Above the Glass
I've spent the better part of the past two months battling lower body injuries and flu-like illnesses, which can make one feel very old and very sorry for oneself very easily. Through it all, one thing made living on my couch tolerable: hockey, but of course. It saves the day when nothing else - not even modern medicine - will do the trick. It really, truly is the very best and most beautiful game in the world.
I’ve heard from a lot of friends, colleagues and fellow fans who were thrilled to bid 2014 farewell. I’m one of them, but here in Portland, things are looking up. Over the weekend, Portland Winterhawks Captain Nic Petan stole the World Junior show with a hat trick, paving the way for Team Canada’s gold medal in the World Junior Championship. Back at home, Miles Koules scored a hat trick on the same night and goalie Adin Hill posted his first and second career shutouts in back to back games. The weekend’s festivities have made me realize that thinking like a junior hockey player just might hold the key to a happier, less disaster-prone and more successful year in 2015.
Twitter is exploding today with news that Derrick Pouliot has been called up by the Penguins for tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers. His path to the NHL has come full circle: chosen first overall in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, Derrick was the first player Mike Johnston drafted as General Manager of the Portland Winterhawks. Judging from Twitter alone, Portland fans who had plans tonight are either canceling them or preparing to multi-task as we look forward to the professional debut of a former Winterhawk who will always be a fan favorite. In honor of Derrick’s NHL debut, kindly allow me to introduce you to the young man Portland just calls Pooh for short.
The Portland Winterhawks went down in yet another heartbreaker Friday night, this time in a shootout to the number one team in the U.S. Division: the Everett Silvertips. It was a good game right up until the shootout, where the Winterhawks appear to have lost their shooting accuracy. It’s the story of the team’s season to date. Well played and on the upswing, but not quite enough to get the win. The team roared back with a 7-1 win over the Silvertips on Sunday night, so things are looking up. Meanwhile, the Kelowna Rockets continue their siege of the Western Conference (41 points in 22 games played), the Brandon Wheat Kings outpace the rest of the Eastern Conference (35 points in 22 games played) and the Lethbridge Hurricanes continue to circle the drain (5-12-3-1). In unpredictable times like these, one needs to turn to a trusted, predictable source of wisdom, inspiration and hope: the Beastie Boys. Driving home from the Winterhawks’ precious win last weekend over the Kamloops Blazers, I realized that I learned everything I need to know about this season from my favorite rappers.
For the past four seasons, Portland Winterhawks fans have been immune to the cyclical nature of junior hockey, in which teams rebuild every few years. On Mike Johnston’s watch, the Winterhawks didn’t rebuild each season; they simply reloaded. We all knew the day would come when Mike would leave and things would change. He told media on a regular basis that his ultimate goal was the NHL, so it’s not like we weren’t warned. But there were no warning signs that the team would fall so quickly to last place in both the US Division and the Western Conference. One of the great mysteries of hockey, however, is how quickly the game can change. Last night, the Winterhawks broke out with a 6-2 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors, the same day they named Nic Petan Captain and welcomed overage goaltender Bolton Pouliot (cousin of Derrick) to the team. It’s a long way back to the top, but it’s a start. It all got me to thinking: as a fan, just how loyal am I? The choice about whether to stand by the team is mine; which way do I go?
I'm really glad I decided to save this season as draft, because the Portland Winterhawks are off to a start that no one saw coming: 1-7-0-2. It has more than a few fans wishing Mike Johnston was still here, but we are happy to see him achieve his life's dream of making it to the NHL. He's wasting no time in making the same impression on Pittsburgh that he did on Portland. Having known him for the past four seasons, I have one thing to say about Mike Johnston's undefeated start to the NHL season and I mean it in the very best way: Duh. Pittsburgh is the new Portland, where I hope that local Penguins fans will soon see why Portland's motto will always be "in Mike we trust."
Here in the WHL, the long wait for the new season is over. The regular season is underway across the league. With nine players away at NHL Camps or injured, the Winterhawks found themselves in unfamiliar territory with two consecutive losses to the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Prince George Cougars last weekend. But It didn't dampen the excitement of a new season, nor did it lessen the thrill of seeing seven new players suited up in a Winterhawks jersey, one of whom is already a fan favorite (16-year-old Skyler McKenzie). It's a brave new world here in the Dub, and not just in Portland. It's that festive time of year when my thoughts shift to how our new players see the season to come.
One of the many adventures of working for a tech company is that nobody communicates via old school methods of communication like snail mail, phone calls or personal meetings. Everything is conducted via the latest and greatest automated technologies. One of those technologies is a safeguard in our email tool called "save as draft." Clicking on this button prevents us from inadvertently publishing an email that isn't ready or sending it to the wrong people. After a year that was a bit of a roller coaster on and off the ice, I think it might also be a good idea to save the upcoming WHL season as a draft.
It's hard to believe that it’s almost time for the start of the WHL pre-season. 2014 began on a high note on the ice, as the Portland Winterhawks went on a ridiculous 21-game winning streak that lasted into March. Off the ice, however, it was filled with unexpected changes, fender benders and various misadventures for yours truly. The good news is that the Hockey New Year is about to begin in the Dub, but these final few weeks of the off-season can seem like permanent midnight. As we look ahead to the return of hockey in late August, I’ve found a few ways in which fans can stay sane in the meantime. Top of the list: embrace alternative sports, save the pennies for a triathlon race bike and put the chocolate chip cookies down and walk away..
2014 is turning out to be the year of new beginnings, on and off the ice. In the past three weeks, the Portland Winterhawks have seen four players get drafted, bid farewell and best wishes to Head Coach and GM Mike Johnston and Assistant Coach Karl Taylor, and welcomed Jamie Kompon as their new Head Coach and GM. Further north, the coaching merry-go-round is in full swing as Derek Laxdal and Ryan Huska recently transitioned to head coaching duties in the AHL. In the middle of it all, I found a new job. In light of recent developments, I have changed my summer plans to move to a cave and embraced my mother’s attitude. Whenever the Winterhawks lose, she’s only interested in three things: 1) Did Chase De Leo score? 2) Did the boys try their hardest and play a good game? 3) If the answer to the previous questions is yes, then she simply declares “onward!” and carries on with her life. She’s right: the magic of hockey is that each new season is a chance for all 22 teams in the WHL to renew their commitment to winning. If this summer is any indication, it’s going to be another highlight-reel season here in the Dub.
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