Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Ah,youth

It’s beginning to look a lot like summer here in the Pacific Northwest. The perfect time for several Portland Winterhawks to dispatch to NHL development camps. Among them are the obvious: Calgary Flames first rounder Sven Bartschi and defenseman Joe Morrow, who is off to Consol Energy Center this week. Among the not so obvious is forward Taylor Peters, who has already seen the inside of Consol, having been invited to the Pens’ training camp last fall. This year, it was the Minnesota Wild who came calling. Keep Taylor on the radar. He’s not the name on everyone’s lips at the moment, but he may be in the near future. Watching while our players make the most of their precious youth makes me outwardly proud and inwardly jealous that it’s all still ahead of them and the possibilities are still endless. But not all is lost here in middle age. Those of us who were the boys’ age when cavemen were still experimenting with fire can still hang on to our youth, even if only in our hearts and minds. It just takes a few less regrets, a few more workouts, and a lot of faith.

It makes me want to be 18 again. Sort of: When I was the average age of the Portland Winterhawks (17), I had just been dragged to Portland in my senior year in high school, a tragedy of epic proportion from which I have never fully recovered. I wasn’t good at sports, I wasn’t a cheerleader, I wasn’t a member of the Glee Club. I was just an average teenager trying to survive the last days of my high school existence with my ass. The following summer, I spent my free time working at a video store that was next door to what is now the Winterhawks Skating Center. Coincidence? I think not. It wasn’t the only sign that this is where I’d end up: My birthday is January 26, which I share with Wayne Gretzky. Depending on which factoid you believe, it’s also the date of the first official NHL hat trick. Plus, if we hadn’t moved to Portland, I would not have the privilege of spending 9 months out of the year meeting the NHL’s future. So, ‘tis true, my own youth was not exactly spectacular at the time, and it certainly didn’t involve signing a multi-million dollar deal with the NHL. But it led me here, so it wasn’t all bad.

Where did it all go?: I talk to the boys after games, sometimes while standing up against a wall in a very narrow hallway outside the Rose Garden dressing room, while large piles of gear are loaded out within inches of my head. And I can’t help but giggle at how wasted the whole experience is on me. Local teenage girls, were they in my shoes, would be getting Nino Niederreiter’s sweat dripped on or near their person and be ecstatic. Me…I’m like “dude, don’t sweat on the sweater, I just took it out of the dry cleaning bag.” But not all is lost. I have come up with a few tips for at least attempting to maintain something that resembles youth. Well, the good part anyway:

1. Never, ever give up. Giving up, giving in and selling out is the fastest, easiest path to getting old, getting fat and getting stupid. So, maybe the dream didn’t turn out like you thought it would, or it didn’t happen at all for reasons beyond your control or ya’ know, life and stuff. But if you’re still standing upright and have a pulse, there is a reason you are here. Never give up the search to find it.

2. Have faith. For all their stellar draft talent, the Portland Winterhawks have also sent several players forth into the NHL fray who weren’t necessarily the names on every scout’s clipboard.  Take Luke Walker; the son of former Winterhawk and New York Ranger Gord Walker, he was never drafted in the Bantam Draft and was passed over the first time around in the NHL draft. He fought his way onto the Winterhawks’ roster at training camp, he barely made the US World Junior team that won the Gold Medal while playing with what his coaches called the worst injury they’d ever seen, and in 2010, he was drafted 139th overall by the Colorado Avalanche. He put up good numbers in their pre-season last year, and he’s now playing for their AHL team, the Lake Erie Monsters. Or how about Stefan Schneider, also never drafted in the Bantam Draft or by the NHL. But after a stellar overage season last year, he was signed by the Vancouver Canucks. He is currently on the roster of their NHL team, formerly the Manitoba Moose, who will relocate to St. John’s, Newfoundland this fall. And then there’s Taylor Peters. Never drafted or signed as yet by any NHL teams, for the second year in a row, he’s been invited to a training camp of one sort or another by an NHL team. Last year, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins. This year, it’s the Minnesota Wild. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always blogging.

3. Believe in fate. I was flipping through the numerous post-draft articles when I came across a tidibit where Sven said that maybe it was meant to be, his being drafted by Calgary. It appears that when he first arrived in Portland, minus pajamas, he asked roommate Spencer Bennett if he had a shirt he could sleep in. Bennett, drafted in 2009 by the Flames, gave Sven a Calgary Flames t-shirt, which he proceeded to sleep in for the rest of the season. So you see, it’s wise to heed the signs, especially if they come in the form of an overworn t-shirt/pajamas.

4. Stay in shape. If there’s anything that will get your butt to the gym, it’s not a personal trainer. It’s not a workout buddy. It’s not that expensive gym membership you bought on impulse on New Year’s Day. It’s talking on a regular basis with 18 year old hockey players who are in prime Grade A shape, and have survived the notorious bike tests at the combine. When you see someone like Sven riding the stationary bike for another 20 minutes after a game that went to overtime and shootout, there is no excuse for not setting the alarm back another half hour in order to make it to the gym before work.

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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