Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Hockey conquers all

I've spent the better part of the past two months battling lower body injuries and flu-like illnesses, which can make one feel very old and very sorry for oneself very easily. Through it all, one thing made living on my couch tolerable: hockey, but of course. It saves the day when nothing else - not even modern medicine - will do the trick. It really, truly is the very best and most beautiful game in the world.

Delivery Guaranteed. We all know what “play a full 60 minutes of hockey” really means. You have to show up, make every shift count and give 100 percent for the whole game. It’s usually followed in interviews by something like “if we play our game, good things will happen.” Translation: if we give our very best, we’ll win. Translated literally, it probably wouldn’t make much sense, because whether they win or lose, a team is playing 60 minutes of hockey at a minimum. Normally I care about the outcome, because I consider my 60 minutes to be a financial and emotional investment in my team. But a funny thing happens when you are watching hockey as an escape from lower body injuries and flu-like symptoms. In my quest to at least feel mentally better, I stopped caring about the outcome and started looking for all the good things I could see. One night, it was Nic Petan winning a gold medal with Team Canada at World Juniors. Another it was Ryan Johansen racking up yet another point in his streak. This week, all of Portland had reason to rejoice in watching Paul Bittner play on the winning team in the Top Prospects Game. Moral of the story: Look closely at the good things – in hockey and in life – and you’ll see them.

We can handle the truth. A boss who was quite literally afraid of the truth was the main reason I hated the job I was laid off from last summer. She’d last about three seconds at a hockey game. Hockey is anything but perfect and it’s always messy, but it’s also, real, true, honest and devoid of any B.S. whatsoever. Mind, the referees might make some B.S. calls, but fans won’t be shy about giving them a piece of our collective minds. I’m lucky; these days, I work in a corporate environment where jeans are standard office attire and taking five to play ping pong with your colleagues is not only considered normal, it’s the source of serious competition, complete with trophies. But for the better part of the last 20 years, I worked in Corporate America, land of hidden agendas and office politics where being honest will get you fired. Hockey has saved my sanity, because it's a place where fans congregate to get real, let it loose and most importantly, appreciate beauty. Moral of the story: There’s no need to be afraid of the truth in hockey, because that’s what makes it beautiful.

Beauty is more than skin deep. Let’s face it; hockey’s notorious stench is one of the most disgusting things ever created by mankind. One whiff of it would knock most people unconscious. It’s also one way to tell you are a hockey fan. If you sit very close to the bench at games or meet a player after a game when he’s still wearing sweaty gear and you are still breathing and standing upright, congratulations; you are officially a hockey fan. It’s small potatoes compared to the scene you’ll find outside locker rooms after games: black eyes, stitches, ice bags taped to bruised body parts, baskets full of unwashed gear and broken sticks, discarded on a side table next to empty pizza boxes and half-consumed water bottles. Spend even five minutes in the post-game world and you will see how ugly this game can really be. Having seen all that, why have five seasons of covering the Portland Winterhawks only made me love it even more? I can think of a few reasons: 

No parking allowed. In 2013, the Portland Winterhawks finally brought the Ed Chynoweth Cup home on a bus after defeating the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 6. In honor of their victory, they were named Grand Marshals of the Starlight Parade. But it’s what happened the night they pulled into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum parking lot that lives in the memories of local fans. On a rainy Sunday night, 800 some odd fans crowded into what is really just an extended loading dock to welcome the team home. Even more importantly, it was also the first time anyone had seen Mike Johnston in person since he was suspended in late November. His temporary reprieve from exile was a victory in itself.

Festival of the last minute. Keegan Iverson -- no stranger to the penalty box -- scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2014 WHL Championship Final, forcing Game 7 and one last chance to defeat the Edmonton Oil Kings. Alas, it didn’t turn out as local fans would have hoped, but that doesn’t make what Keegan did any less extraordinary.

Happy Birthday! For the past two years in a row, Oliver Bjorkstrand has scored a hat trick on my birthday (Jan. 26) in games against the Tri-City Americans. Once again, the Winterhawks will face off against the Ams on Sunday night. I’m not even thinking about it; if it happens, it happens.

Moral of the story: Casual observers of hockey’s seemingly ugly surface don’t often look past the cover at the whole story. If they did, they’d see the beautiful part that lies within, where beloved coaches hoist trophies, Blue Jackets prospects score birthday hat tricks and Original Six teams win Stanley Cups. And they'd understand me when I say that when it comes to the ugly truths and inconveniences of life, hockey conquers all. 

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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

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com