Above the Glass
Portland Winterhawks fans are in the midst of a WHL regular season that is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. So I took a few nights off from NHL lockout and WHL sanction-related news to watch some warm and fuzzy holiday classics. Among them was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and it occurred to me that the plot of this beloved holiday favorite is a whole lot like the WHL sanctions against the Winterhawks.
If you saw the Portland Winterhawks' hot play this past week, you might never know the team was operating under heavy sanctions from the WHL. Those penalties certainly aren't stopping Nashville Predators prospect Brendan Leipsic from his appointed scoring rounds. The same day he was named WHL Player of the Week, he singlehandedly saved Tuesday's game against the Everett Silvertips by himself, digging the team out of a three-goal deficit with a natural hat trick and the game tying goal. The Winterhawks went on to win 7-5. Alas, the team's hot streak temporarily slowed down last night in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans. The good news is the Winterhawks mounted a thrilling comeback in the third period with a little help from Brendan, who kept his point streak alive with an assist on the team's first goal. You can visit www.oregonlive.com/hawks for the latest coverage of Brendan's feats of derring do, including my personal favorite by Paul Buker (after the jump). And stay tuned, as I have a strong feeling the best of Brendan Leipsic is yet to come.
On Friday night, the Portland Winterhawks answered the WHL's sanctions with a win against the Seattle Thunderbirds and they are currently up 3-0 on the Everett Slivertips as I post this on Saturday night. The Friday festivities kicked off with a standing ovation for Head Coach and GM Mike Johnston when his photo and name were shown and announced, even though he couldn't be there. It kicked off a statement game where the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club also sold 500 "Free Mike J" t-shirts and the team exploded in the third period to win the game. The line for those shirts, BTW, was already stretched around the concourse when I arrived shortly after 6 p.m. The booster club is currently in Everett, bringing Portland's support to the team as they play at Comcast Arena. So you can see why Oregon's state motto is "she flies with her own wings"; it describes Oregonians perfectly. Indeed, the Winterhawks and their fans are flying with their own wings in the face of adversity. As this story continues to unfold, I expect the WHL's sanctions will only serve to strengthen our resolve and the team's commitment to winning, all the way to the Memorial Cup. So if anyone knows of any good hotels and restaurants in Saskatoon, give me a shout. I have a feeling I'll need them come May.
Whether you live in Portland or not, all of the hockey world now knows about the WHL's severe discipline against the Portland Winterhawks for recruiting violations. As the NHL lockout drags on, the Winterhawks have provided local fans here in the Rose City with hope and faith amid the darkness, on and off the ice. As a longtime fan of the team, I'm absolutely heartbroken by this news, for so many reasons. But as crazy as it may sound, I have the feeling this season may actually be the Winterhawks' finest hour. If you want to know why, you can read on. Or if you live in Portland and see us around at a game, you can just ask my mom.
I have the privilege of living in a WHL town and going to a hockey rink several days a week, so I have admittedly lost interest in whether the NHL and NHLPA work it out. But now and again, I can’t help tuning in to see if progress has been made. I’m not sure why; it’s like watching water boil: pointless. It also made me realize that there really aren’t any rules in the NHL Rulebook that punish the league or its unions for not reaching agreement in a timely manner. But what if there were? What if there was a lockout-related version of Rule 48, in which similar penalties are imposed for causing a lockout that threatens to wipe out the regular season? Would it make a difference? Probably not, but that never stops me.
You may be pleased to know that there is a beacon in the middle of the NHL lockout darkness; and he’s playing right here in the Dub, right now. Hope springs eternal here in the junior leagues, and in this case hockey’s hope is named Oliver Bjorkstrand, a Danish rookie forward who looks like he’s 12 and plays like he’s 25. You may not have heard of him yet, but you will.
I opened my personal calendar this week to a horrifying reality that I knew was coming, but had ignored until now. Between now and October 28, there are no NHL games and alas, there is only one Portland Winterhawks home game. What’s a girl to do? I know: watch a slightly creepy, really smart, well-written and well-acted TV show filmed right here in Portland: Grimm. If you’ve tuned in, you know it’s full of strange characters, stranger plotlines and bizarre creatures who seek to harm the human race. In spending way too much free time bringing myself up to speed, I realized Grimm’s creatures have some eerie similarities to hockey.
Last weekend, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot let one ripper of a shot fly into the Kelowna Rockets’ net, giving the Portland Winterhawks a 1-0 win and Cam Lanigan his first WHL career shutout. But it’s important to note that the game winning goal happened late in the third period, after two periods of missed opportunities had flown by; which may be why Derrick responded to my declaration of “that was the best goal ever” with “it was the luckiest goal ever.” He had a point; the luck that guided that perfect shot into the net disappeared the next night when the Rockets won 4-3 in the final 59 seconds of the game. Which got me to thinking; in hockey, is it better to be lucky or good?
I was plotting yet another “lockout, not cool”* type entry, when I realized such rants are an exercise in futility. Instead, I have endeavored to find some measure of goodness in the middle of all this muck. I am very fortunate that the goodness once played hockey in Portland, and that many are now in the AHL, where we can continue to enjoy watching or listening to games from afar. For those who may be looking to do the same whilst we wait out the second NHL lockout in less than a decade, kindly allow me to refresh you on a few of my favorite hockey things.
Waiting for the NHL and NHLPA to get their act together on the CBA is a lot like watching water boil; the more you stare at it, the less progress seems to be made. Too bad there's not a Hockey Fan Association at the table. If we had anything to say about it, this would be long past over and done by now. Which got to me thinking, what if fans had a say in the CBA negotiations? If you could plead the fans' case for working it out, what would you tell them?
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