Above the Glass
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.
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.
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