Above the Glass
One of my holiday traditions is watching the 24-hour marathon of "A Christmas Story," a timeless classic that has stood the test of time since it was originally released in theaters 30 years ago. After 24 hours of eating, drinking and watching this nostalgic film based on author Jean Shepherd’s childhood, I’ve come to realize that its plot, characters and dialogue are a lot like hockey.
You’d think buying tickets to a Pearl Jam show would be a no-brainer for fans like me. That is, if you don’t also have a hockey game competing for your precious free time. In this case, the band rolls through town the same night the Portland Winterhawks are playing the Spokane Chiefs in an away game. Given that Pearl Jam doesn’t come to town every day, they won the war. But this momentary dilemma in my social calendar made me realize that this iconic band and hockey fans have a lot in common.
One week after it took place, I’m still recovering from a corporate retreat at a local hotel, where you’re supposed to team build, bond and set goals for the coming year. What you also end up doing is sitting on your ass for eight hours in a row, eating really bad food, multi-tasking all the work you’re missing and drinking mediocre coffee.* “Team norms” are also typically determined in these meetings. All of which got me to thinking how much better the corporate world would be if it embraced hockey’s team norms.
2014 draft prospect Chase De Leo is one of Portland’s rising superstars and the Winterhawks' resident ladies’ man. More impressive than his particular brand of charm is his particular brand of racking up points. The Portland Winterhawks just returned from a perfect five game road trip that propelled them into first place in the U.S. Division and Western Conference. Chase earned points in all five games, two of which were multi-goal games for him. This late Bantam Draft pick has turned out to be a great pick for the Winterhawks. If recent history is any indication, he’ll also turn out to be a valuable NHL draft pick in June.
In late September, the Tri-City Americans humiliated the Portland Winterhawks with a 6-2 defeat in Portland. Caused by an epic lapse in the Winterhawks' defense and their general lack of interest in showing up for the game, it was painful to watch right from the start. After the game, Columbus Blue Jackets' prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand told me "we can't lose like that." Honoring his word, four nights later he racked up four goals, one assist and the first star of the night in 10-4 rout of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Flash forward to the week of October 14, where the Winterhawks have redeemed that early loss with two wins against the Americans. On Wednesday, goalie Brendan Burke earned first star of the night in a 4-1 home win over the Ams. On Saturday night, the Winterhawks doubled down and kicked off a weeklong road trip with an 8-1 devastation of the Americans. It's safe to say the team has atoned for its early season sins. To the boys, it's two points and a celebratory dinner at Applebee's or if they are on the road, a movie on the bus. But for fans, the team's redemption is about so much more than just the game.
I felt guilty this week when I turned on the TV to watch the regular season hype on the NHL Network instead of the gory details of the government shutdown on CNN. How dare I get excited about hockey’s return when Americans have been so totally screwed by our own government? Couple that with the renewed discussion over fighting and it got me to thinking; why do I love a sport that can be downright ugly and why do I put hockey first above all else? After all, it’s just a game right?
The Portland Winterhawks’ regular season doesn’t start until Friday, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at my pre-season agenda. Last weekend alone, I went to eight games in four days, crossing one state line and one Canadian border to do so. Before that, it was three games on Labor Day weekend at a tournament in Everett and six games at the Neely Cup, the Winterhawks’ annual training camp scrimmages. We’re not even one game into the regular season out here, so it may already be time to dial back the hardcore hockey action before it really gets out of control. On the other hand, being a dedicated hockey fan can come in quite handy on a Friday afternoon at the Canadian border. Either way, I realized that now might be a good time to refresh on the signs that it’s time for a hockey intervention, lest non-hockey appreciating friends come knocking.
WHL teams open training camps this week, including the Portland Winterhawks. August 21st therefore marks the official end of the off season in the Rose City. While we bid a fond farewell to players who are moving on to other pursuits, it’s also time to welcome our future superstars, some of whom were just drafted this past summer. The changing of the guard affects the coaching staff as well; Travis Green has departed to coach the Utica Comets and we will get our first chance to meet new assistant coach Karl Taylor. It’s all why this is simply the most wonderful time of the year. Here in the Western Hockey League, on a warm summer day in an ice-cold rink, hope is about to spring eternal and it’s all still possible. First and most importantly, it's also time to #freemikej.
Having spent most of my career in an office setting of one sort or another, I can tell you that Corporate America is a strange and sometimes entertaining place to ply one's trade. Among the daily amusements is the totally hysterical use of the English language. Daily life in the corporate jungle is a treasure trove of lengthy acronyms, unintelligible jargon and ill-chosen metaphors. Anyone who's ever endured a death by PowerPoint meeting where attendees are blatantly playing solitaire on their phones knows what I'm talking about. It could be downright depressing if you let it get to you, or you could see it as flat out hilarious. I choose the latter. How do I do it? That's easy; I make it worth my while by thinking about how it translates to hockey.
The regular season and playoffs are like a compass for hockey fans. They guide us through our everyday lives with an unwavering sense of direction, hope and purpose. The off season, however, is another story. While some people use the off season as a chance to kick back from highly disciplined regular season fitness and nutrition, some of us head in the opposite direction. After nine months of living on a strict diet of barbecue nachos, beer and cupcakes, it’s time for the nutritionally challenged like myself to get it back in gear. As local fans count down to the start of Portland Winterhawks training camp later this month, it’s time for a fan training camp of our own, in which we engage in various activities designed to improve cardiovascular fitness, tone our muscles and prevent unfortunate and regrettable nutrition choices.
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