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Above the Glass

Bowling with the NHL’s future

Now that the regular season is underway, bloggers, fans, and all-around NHL experts alike are out in full force pontificating, predicting, number-crunching and analyzing, using highly scientific methods and years of experience and expertise in this business. But I have found a much simpler and more entertaining way to learn everything you ever want to know about the NHL’s future: go bowling with them.

Last Monday, the Portland Winterhawks introduced what I hope will become a new monthly event for meeting and greeting the players. For the bargain price of $10, you can bowl with the players, and in the event you want to partake of some nibbles and beverages, they will serve it to you. Last week, the inaugural event connected the Booster Club and other fans with Joe Morrow, Brad Ross, Nic Petan, Taylor Leier, Ryley Bennefield and Layne Viveiros. After spending quality bowling time with a few of them, I have come to the conclusion that you are what you bowl. I didn’t have the privilege of bowling with all of them, but here’s what I was able to find out about the hockey players who will hopefully be coming to a rink near you in the next five to seven years.

Joe Morrow: The offensively minded defenseman whose goal against the Saskatoon Blades was just chosen in a TSN quiz as goal of the week is known ‘round these and NHL parts for his monster slapshot from the point. It’s a good thing all Joe shoots is pucks, because it’s truly deadly and he rarely misses. His bowling technique is no different..totally focused, patient and precise. I was bowling at the same time he was most of the night, so I didn’t get to see everything, but he looked like he was knocking ‘em down every time. Don’t recall seeing too many gutter balls. That’s exactly what his shot is like - even when he misses, he comes close. Pretty much every time the team goes on a power play, you can see it’s all about get the puck to Joe so he can let it rip. And that he does. As for his personality and off ice qualities, for someone with such a heavy shot who by the way, is not afraid to drop the mitts, you’d think he’d be Mr. Chatterbox. When in fact, the opposite is true. Now, Joe is one of the nicest and friendliest players I’ve met and he’ll answer any question you ask and he’ll answer it well. But he is also one of the shyest and quietest players when you’re not actually prodding him with questions. I think bowling night was the first time I’ve seen him chat up fans. He was one of the more popular players, and it’s easy to see why: not only does he bring the deadly shot, he brings a very warm and friendly personality. It’s clear that Joe was raised properly and he truly does appreciate fans and he meant it when he told me at Hawks training camp that “Portland is like a second home to me.” Stay tuned for more updates throughout the season on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ newest prize catch.

Brad Ross: An in-your-face forward who played on one of the most stunning lines every assembled by the Portland Winterhawks: he played alongside Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter. He’s known for starting fights, hanging 10 in the box for bad penalties and generally being an all-around pest. But when he isn’t doing that, Brad is deadly on the breakaway and it is my opinion that he is even more fearsome when he’s scoring. Because he drives to the net with the same reckless, fearless abandon that he fights. Now, don’t tell the opponents this, but in person Brad is one of the nicest players on the team. He loved hanging out with the fans on bowling night and like Joe, he seems to really appreciate the experience he is having here. And he bowls with the same fearlessness with which he shoots a puck. His first attempt with our team, he did the two-handed technique with a little curve on it, after which he declared “too much curve.” Later, when it was his turn to go, he jumped up from signing autographs and what not, and declared “oh, my turn, gotta go bowl!” It was hilarious. He said it just a like a little kid who’s about to get their turn on the ride at Disneyland. The moral of Brad’s bowling story is that behind the pesky little fighter is a deadly goal scorer and all-around good kid. Give him the two more seasons he’s got here, and I predict that the Toronto Maple Leafs will sign him and see their draft pick’s potential come to fruition.

Taylor Leier: Taylor is one of our rookies, but looking at him up close you’d think he was a shorter version of Vinny Lecavalier. He looks exactly like him. And if his bowling is any indication, he’s got the Lightning captain’s goal scoring and leadership qualities too. Normally it’s fans who do the asking about the players, but he started our conversation with “so, where do y’all live?” He lives out towards the Beaverton area, which might explain why he got slightly lost en route to Grand Central Bowl—which is on the other side of the Willamette River—with four of the other players in his car. But he does know how to get to the opponent’s net. He hasn’t scored a lot of goals yet, but if his bowling technique is any sign, the Winterhawks’ future is in good hands: almost all of his shots with our team were strikes.

Nic Petan: He had hurt his knee a bit in practice that day, and so couldn’t bowl with us. But I must say, you don’t need to watch Nic bowl to know how great he is. He’s off to a hot start this season, and it’s only going to up from there. Nic’s name has been the talk of the town since the Hawks drafted him in the first round of the 2010 Bantam Draft. I suspect that if he had bowled with us, he’d have gotten more than a few strikes and he would have been happy to score no matter what. One of my favorite moments involving Nic happened while I was watching him practice a few weeks ago: it was only practice, but every time he scored during a drill, he got so excited you’d think it was the first time he’d ever scored a goal. Nic is absolutely one of my favorite new players and I simply cannot say enough good things about him if I try. He’s mature beyond his 16 years, funny and very friendly and he’ll answer any question you care to ask. Oh, and this might help: he plays on a line with Ty Rattie and Sven Bartschi. They are this season’s Ross-Johansen-Niederreiter line.

Moral of the story: Us humble peons are what we bowl too. I’d never bowled in my life, ever, until this past Monday. But I didn’t do too badly. I am the queen of knocking over all the pins but one. A “tap” I believe it’s called. Whatever you call it, I can tell from my bowling technique that I’d be really good at ringing one off the post every single time. And that is why I leave the hockey business to the above named professionals.

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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