Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Things that go bump

Mother’s Day weekend should have exactly what my mom and I planned: a weekend in the country, enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty and perhaps a spa treatment or dip in the pool. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about best laid plans, it’s that they always go awry. And so they did two weeks ago, and instead I spent Saturday in an emergency room. The diagnosis: one fractured ankle, the other sprained. For the first time, I finally understand how one false move can change your whole year, that hockey players’ belief in superstition should be taken seriously and that the most devastating part of injury isn’t necessarily physical.

“I have a bad feeling about this”
- Princess Leia, The Empire Strikes Back

Trust your instincts. My mother had a bad feeling about the weekend getaway to the Oregon Garden and kept asking me if I wanted to cancel and do something else. But since it was Mother’s Day weekend and her birthday, I insisted that we carry on as planned, even though I also felt like disaster was imminent. Superstition should have turned us down another path, but I ignored it. My punishment is four to six weeks on injured reserve with a lower body injury. Now I truly see why hockey players are so superstitious. 1) Because they know that one team is going home a loser and they don’t want to be that team. 2) Because every time they step onto the ice, they risk injury far more gruesome than mine. 3) There are no guarantees in hockey, but adhering to pre-game rituals and game-day superstitions improve your odds.

“They boasted of injuries and wore their scars with pride, and they reserved their special admiration for mutilation: a boy with a finger missing could be their king.”
- Ken Follet, Pillars of the Earth

Wear it with pride. For hockey players, injuries and scars from fights or high sticks to the face are a right of passage and most players wear them with pride, often posting pictures of their “zippers” on Twitter.  That’s how I know that most of Brendan Leipsic’s teeth aren’t his own and exactly where Taylor Leier got high sticked in the face at Flyers training camp. When I asked Taylor about the injury, he replied like he was showing me a new Christmas present; “Wanna see it?!” and proceed to get right in my face with it. You can learn a lot from junior hockey players; like how to wear scars with pride. I’m not sure I’ll wear my latest mark with pride, but I know it will serve as a constant reminder to slow down now and again and pay closer attention to what’s right in front of me.

“Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in River City.”
- “Ya Got Trouble,” The Music Man

Heed the warning signs. The first sign my Saturday was going to go off the rails really started on Friday morning, when the person in line ahead of me at the café got the last of the oatmeal. Then, I cut my hand trying to slice the bagel I bought instead. And leaving work early to beat the traffic? Yeah, that didn’t happen either. Later that evening, the restaurant had run out of the bottle of wine I ordered. There was trouble in River City, my friends; right there and then. Hockey is really not that different.  If you ask players about how they knew a lost game was going to go sour, it usually starts with not being ready, not showing up, the mood in the locker room, and other warning signs that happened long before the game began. That’s why, in hockey and in life, it’s always best to heed the warning signs, because doing so can change your fate for the better.

Watch your step. Most hockey injuries occur in an instant and aren’t necessarily due to a hard hit or tripping or a kneeing penalty. They also happen when a player falls awkwardly or crashes into the boards at a weird angle. Injuries in retrospect seem slow and painful, but they really happen in a flash. And just like that, down goes part or all of a season to injury and recovery. In my case, it was a stair that I missed because I looked away for a split second when I should have been watching my step.  Lesson learned: You can take all the precautions in the world, but sooner or later you’ll make one false move and get hurt. The best way to recover is to get smarter, stronger and maybe just a little bit safer the next time you go back out there.

“The place that is broken will eventually become stronger than the area around it.”
- From my emergency room medical report, describing how my broken ankle will heal

It’s all in your head.  Ask an injured player in any sport what it’s like to deal with a serious injury, and you’ll see the same themes emerge from the interview: the fear he’ll never play again, concern about whether he will heal properly, and how badly he wants to be back out there helping his team. For athletes, their physical and mental well-being isn’t just a nice-to-have to be more efficient and effective at their jobs. It is their job. Get injured or become ill and you instantly become – and feel – useless. It’s the same in life; injury isolates you from your work, your everyday routines like shopping, driving to work or simply going to the movies with friends. People stare and feel sorry for you, even more so if you did something stupid like trip and fall. Thanks to modern medical science, minor lower-body injuries can be healed surprisingly quickly, but overcoming the mental effects of injury is a whole other hockey game.  That’s how I’ve come to realize that becoming stronger than the area around you isn’t necessarily a physical battle; it’s mental and emotional. Moral of the story: The next time we hear about a player who’s been sidelined with an injury, before we start guesstimating the effect it will have on his team, how long he'll really be out and who will take his place,  I might suggest we all take a moment to remember that behind the player is a human being who just wants to get back in the game.

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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