Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: The Choice Is Ours

For the past four seasons, Portland Winterhawks fans have been immune to the cyclical nature of junior hockey, in which teams rebuild every few years. On Mike Johnston’s watch, the Winterhawks didn’t rebuild each season; they simply reloaded. We all knew the day would come when Mike would leave and things would change. He told media on a regular basis that his ultimate goal was the NHL, so it’s not like we weren’t warned. But there were no warning signs that the team would fall so quickly to last place in both the US Division and the Western Conference. One of the great mysteries of hockey, however, is how quickly the game can change. Last night, the Winterhawks broke out with a 6-2 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors, the same day they named Nic Petan Captain and welcomed overage goaltender Bolton Pouliot (cousin of Derrick) to the team. It’s a long way back to the top, but it’s a start. It all got me to thinking: as a fan, just how loyal am I? The choice about whether to stand by the team is mine; which way do I go?

“You'll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is how much more enjoyable it is to win. It's inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it.”

– Albert Finney as Uncle Henry, "A Good Year"

Whether you’re just about done with your favorite team not playing up to its potential and/or you just can’t stand one more losing game, it helps to think like a young hockey player. Courtesy of the Portland Winterhawks, I’ve discovered a few universally true lessons about staying afloat when it looks like the ship might sink: 

“The fans; they support us even when we’re losing.”

-  2015 draft-eligible defenseman Keoni Texeira on the best part of being a Portland Winterhawk

Return the favor. Over the past month, I’ve discovered that losing doesn’t just affect loyalty to one’s hometown team; it affects your whole life. Hockey is life and it is hope, but when your team is losing, it can seem like all hope is lost. It would be all too easy to drop my season tickets and re-invest my time and money in a more productive hobby, but the Winterhawks have never taken the easy way out. It may have looked that way in championship season, but it wasn’t. The best part of being a fan is that the boys love us back, as evidenced by the countless hours they spend at meet and greets, skate with the players, delivering teddy bears to local hospitals, volunteering at the local homeless shelter and other off-ice activities in addition to workouts, school, practice and 14-hour bus rides to Calgary. They don’t ask anything in return, just that we stand by them. You could be a fan of any sport in any town and the universal truth is the same: for the team, fans are a bright spot when they are losing and the value we hold to them is priceless. Here in Portland, we have been lucky. Our team has given us much to be proud of in recent years; the least we can do is stand by them as they work to turn the corner.

“Let the fun times roll. 2 week road trip with the @pdxwinterhawks boys! #Saskatchewan #LetsGoStreaking” 

- Chase De Leo via Twitter on the day the team left for an epic road trip to the East Division

Gone win-streaking, be back soon. If you’re wondering where that second hashtag came from, it was about this time last year that the Winterhawks went on what eventually became an 11-game winning streak. After seeing how quickly the team turned it around last night, they just might go on another one this year. Chase didn’t post that simply because he wears the A and that’s his job. He believes it. He never gives up on a play and he never gives up on his team; it’s Chase’s signature move. It always has been. It’s why I follow him on Twitter; because every time he rocks a Tweet, it renews my faith in this team and reminds me why I love this game. Get ready Winnipeg, because your team chose well from among our ranks. I’m quite confident the resident ladies man and all-around natural leader will have the same effect on you.   

“No matter what, the Winterhawks always stick together.”

- Keegan Iverson via Twitter, when the team was facing elimination from the WHL final last year

Stick together, no matter what. A losing start to the season is hardly the biggest challenge the team has ever faced. The WHL celebrated the holidays in 2012 by issuing history-making sanctions against the Winterhawks, who responded with their best regular season in franchise history and the Ed Chynoweth Cup. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: the Winterhawks finest hour happens after darkness falls. If last night’s long-awaited win is any indication, their finest hours will happen on the road, where they will play six games in nine days as they make their way through the East Division. When our favorite team is losing, it can also be an opportunity for fans’ finest hour. We have to dig deeper to find what we really believe in and how loyal we really are. In the search for one’s true self, I find that it helps to follow the fine example of a top prospect:

“You can always hope, right?”

- San Jose Sharks prospect Alex Schoenborn, via Twitter

Hope springs eternal. When you reach a certain age in life, hope is no longer hard wired. It becomes a choice. I take my cue from Alex, who worked his way back from spending the Winterhawks’ WHL Championship season on the scratch list or playing with the Wenatchee Wild to being drafted 72nd overall by the Sharks. He's a sturdy, solid and polite young man who earned every inch of where is today. Most importantly, he has the right attitude. From Alex, I have learned one of the most important lessons of being a full-time hockey fan. When your team is on the comeback trail, hope isn’t just a choice. It’s a moral imperative.

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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