Above the Glass
I was going to use this weekend to do the same thing as most people: reflect on the year gone by, make resolutions I won’t keep and make predictions for the second half of the season. But then I got distracted by the Star Wars New Year’s Day marathon on the Spike network and out went my New Year’s plans. It was then that I realized that not only is “The Empire Strikes Back” the best of the Star Wars movies, it’s also chock full of dialogue that could just as easily be used by players to chirp at each other, as code amongst coaching staff about game strategy, and as replies to reporters.
I was going to call this entry “Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em” to express my thoughts on the Blue Jackets and Islanders not using Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter properly. But then Ryan went and scored two goals in one game, and Nino got more ice time, and both have crossed the 10-game threshold. Since the likelihood of them being returned to Portland at this point is less than zero, I decided instead to offer my own fan-friendly tips for making the most of one’s prized draft possessions. Call it the ABCs of using prospects wisely.
The World Juniors have just gotten underway, but alas Team Canada’s jerseys do not have the names of Portland Winterhawks on them. Good thing Team Switzerland will play later today, led by Flames top prospect Sven Bartschi. Here in Portland, our motto for the next week is Go Switzerland! But let’s not forget that elsewhere in Canada, hockey’s future is playing in the World U-17 Hockey Challenge. The Winterhawks are proudly represented in this tournament by rookie sensation Nic Petan, who is all of 16. He has the privilege of playing on a line this year with Sven and Ty Rattie, and together they have collectively already racked up more than 130 points this season. It may be a little early to make draft predictions about Nic, but you may want to put him on the radar now. Because his frequency is about to get very loud.
I have been extra good this year, so I am writing with a few requests that I hope you can honor. I am a humble hockey fan from Portland, and I’ve only been naughty on very special occasions when it was warranted, like yelling obscenities at the referees during the second period of Game 2 in the WHL finals this past spring. But I assure you, that was justified. Other than that, I have behaved myself and I have only a few hockey things that I would like this Christmas.
The other day when Paul put out the call to get a positive conversation going, I was thinking of jumping in the fray with World Juniors and how excited Portland was that three of our players were in the running for Team Canada. But alas, all three were cut and sent back to Portland. That’s how I came to be sitting on my couch last night drowning my sorrows by watching something that always makes me feel warm and toasty: Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Now, you know I’ll find a way to connect ordinary things to hockey, and last night was no exception. That being said, what would happen if you translated the plot and characters from this beloved holiday special to hockey?
They’ve dialed the Portland Winterhawks’ number. And so far this season, the Tri-City Americans have dialed it in every game they’ve played against the Hawks. This weekend they did it again, with a 3-0 win that extends their points lead in the top spot in the WHL’s U.S. Division. Their roster is full of NHL prospects, relatives of NHL players and two very talented brothers, all of whom come to every game to kill and eat anything that wears a Winterhawks jersey. You know what they say; keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer. So, let’s meet the Tri-City Americans, shall we?
St. Louis Blues fans may have already heard of Ty Rattie. But if you haven’t, now would be a good time to tune in, because his frequency is about to get very loud. Drafted 32nd overall by the Blues this past summer, Ty was one of four Portland Winterhawks who were all taken in the first two rounds of the 2011 draft. He’s got some physical growing to do, but in terms of maturity and personality, he’s already there. Ty’s a true team player, he likes mashed potatoes, and oh yeah, he likes to score hat tricks.
Over the weekend, all the way out here on the far end of the Oregon Trail, in the dungeons of Portland’s Rose Garden, yours truly had a small but momentous brush with NHL greatness. Brian Burke was in the house and right there in the hallway outside the Winterhawks’ dressing room, he walked right by me, nodded and said hello while I was waiting to talk with Ty Rattie. I could die tomorrow and my life would be complete. Say what you will about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ General Manager, but I can tell you from my one brief and shining encounter that he was totally polite, respectful and professional. Everything that players and the front office of any NHL organization should be. General Managers have one of the hardest jobs in the league. Or should I say the hardest job that’s really like three or four jobs in one: they have to be an HR manager, lawyer, accountant, scout and PR director all in one. I’m sure we’ve all thought we could do a better job when we see some of the things our favorite teams do with their rosters and what not. But what if we were put to the test, could we really do better? I’m not sure I could do better, but I definitely know I’d operate under a slightly less collective bargaining agreement-friendly set of rules.
Now that he’s back, not only has he turbo-charged my favorite team, but my Twitter feeds are all alight with news and predictions about how many goals he’ll score this year and the like. One of my favorite things about Sidney Crosby is that he’s a lot more mature and responsible than I was at his age. And from what I hear from Pens prospect Joe Morrow, he’s a nice, normal hockey guy in the dressing room, a natural leader and a good role model to follow in terms of how professional he is with the media and other public responsibilities. Which got me to thinking about how I would handle the same pressures if my every move was watched, dissected and generally picked apart to the Nth degree. What if I, humble peon and camera-shy working girl who isn’t famous and doesn’t make $8.7 million a year was suddenly thrust into the 24/7 spotlight? I’m pretty sure it would be a lot like an ugly win: it would be ok in the end, but you wouldn’t want to watch it while it was happening.
Here in the junior leagues, there is big, happy news today amidst the NHL’s hirings and firings. Invitations for Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp were issued this morning. 16 players from the WHL were invited, many of whom are NHL prospects or draftees, including Brendan Gallagher, Max Reinhart and 2011 WHL Rookie of the Year Matt Dumba. The Portland Winterhawks lead the way, with three players invited. Two were expected to receive an invite after attending development camp this summer: Joe Morrow and Ty Rattie. But one who may not have been on everyone’s list was at the top of mine: Brad Ross. Brad is known better for his penalty minutes than his goal scoring or playing in major tournaments. But this season, he has stayed out of the box, on the breakaway and it was my humblest of hockey opinions that Team Canada would see the light and give him a second shot. And that they did. So I guess I should probably introduce you to him.
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