Above the Glass
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.
A weeklong vacation in the land of Tim Hortons, fabulous British Columbia wine and nightly doses of TSN gives a girl a lot of time to think about the upcoming hockey season, which isn't that far away here in Portland. The Portland Winterhawks open training camp on August 21, and buzz is already brewing out here about who will replace assistant coach Travis Green, who has accepted a position as the head coach of the AHL's Utica Comets. Whiling away the hours on a remote corner of Pender Island made me realize that the math from recent drafts may give us a good idea of what the 2013 - 2014 season holds for the Winterhawks.
The L.A. Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins are my favorite teams. So I had visions of a win-win Stanley Cup final; no matter who won, I’d be happy. Instead, I’m choosing a new side as the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks do battle for the Cup. Of course I’m watching the finals. It's an original six match up and Game 1 went to triple overtime; game on. But for all intents and purposes, my favorite teams are done, so I’m done. The off season has unofficially begun. What are fans to do when our favorite teams are toast? For starters, I think the NHL’s future can teach us a thing or two about rebounding, rebooting and recharging.
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?
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