Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Don’t be jealous now

For those still awaiting the start of the NHL pre-season, you can always tune in to us out here in the Dub, where 12 WHL teams have opened training camps and more will follow this weekend. That includes the Portland Winterhawks, whose camp includes the Neely Cup, a four-day extravaganza ending with a shiny object named for one of the team’s most famous alumni. I’m still sorting through what to watch throughout the league, but I can tell you the future is bright here in the Rose City. Our draftees made the most of summer, several injured players are back and ready for action, and there is plenty of talent on the horizon.

Rejoice, Portland, hockey is back: And you can read about it or follow it here at http://www.oregonlive.com/hawks or @AbovetheGlass

What a difference a draft year makes: In talking with Sven Bartschi yesterday it’s clear to see that the very best of who he is has stayed intact. The one thing that has changed is that he grew up. It was like talking to a different person. Sven’s goals for last year were to play a lot, and for his team to make the finals in the Neely Cup. This year, it’s to “be a leader on and off the ice.” Whether he does that in Calgary or here, I know he will.

But really, a picture is worth a thousand words: If you want to know what I mean when I say the very best of who he is, check this out. There is nobody quite like Sven, and this picture matches exactly who he is and something he told me yesterday when we talked about whether he’d come back here or stay in Calgary. Before I do that, let me say this: 1) His work ethic is “second to none” according to this coaches. Case in point: he was the last player to leave the ice just prior to opening face-off.  2) Sven is wise well beyond his almost-19 years, and if it weren’t for his undeniable, youthful charm, you’d think you were talking to a grown man when you interview him. He and Nino understand fully that hockey is not only their dream, it’s a job. And they both treat it accordingly. That being said, one of my favorite soundbites from yesterday was when he told me “I’m here to have fun” and that’s what he intends to do, whether it’s here or up north. If I just quoted that alone, I fear you’d think one of our most prized possessions doesn’t take this game seriously, and let me assure you that he does. But you know what? When all is said and done, we’re all here to have fun. And if we weren’t, why bother?

Take great care with our prize, Pittsburgh: When I talked with Joe Morrow yesterday, he told me that he was treated like royalty at development camp and that Dan Bylsma seemed like a really nice guy. I’m glad to hear that he will be treated with the same care, admiration and respect that he was in our town. As you would imagine, Joe would love to make the Penguins roster, but he also considers Portland a second home and would be happy here too. So, if you don’t mind, we’ll keep him for a while. But I assure you we will treat him well, the Winterhawks will use him wisely and he will be worth the wait. And note to his family unit, if you are reading this: may I just take this moment to commend you on raising one of the most polite, well-spoken and humble players I’ve ever met? And know that I mean it when I say behind the great plays and the laser-perfect shots from the point are great players. Period. No exceptions.

They’re back and they may be coming your way: Oliver Gabriel and Winterhawks Captain Brett Ponich are back with a vengeance from injuries. Both are overage this year, so it’s possible they could play in the AHL for their respective NHL teams (Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues). If they do, I suggest buying tickets now and tuning in to their frequencies. Because they are about to get very loud.

The younglings to watch out for: Ryley Bennefield, Chase De Leo, Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic, Derrick Pouliot, and Steen Cooper.

Best hockey names at training camp: Steen Cooper leads the race, with Connor Smythe following as a close second. I’m pretty sure there’s a story to both their names: look for an update this weekend.

As for the rest of the league: I’ll be back this weekend with more updates from Portland and my players to watch in the Dub this season. In the meantime, me and the pet dinosaur will be Tweeting from camp on my trusty flip phone. Stay tuned….

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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