Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Miracles happen for a reason

As of Sunday, February 22, 1980, I had never even seen a hockey game. I didn’t know a thing about the sport. All I knew was that the United States Olympic hockey team was about to play the Russians in a game they might lose. I was 12 and otherwise occupied with more important matters like boys, that new Star Wars movie that was coming out in the summer and calculating the exact amount of hairspray it took to maintain my perfectly coiffed Farrah Fawcett feathered hairdo. I could not have cared less. If iPods and noise cancelling headphones had existed at the time, I probably would have missed the game entirely, because my REO Speedwagon record would have drowned out all the noise coming from the living room, where my family was watching the game. And just like that, on a Sunday evening in the Arizona suburbs exactly 35 years ago, a single hockey game changed my life. Watching all the Miracle on Ice interviews and archival footage Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder how my life would have been different if I’d never seen that game. Things happen for a reason, but darned if I knew what it was when I was 12; I just thought Jim Craig was cute.

Geography lesson: Today, being a hockey fan in Arizona is the best of both worlds. Inside, there’s NHL hockey and outside, you can enjoy golf, sunshine and 75-80 degree days in the dead of winter. Such was not the case in pre-Coyotes 1980. Arizona didn't have an NHL team yet. Cable didn’t exist. VCRs were the size of a small car. Answering machines were the new big thing and they were about the same size as the VCR.  Opportunities to partake of my favorite new sport were limited, which is why my hockey-loving youth went a little more like this: 

Welcome to the freak show: Behold ladies and gentlemen, a strange and mysterious creature never before seen in public. Observe how this Arizona teenager watches the one hockey game her local ABC TV channel allows per year – known as The Stanley Cup final – and how she maintains a scrapbook of articles about her favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, not knowing that someday she will meet their future head coach and two of their top prospects. Note also that she is a fan of Wayne Gretzky, with whom she shares her birthday.

The Evil Empire Strikes Back: The only other thing that occupied my free time in 1980 was “The Empire Strikes Back.” When I wasn’t clipping Wayne Gretzky pictures from the back corner of the sports page, I could be found attending yet another encore viewing of the second Star Wars installment at the local theatre. Little did I know then that some 30-odd years later, the two worlds would collide

Geography lesson, the sequel:  In 1984, I got my first driver’s license and Mario Lemieux was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Life was good: I was free of the school bus shackles and my favorite team had just drafted what would become my favorite player. All was well, until the middle of 1985, when my father announced that we were moving to Portland, Oregon for his job. Mutiny was afoot as I tried to plot how I could be exempted from this hideous decision that I was quite sure would ruin my life. To ensure that a mutinous plot didn’t transcend en route to all parts north, my father dangled a key selling point of moving several thousand miles north to the Rose City: The Portland Winterhawks.

Moral of the story: Every hockey fan I’ve ever met knows exactly how they discovered the game, to the letter. Which is probably why I will also never fully understand the strange and mysterious creatures known as casual hockey fans: how could you watch a hockey game and not be changed by it forever? It’s been 35 years since hockey changed my life, which got me to thinking: did you ever wonder what your life would be like if you’d never discovered hockey? I would never have met the Portland Winterhawks past or present, including Mike Johnston, Derrick Pouliot and Joe Morrow. Nor would I have met Bill Guerin when he blew into town to check up on Derrick. I never would have bought Ryan Johansen a pizza at the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club fan meet and greet event with the last $12 cash that I had in my wallet. Simply put, life without hockey wouldn’t really be life. Today, the players on that Olympic team are old enough to be someone’s grandfather. Bob Suter recently passed away and Mark Wells had to sell his medal to pay for medical bills. A lot of them never played professional hockey after that game, because what else could top playing in the game of the century? But what they gave us on February 22, 1980 will last forever. They changed the game and for some of us, they changed our lives. Life’s achievements aren’t measured in medals, score sheets and Stanley Cups; it’s the little things we do every day that make our lives extraordinary and meaningful. It doesn’t take much to become a hockey fan; just buy a ticket and walk through the door. What awaits on the other side will change your life. 

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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