Above the Glass
by Samantha on 07/30/11 at 03:00 PM ET
Seeing all these new, enthusiastic bloggers here on Kukla’s is making me a wee bit nostalgic for this time last year, when I was a newbie. Welcome all. It also made me realize I’d better get it together and start reporting some actual news from here in my sector. That being said, those of you who are looking for more junior and minor hockey are in luck. I will be expanding beyond my Portland Winterhawks universe to cover the Western Hockey League this season. There’s plenty happening out here in the Dub, and I’ll do my best to bring more of it to you. In the meantime, it’s only 26 shopping days until the Hawks open training camp, so here’s a little preview of the up and coming players and other tidbits to tide you over.
First, let’s meet the draft class of 2012: Keeping busy this summer are defenseman Derrick Pouliot and fan favorite forward Brendan Leipsic. Both are vying for a chance to play on Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament next month. Their teammate Josh Hanson has already made the U.S. Team for that tourney. Derrick will also attend the NHL Research and Development camp next month. And in case you were wondering how to pronounce their names:
Hooked on phonics: Derrick’s last name is pronounced poo-lee-aht. Brendan’s is lipe-sick.
Prize for best mispronunciations of their names: Courtesy of several opposing team’s play-by-play announcers….Poo-yo and Lipsic. Because it’s important to get it right when thousands of fans are listening to you live on the air.
First prize for best nickname in the dressing room: For obvious reasons, it’s my firm opinion that the best current Winterhawks nickname belongs to Derrick, who is also known as Pooh Bear.
I really must work on my interviews: Brendan is apparently quite chatty with most of his friends, teammates and others. Which is why I’m a little perplexed by why I can barely get a whole sentence out of him. But he does come up with some choice bits now and again, and he’s always honest with his answers, a rarity among athletes. When I asked him once about back-to-back games, in which one went down in flames and the next night rocked, he told me “well, we showed up tonight for one thing.”
He’s pretty good with a penalty shot too: Brendan put himself on the map this season at a game against Lethbridge, in which he became the first 16 year old in Winterhawks history to score on a penalty shot. It was very nearly a standing room only and it only went uphill from there. That game, by the way, also marked Sven Bartschi’s first two WHL goals.
Amount of crap Brendan puts up with from opponents: Zero. He loves to chirp and he has no quirk about starting the business. During a particularly nasty, losing game with Kelowna that got Brad Ross suspended, Brendan leveled Brett Bulmer right into the Portland bench and Brendan went down right on top of him. Oh and by the way, Leipsic is 5’8” and Bulmer is 6’3”.
Gone camping, be back soon: The WHL is dispatching a number of players to various tryout and training camps this summer. Among one of the most notable is Team Canada’s National Junior Team Camp, where the next World Junior roster will be chosen. Three Winterhawks, all draftees, are on display: Joe Morrow, Ty Rattie and Ryan Johansen. Also representing the WHL are Mark Pysyk (Edmonton), Brendan Gallagher (Vancouver), Patrick Holland (Tri-City), Ryan Murray (Everett), Quinton Howden (Moose Jaw) and the number one draft pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who oddly did not make last year’s roster. I don’t think they’ll make that mistake again.
And if they lose this time around, they may not be back at all: The World Juniors are being held in Calgary and Edmonton this year. After two years in which they lost the gold medal to the U.S. and again in an infamous third-period meltdown to Russia, if Canada does not take back what is theirs on home turf this year, the players may need to be put into some sort of hockey player witness protection program. But with Vancouver Giants’ Head Coach Don Hay running this year’s bench, I’m pretty sure our boys will return safety and not in need of such protection.
Royally lucky: The league will welcome the Victoria Royals (formerly the Chilliwack Bruins) this season. I’m jealous - Victoria is one of my favorite cities. Plus, there is of course a Winterhawks connection: our back-up goalie Keith Hamilton was traded to them over the summer. He showed what he’s capable of last season when he had to back-stop the Winterhawks with no back-up in a game against Prince George that the Winterhawks went on to win. The only times I interviewed him, he seemed genuinely excited just to be here and that someone would want to talk with him. The only description I could think of was that he was a lot like a kid who just got his favorite toy for Christmas. Keith is one of my very favorite players and I think I can safely speak for most Portland fans when I say that while we are sad to see Keith go, we are happy for him because it will hopefully mean more playing time (and scouting by NHL types) for him.
Other things I’ll be keeping an eye on:
Be afraid. Be very afraid: Whilst the rest of the WHL is off to camp, the Winterhawks’ arch rival the Seattle Thunderbirds has been rebuilding their empire. They have a new coaching staff, including Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche and Portland Winterhawks. Somehow I don’t think we’ll have another 9-1 game against them, in which Brad Ross and Nino Niederreiter each score a hat trick, for quite some time. The potential comeback to watch this year.
Where are they now?: Look for a periodic update on some of my favorite former WHL players, including Winterhawks Chris Francis, Luke Walker and Stefan Schneider. And if you are a Boston fan, keep an eye on Craig Cunningham, who recently signed with the team. When Craig was a rookie on the Vancouver Giants, he played alongside Milan Lucic on a roster that went on to win the Memorial Cup. I suspect he’ll spend some quality time in the AHL first, but he’s worth watching and waiting for.
Audience participation: This is just a sample of what I’ll be watching and reporting on this season. If there are other things or players you’d like to read about, let me know. Have press pass, will travel is my new motto this season and I will do my best to bring it to you. Speaking of which:
Proof I was a guy in another life: I’m off to test out my brand spankin’ new Laser Blue Mini Cooper with black bonnet stripes and a sunroof and satellite radio. It’s the only thing I’m more excited about than off-season hockey happenings.
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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