-known fixture here on the local hockey scene and I dare any hockey player, GM, coach or other bigwig to resist her considerable charms. If you want an NHL deal done by next week in time to save the season, give us a call. We have the answer to the lockout; Maddy’s her name and hockey is her game.
That's a Tweet posted by Portland Winterhawks rookie Alex Schoenborn four days ago. On the other end of the spectrum, in September Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot Tweeted the very best and most honest thing I've ever read about the current state of affairs; "lockout, not cool." While I was attempting to occupy what would have otherwise been quality Winter Classic viewing time, it occurred to me that we can learn a lot from the NHL's future about hockey, life and starting over in 2013. Inspired by top prospects who live and play in Portland, Oregon, I came up with a few New Year's resolutions designed to make 2013 a little better, brighter and more hopeful.
Portland Winterhawks fans are in the midst of a WHL regular season that is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. So I took a few nights off from NHL lockout and WHL sanction-related news to watch some warm and fuzzy holiday classics. Among them was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and it occurred to me that the plot of this beloved holiday favorite is a whole lot like the WHL sanctions against the Winterhawks.
If you saw the Portland Winterhawks' hot play this past week, you might never know the team was operating under heavy sanctions from the WHL. Those penalties certainly aren't stopping Nashville Predators prospect Brendan Leipsic from his appointed scoring rounds. The same day he was named WHL Player of the Week, he singlehandedly saved Tuesday's game against the Everett Silvertips by himself, digging the team out of a three-goal deficit with a natural hat trick and the game tying goal. The Winterhawks went on to win 7-5. Alas, the team's hot streak temporarily slowed down last night in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans. The good news is the Winterhawks mounted a thrilling comeback in the third period with a little help from Brendan, who kept his point streak alive with an assist on the team's first goal. You can visit www.oregonlive.com/hawks for the latest coverage of Brendan's feats of derring do, including my personal favorite by Paul Buker (after the jump). And stay tuned, as I have a strong feeling the best of Brendan Leipsic is yet to come.
On Friday night, the Portland Winterhawks answered the WHL's sanctions with a win against the Seattle Thunderbirds and they are currently up 3-0 on the Everett Slivertips as I post this on Saturday night. The Friday festivities kicked off with a standing ovation for Head Coach and GM Mike Johnston when his photo and name were shown and announced, even though he couldn't be there. It kicked off a statement game where the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club also sold 500 "Free Mike J" t-shirts and the team exploded in the third period to win the game. The line for those shirts, BTW, was already stretched around the concourse when I arrived shortly after 6 p.m. The booster club is currently in Everett, bringing Portland's support to the team as they play at Comcast Arena. So you can see why Oregon's state motto is "she flies with her own wings"; it describes Oregonians perfectly. Indeed, the Winterhawks and their fans are flying with their own wings in the face of adversity. As this story continues to unfold, I expect the WHL's sanctions will only serve to strengthen our resolve and the team's commitment to winning, all the way to the Memorial Cup. So if anyone knows of any good hotels and restaurants in Saskatoon, give me a shout. I have a feeling I'll need them come May.
Whether you live in Portland or not, all of the hockey world now knows about the WHL's severe discipline against the Portland Winterhawks for recruiting violations. As the NHL lockout drags on, the Winterhawks have provided local fans here in the Rose City with hope and faith amid the darkness, on and off the ice. As a longtime fan of the team, I'm absolutely heartbroken by this news, for so many reasons. But as crazy as it may sound, I have the feeling this season may actually be the Winterhawks' finest hour. If you want to know why, you can read on. Or if you live in Portland and see us around at a game, you can just ask my mom.
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