Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Save as draft

One of the many adventures of working for a tech company is that nobody communicates via old school methods of communication like snail mail, phone calls or personal meetings. Everything is conducted via the latest and greatest automated technologies. One of those technologies is a safeguard in our email tool called "save as draft." Clicking on this button prevents us from inadvertently publishing an email that isn't ready or sending it to the wrong people. After a year that was a bit of a roller coaster on and off the ice, I think it might also be a good idea to save the upcoming WHL season as a draft.

"Sometimes you find yourself on a path you never expected; doesn't mean it can't lead you to a bonny place."

- Lotte Verbeek as Geillis Duncan, "Outlander" TV Series

A little of this, a little of that. The first sign that 2014 wasn't going to go exactly according to plan started on the last night of 2013. After the Winterhawks came out of the gate with an early- season winning streak and players dispatched to the Subway Super Series and the World Juniors, there was every reason to celebrate what looked like another near-perfect season. Enter the Kelowna Rockets, who handed the Winterhawks two of their worst defeats of the season on New Year's Eve and January 2nd (9-3 and 7-2, respectively). Not exactly the way local hockey fans were planning to ring in the New Year, but it would be the last time the Winterhawks would lose like that - or pretty much at all - for the rest of the season. There was hope in between those losses: On January 1, the NHL delivered the long-overdue Winter Classic between the Red Wings and the Leafs. Tip of the weekend: Holiday hockey can sometimes serve as an early warning sign of the year to come.  

What goes up must get lost. Following that loss on January 2, the Winterhawks soon thereafter went on a 21-game winning streak that would extend into early March, when it was snapped with a single loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds. They went on to win all their subsequent games and entered the post-season as the U.S. Division champions. They were heavily favored for a fourth Western Conference title. WHL playoffs opened the weekend of March 20. What could go possibly wrong? For starters, getting rear-ended at a stoplight on the opening night of playoffs while driving what I now like to call the Bad Karma Mini-Cooper. For another, getting lost on the road to Kelowna, where the Winterhawks lived up to the predictions by playing in the Western Conference final against their new archrivals. Tip of the championship weekend: If you’re planning a road trip from Eastern Washington to Kelowna or Penticton and Mapquest or your GPS tells you to “continue on Highway 28,” don’t turn left and accidentally take the scenic route through Yakima, the Wenatchee forest and Ellensburg before finally getting back on the right road to BC. You’ll thank me later.

Pink is the new black. It was heartbreaking enough that the Portland Winterhawks lost a home Game 7 in the WHL final to the Edmonton Oil Kings, who would go on to win the Memorial Cup. I lost my job about five days later. Party down; don’t be jealous now. A few tips if this should happen to you: Think of marshmallow fluff as a food group, accept all offers of free lunches and happy hours, sleep until noon every day, embrace any and all reality TV shows in which the subjects’ moral dilemmas and everyday lives are worse than yours could ever be and learn to think of peanut butter ice cream sandwiches from Ruby Jewel as “protein.” Life will appear to be much better temporarily until it actually gets better. 

Pittsburgh is the new Portland. I’m not sure what made more headlines; Mike Johnston returning to the Winterhawks bench after a season of suspension, or his decision to take the head coaching job with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The latter wasn’t totally out of the blue. Coach Johnston had already interviewed with the Canucks and he’d told local media consistently that it was his goal to move up to the NHL and that he’d consider opportunities accordingly. What was a little stunning was how quickly it happened; it seems like he just got here and just as we were getting used to having him around again, he was gone. His replacement is showing great promise in the pre-season, but there’s no one quite like Mike J. I’m jealous of Pittsburgh. The Johnston era is about to begin for Pens fans, who are about to enjoy what has become standard operating procedure for Portland; championship seasons. It’s like my mom said: “Mike Johnston is a great coach because he can make any player great.” And the Penguins already have great players. I've said it once, I'll say it again: enjoy the ride Pittsburgh. I know for sure that Portland did.  

Save as draft. We’d all like to think we can predict the future and determine the fate of our favorite teams by crunching data, scrutinizing score sheets and analyzing Corsi ratings. But the truth is that no one can predict the future and in hockey, a game or a season can change in an instant. I’d love to tell you that the Winterhawks are already a favorite for a fifth Western Conference title, but with 14 new players looking to crack the roster and a new coaching staff still learning their way, I can't honestly say that and mean it. But after a strong pre-season, there are a few things I know for sure: 1) The Winterhawks are a very strong contender for the U.S. Division title. 2) Oliver Bjorkstrand will score 50 goals this season, and he’ll probably do it in fewer than 50 games (provided of course, the Blue Jackets send him back to Portland this year). 3) There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is goaltender Adin Hill; take note and tune in. You’ll see what I mean. 4)  The Seattle Thunderbirds should be taken seriously at all times. Beyond that, after a year of mishaps and wrong turns and new beginnings, I'm skipping the pre-season predictions and saving the upcoming season as a draft. Because at last, I believe my mom when she says "sometimes it's better not to plan, because the thing you don't plan usually turns out to be better." Moral of the story: Saving the 2014 - 2015 season as a draft just might lead us to a bonny place.*

*Bonny (bonnie): A word of Scottish origin meaning attractive or beautiful.  

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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