Above the Glass
By now, you’ve seen and heard about the hit heard around the major junior hockey world last night and the resulting punishment rendered this morning. To recap: Saskatoon Blade Dalton Thrower left his feet to level Portland Winterhawks’ forward and Saskatoon native Taylor Leier with a clearly targeted head hit that was not called at all by the referee. Who, by the way, was standing within clear sight of the hit. TV video coverage clearly shows Thrower smiling after the hit. Taylor was unable to walk off the ice or down the tunnel without help. There is no place for that kind of hit in this game, and there is most certainly no place for referees who stand idly by and don’t call it. Thrower has been suspended for the remainder of the Memorial Cup, and we are hearing that Taylor is likley not going to play in any more tournament games in front of his hometown crowd. Tonight, the London Knights have the opportunity to oust the Saskatoon Blades in a tiebreaker and advance to play the Winterhawks on Friday in the Memorial Cup semifinal. The Blades will be done if London prevails. So for one night only, my motto is “Go Knights Go!”
Friday in Portland, Oregon had all the makings of a five-star night of hockey. In a WHL Championship rematch with the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Winterhawks were leading the series 3-1 with home ice advantage. The Rose Garden was fully sold out two days in advance of the game and fans were calling for the team to open the extra seats in the upper bowl. The previously elusive Ed Chynoweth Cup was on the line and in the house for a possible Winterhawks victory. Temperatures outside were sizzling around an unseasonably warm 80 degrees. Fifteen seconds into the first period, forward Joey Baker -- who only scored one goal in 64 games in the regular season -- scored the Winterhawks’ first goal. Aye, there’s the rub: it was just a little too perfect. The Oil Kings, facing elimination, rallied to a 3-2 overtime win. Sunday afternoon -- after two previous trips to the 2011 and 2012 WHL finals -- the Winterhawks finally climbed the mountain to the WHL title on the wings of Ty Rattie’s hat trick. The party is underway in Portland, where the Winterhawks will serve as Grand Marshals for the Rose Festival’s Starlight Parade. Friday wasn’t the perfect night we wanted and Sunday didn’t start on a high note either, but that’s what makes the party so great; the team had to fight to earn every inch of it. Which got me to thinking; if hockey was perfect, would we love it as much?
Don, Don, Don, seriously? Still sticking to that no girls allowed in the locker room story, eh? Not but a few days after Don Cherry's words that will live in infamy, Jason Collins made history when he announced publicly that he is gay. I see Cherry is trying to cover his tracks, but he's still missing the point. Somewhere between the stone age of "no girls allowed" and the modern era lies the truth. I know for sure that part of the truth lives in Portland, Oregon: Land of triple shot lattes, kick-ass microbrews, Grimm's cast and crew, Voodoo Doughnuts, year-round skiing and the three-time WHL Western Conference Champions, the Portland Winterhawks. On Friday, the team will commence their third straight run at the previously elusive WHL title. The streak started in the 2010 - 2011 season, which was also the first year I started blogging about the team on oregonlive.com. In that time, I've seen a lot of strange and wonderful things here in the Rose City. Among the wonderful things: Watching a boatload of the NHL's future play several nights a week, 9 months out of the year, and the opportunity to ocassionally hobnob with the NHL bigwigs. They all have one thing in common: they know a heck of a lot more about respecting women than Don Cherry ever will. So I tip my hat to the NHL types who've given me a minute of their time and to the young men on the Portland Winterhawks' roster whose standard post-game greeting is "Hey Sam."
The WHL is knee deep in the playoffs, where the Portland Winterhawks will commence a third straight run at the Western Conference Championship beginning April 19. Elsewhere, it will be a Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Hitmen and the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Eastern Conference title. That headline is what I recently overheard a parent telling his child about how the playoffs are different from the regular season. With NHL playoff berths also being clinched, it got me to thinking; why are playoffs so much better than the regular season?
The Senators signed the Portland Winterhawks’ Captain to a three year entry level last week, just as the WHL playoffs were getting underway. We thought it would never happen after the Colorado Avalanche took a pass on signing him. Of course, we probably should have known it might take a while. Nothing about Troy’s path to the NHL was easy, but that’s what makes his story so great.
Your newest recruit is currently playing in his overage season with the Portland Winterhawks, but he’s worth the wait. Taylor currently wears the A for the ‘Hawks, serves as the team’s starting center and is Portland’s top penalty killer. In his free time he keeps busy by studying physics, blogging, sleeping on buses and saving a drowning kayaker in the Willamette River. Never drafted by the NHL, Taylor was a free agent who circled the NHL’s development camp airport before landing in Dallas. He’s a smart, sound hockey investment; allow me to tell you why.
February 22, 1980 changed my life; growing up in Arizona and California, it was the first time I ever watched an actual, live hockey game. Looking back now, that epic Olympic matchup between the United States and Russia changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined as a geeky 12-year-old watching from my family’s living room. Sadly though, the world outside the rink isn’t as terribly different as the one we were living in then: a depressed economy, war, and global turmoil make it hard to have hope in much of anything. All of which came flooding back to me while watching the heavy rotation of “Miracle” on cable this weekend. I couldn’t help but remember why that victory was about more than the game, and it got me to thinking…do miracles still happen in hockey?
The Portland Winterhawks gave us all a scare on Friday night, when they dropped a game to the Tri-City Americans 6-2, one of the few times this season they've lost in such an ugly way. They rebounded quickly on Saturday with an overtime win against the Vancouver Giants. Ironically, they got a little help from the Ams on Saturday; Tri-Cities beat the Spokane Chiefs and as a result the Winterhawks clinched the U.S. Division title. The Hawks learned and they learned quickly, which got me to thinking about why it is that we learn more from losing than winning.
The son in this case being Portland Winterhawk goalie Brendan Burke, whose father is former NHL goalie Sean Burke. Currently ranked 13th among North American goalies by Central Scouting, Brendan recently turned heads when he posted two shutouts in a row on Jan. 26 and 29. Those ultimately turned out to be two-thirds of three consecutive shutouts by the team, which set a new franchise record. So now might be a good time to tune into his frequency, because it’s about to get very loud.
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.
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