Above the Glass
The Nashville Predators roster is looking a lot like the Portland Winterhawks these days. Thanks to the past few years’ Entry Drafts and the current free agent frenzy, the team now has numerous Winterhawks (past and present) on their current roster or in their system, including Paul Gaustad, forward Cam Reid, defenseman Taylor Aronson and forward Brendan Leipsic, acquired in the 3rd round of the 2012 Entry Draft. Brendan is known around these parts as a fearless, chirpy and gritty forward who is also a crafty little goal scorer. He’s a good solid choice by a good solid team; just don’t ask him to cut his hair.
As the NHL’s best and brightest prepare to descend on Las Vegas, it occurred to me that there are so many other things for which the league could hand out even more shiny things. Similar to the technical Academy Awards, the league could hold a second awards ceremony to honor NHL personnel who just did the little things throughout the season, like refraining from swearing, repressing violent impulses and using Twitter responsibly.
The NHL Entry Draft looks to keep the off-season exciting for us out here in the WHL, where the league is well represented in this year’s Central Scouting rankings. Among the players expected to go highly are a number of defensemen, including Everett Silvertips Captain Ryan Murray and Portland Winterhawk Derrick Pouliot. But there is also a less exciting flip side to draft excitement: some of the best players in the world may never be drafted, never play in the NHL even if they are, or not have the career that was expected of them. The reasons range from injury to roster needs to the things like discipline, professionalism, courtesy to fans and media, and off-ice conduct. Which got me to thinking, what if the Central Scouting Rankings included the X Factors that can determine a player’s readiness and ability to handle the next step in their careers? Would things like having a good hockey name, using Twitter responsibly and respecting what Ty Rattie calls the 7th man affect whether a player will be drafted and make it in the NHL?
About a week ago, the St. Louis Blues finally had the good sense to sign Portland Winterhawk Ty Rattie to a three-year entry level contract. Chosen 32nd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Ty is a high-scoring forward you might want to start paying attention to now, if you’ve not already done so. He’s pretty handy with a hat trick, Teddy Bear Toss goals and arcade games. And he puts teammates first, always. Just don’t ask him to make you a snow cone.
The Memorial Cup concludes this weekend, marking the official end of the junior hockey season. Now that I’ve previewed a few signs that the off season is upon us, it’s time for a few tips for how to fill the next few months before training camp and the 2012- 2013 pre-season begin. For example, catnaps are essential, you don’t have to put the Oreos down and walk right away and of course, Twitter is a must.
The junior hockey off season, that is. Unless of course your team is lucky enough to be competing for the Memorial Cup, which runs from May 17 - 27. Alas, my team is not. The Portland Winterhawks’ season is over after a crushing defeat in Game 7 of the WHL finals on Sunday. But very best wishes to the very worthy and totally loaded Edmonton Oil Kings as they seek to bring the Memorial Cup back to the Dub. I still have NHL playoff hockey to keep me busy of course, but here on the local front, it means no more live and in person hometown games. And so, it’s time to prepare for the battle known as the off season. In this first of two installments, I’ll look at how to recognize it’s time to get a non-hockey hobby or two.
As a fan of the sport who grew up in California and Arizona, you can imagine how giddy I am that the battle for the Western Conference title will be waged by the LA Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes. Even more exciting is what is about to transpire in the next 72 hours in Portland and Edmonton, as the Winterhawks and the Oil Kings battle it out for WHL supremacy. I was busy explaining all this to some dude on the elevator at work when he stopped me and asked “so, what is it about hockey that’s so great?” It was then that I realized the answer would take much longer than the elevator ride. Which got me to thinking, how do I really explain to people why I love hockey?
Tonight, the Portland Winterhawks get a second chance to win the Western Hockey League title, when they face off against the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 1 of the WHL Championship series. They made it to the finals last year, only to lose in a heartbreaking Game 5 against the Kootenay ice. Prior to this, the last time the Hawks got a chance to take back to back runs at the title was 1982 and 1983. In ’82, they won the WHL title. In ’83, they went on to become the first American team to win the Memorial Cup. As the NHL roars through the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the same time, it got me to thinking about second chances, and how they are just as precious in hockey as they are in life.
For yours truly, watching on Sunday as the Pittsburgh Penguins fell to the Philadelphia Flyers was like watching the end of the world as we know it. I forgot for about 24 hours that other teams were still playing in their drive towards the Cup and that in fact, the WHL and NHL post seasons were in full swing. After hearing that Florida and New Jersey were in a heated battle and Phoenix was on the brink of eliminating Chicago, I came back to life. There is still much hockey to be played, and even though the Pens’ post-season ended far too soon, it was still worth watching. The only question now is whose bandwagon do I get on for the next month and a half?
For hockey fans here in the WHL, Wednesday night is proving to be a Game 7 extravaganza. On the NHL front, some of us are biting our nails because our favorite teams are on the verge of being swept (or not, depending on your team). And here in the Dub, the outcome of two game sevens will determine who will vie for the Western Conference Championship. In Portland, the Winterhawks will face off against the Kamloops Blazers for the chance to advance and defend the title. Across the league, the Tri-City Americans and the Spokane Chiefs will do the same. Sitting here waiting for face off, I started thinking about the Twitter hashtag the boys are using during the playoffs: #allin. If you’ve ever met any of the Portland Winterhawks, you know they mean it. They believe it. And they live it. Shouldn’t we all?
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