Above the Glass
by Samantha on 09/03/15 at 08:00 AM ET
The new season is officially underway here in the WHL, where top Western Conference held training camps over the past week. In Portland, top NHL prospects Paul Bittner, Dominic Turgeon and Jack Dougherty were on display. North of us, Mathew Barzal, name-to-watch Nolan Volcan and Nick Merkley were getting it done at training camps in Seattle and Kelowna. In Everett, the big news was about a player who didn't report to training camp: Auston Matthews, who has chosen to play in Switzerland this year instead. It's just another week at the office here in the Western Hockey League, where pre-season drama and hype are just part of the major junior hockey game.
Bye off-season. Bye bye now: Dominic, Paul and San Jose Sharks prospect Alex Schoenborn were having the times of their lives this summer. Golf and fishing (Alex), signing NHL deals (Dominic and Paul), Mexico and Montreal for a family wedding (Dominic); you name it, they did it this summer. But when you talk to players at training camp, no matter what they did on their summer vacation, they will all tell you the same thing: they are glad to be back at it and playing again. Because really, no matter how good life off the ice is, it's always better when hockey is back in business.
Do you know the way to San Jose?: Sharks fans, take note. Alex usually spends a good chunk of his ice time in the penalty box, but this year he was on fire at the Portland Winterhawks' annual Neely Cup. After a summer of golf, fishing, working out and training, he looks ready to play a whole new hockey game. I'll keep you posted on his progress. If he gets an invite to Sharks training camp, pay attention. I think you'll like the new and improved player that you see. Fun fact: Alex used to be Oliver Bjorkstrand's billet roommate here in Portland and he is personally responsible for taking the two of them to see "Resident Evil" one night. And that's how I know that Oliver doesn't like zombie movies.
Columbus is the new Portland: Paul Bittner was expected to be drafted in the first round this year, but things happen for a reason. He will join his former linemate Oliver Bjorkstrand in Columbus, along with former Winterhawks Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky. Naturally, Portland looks forward to the day when Columbus puts them back on a line together. I'd highly suggest Columbus at least give it a try, because Paul and Oliver are like two halves of the same player. Whatever the Blue Jackets opt to do with our boys this season, one thing is for sure: the Columbus Blue Jackets now have a fan base in Portland. Fun facts:
- When he was a rookie, I bought Ryan a pizza at a local meet and greet with fans, courtesy of a winning raffle ticket. I paid for the pizza and I got to spend the evening doing what was essentially the first interview I ever did with him. I have never won anything in my life: not a winning lottery ticket, not a raffle. Nothing. I'm like the antichrist of contests: totally useless. But on that one night, I hit the jackpot. True story: The $12 I used to pay for the pizza was exactly all the cash I had left in my wallet.
- Friendly reminder: For the past three seasons, Oliver has scored on a hat trick on my birthday, which he has known since he did it the first time. So if the Blue Jackets are playing on or around January 26 this season, could a local Columbus Blue Jacket fan kindly remind him it's time once again for the annual birthday hat trick? Tell him Samantha in Portland said hi and thank you.
City of Brotherly Love: Further East, the Spokane Chiefs look to be led once again by brothers Keanu and Kailer Yamamoto. They are the first Spokane-born siblings to play for the team on the same roster. They were a force to be reckoned with last year and I expect more of the same this year, especially from Kailer. Even watching from a distance via Twitter, it looks like they tore it up at training camp. Fun fact: Last year, I sat next to them and their teammates at breakfast at the pre-season tournament in Everett. Kailer Yamamoto loves ketchup and puts it on everything. As for his teammates, they pretty much cleaned out the breakfast buffet, leaving the rest of us to pick through the scraps. Pre-game strategy note to self: Steal the ketchup bottle this year. It could change the outcome of the Chiefs' pre-season game with the Winterhawks.
Keep the enemy closer: The big letdown for the defending U.S. Division champions involved Auston Matthews, the projected number one pick in the 2016 Entry Draft. The Everett Silvertips held his rights, but he has signed a deal to play in Switzerland instead. Mind, that's only if you're a Silvertips fan. For the rest of us, it's one less superstar opponent for our boys to deal with. It's not the first time they've lost the opportunity to score a major player. Seth Jones chose Portland over Everett, and he paid for it every time he got booed in Everett, which was pretty much every game he played in Xfinity Arena. Until they challenged the Winterhawks for the U.S Division title this year, the Everett Silvertips weren't necessarily viewed as a top team in the WHL. Personally, I knew the day was coming when they would hit their stride and they have, with or without Auston Matthews.
Rocket Power: All eyes will be on the Kelowna Rockets and top prospect Nick Merkley this year as they look to defend their Western Conference and WHL titles. They have changed coaches yet again, as their success ushered in the departure of Dan Lambert to bigger and better things as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres. But I don't expect that to stop them or slow them down; early predictions around here put them in the "contender" category once again. Fun fact: Two years ago, when the Portland Winterhawks traveled to Kelowna for the opening of the Western Conference finals, my mom and I met Matrix star Carrie Anne Moss' father while we we were standing in line waiting for the doors to open. That's hockey: you never know who'll you meet along the way.
Beam me up: The best name on the Seattle Thunderbirds roster is Nolan Volcan. He also happens to be a pretty darn good hockey player. If you want to know how their training camp went and who else to watch on their roster, check out this story from local reporter Tim Pigulski.
In other news: Former Detroit Red Wings video coach Keith McKittrick -- now an assistant coach with the Winterhawks -- was arrested in Beaverton two weeks ago on charges of assault, harrassment and strangulation. He's been released on $2500 bail, pending a court hearing on September 14. The Winterhawks have placed him on adminstrative leave and issued a statement that indicates they are taking the matter seriously. We'll know more after the court hearing, so there isn't much else to say about the incident itself. What I will tell you is that the Winterhawks have always been a top-class organization that has treated me like family and every roster I've known is full of players who are also great people. I was glad to see that the team did the right thing in taking the matter seriously and treating it accordingly.
Long story short: It's business as usual here in the Dub: the future is now and the future is bright. We will get our first real look at the U.S. Division this weekend in Everett, where I'll be reporting on the brothers Yamamoto, host team the Silvertips and of course, the Winterhawks. After that, it's off for the annual trip to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton. On that note, here's a new Winterhawks name to make note of: Rodrigo Abols, who has been invited to play in the tournament. You'll thank me later.
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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