Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Finding beauty in hockey

One of the things I get asked by people who find out that I lived in Manhattan for 10 years is “where were you on September 11?” I have never been able to think fast enough to come up with a more socially appropriate answer than the truth: “I was in it.”  “It” being the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., in the North Tower, 1 WTC. If you ever want to bring perfectly polite dinner conversation to a complete halt, I’m your girl. Or, if you’d just like to know how that day inspires my view of the game, read on.

First, I should probably explain my uncanny ability for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time: Many of the people who narrowly missed being in or near the Trade Center on that day did so because they were dropping off kids at school, sitting in a doctor’s office, missed a bus, or occupied with some other ordinary, everyday activity that rendered them late for work. For once in my life, I did the complete opposite. I’m notorious for being late everywhere I go, except of course, hockey games, where I’m notoriously early. But September 11, 2001 was the one and only day in my entire career that I was on time for work.

I had just moved to Hoboken the weekend prior. At last, my commute would involve only one train and would be less than an hour door-to-door. Two stops and I was in the Trade Center, which was three blocks from where I worked. At last, I had a decent-paying job almost right on Wall Street. My new apartment had a dishwasher, washer/dryer and air conditioning, luxuries I had not enjoyed while living in a closet in Manhattan. And, my gym was in between the train station and home, so no more excuses about working out. I had it made, except for one small problem: having it made is usually a sign you’re about to fall from grace. And that I did. I spent September 10 waiting for the cable guy and the Con Edison guy and what not to turn on all the utilities. Which means that September 11 was the first, last and only day I ever took that super-short commute on the PATH train. And I remember this: I was supposed to fly to Nashville that afternoon on business, so I had my suitcase with me. Instead of shoving and bustling and pushing, the PATH station was quiet, clean and the ticket clerk, seeing my suitcase, pushed the button to let me through the special entrance for strollers and wheelchairs and such. And they were equally nice at the other end. But that’s where this story ends and another one begins.

I should have known: I only remember September 11 in fragments nowadays, but this has never left me: it was too perfect, the start of that day. It was too nice outside (75 degrees, sunny), too quiet on the train. People were being more polite than usual. All of which made me think: something is wrong. Was it a Saturday and I forgot and went to work by mistake? Did I just miss the commuter rush? I still don’t know how I knew, but something was off.

That’s why these days, I always trust my instincts: The train platforms in the Trade Center were several stories below the main lobby, so you had to ride several escalators to get up to street level. Like I said, the nice clerk told me I could avoid the hassle with my suitcase by taking that elevator “right there.” So I did. While I was waiting for it, I checked my watch to be sure I was still on time: it read 8:45 a.m. It has taken me until recent years to realize what I chose to ignore for a long time: the first plane hit the tower while I was in that elevator. If I’d gotten into it a few minutes—or even a few seconds—later, or if it had taken longer to reach the lobby or I’d pushed the wrong button and gone up too many floors, I wouldn’t be here now. What followed, well….if you’ve seen the news footage you get the general idea.

What no one tells you is this: I believe textbooks call it survivor’s guilt. It’s what happens when you live where others died. I can’t nor would I presume to speak for others who have been through something similar. But I do know that for me, I have to work harder to find a reason to live. Because it’s not automatic anymore. And I have to look harder to see beauty. But I do, and its name is pretty much anything with an HL on the end of it. Ask non-hockey appreciators what they think of the sport we love, and they’ll tell you it’s loud, vulgar, ugly, brutal and it smells. Most associate it with fighting, missing teeth and let’s face it, they equate it with white trash.

Well, ok they’re right about the smelly part, but I beg to differ on one important point: When played at its highest, purest, best level, hockey is a sport of uncommon grace and truly staggering beauty. And I’d say trust me, because I’ve seen ugly.  And one day 10 years ago, I walked right through the middle of it. And not even the ugliest hockey game could rival it.

Road trip: This weekend I will be immersed in hockey, as I will be covering the WHL’s Tri-Cities Tournament and the NHL’s Young Stars Tournament in Penticton. Out of necessity, I will need to be on the road on September 11.  At 8:46 I will be somewhere between Kennewick and Canada. I will always remember where I was, but this year I will do it while I am driving towards beauty, hope and the reason I’m still here. After 10 years, I have learned to appreciate beauty and life in a new way.  Which brings me to this:

So here’s the moral of this story:  1) It took leaving New York and returning to Portland to find beauty and to remember that if I was meant to be dead, I would be. There is a reason I lived, and at last, I found it. 2) Even a day with losing, ugly, bench brawling, “what freakin’ rulebook did these tiddlywink refs read?” hockey is better than a day without hockey.  3) We are all lucky to be here and we are lucky to watch or play the sport we love.  Hockey is a thing of great beauty: always appreciate it.

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petshark's avatar

Thank you for this thoughtful piece. The beauty of hockey is underrated, maybe beauty isn’t a sufficiently macho concept. Thanks for a great reminder that sometimes beauty can be the meaning we’re looking for.

Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 09/10/11 at 12:03 PM ET


Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me I’m not the only one who finds an elegance to this sport we all love.

Posted by crewbierae on 09/10/11 at 01:38 PM ET


Nicley put.  Count me as a fan of the beauty of the sport.

Posted by loojay on 09/10/11 at 02:32 PM ET

UMFan's avatar

Great piece. When played and officiated correctly, hockey has a beautiful flow and grace to it. Its something that is hard to explain to non-hockey fans, but it is there.

Posted by UMFan from Denver, Colorado on 09/10/11 at 02:49 PM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Great piece. Thank you for sharing something that personal from your life. I don’t comment much (if at all, sadly) on your blog, but I do read your entries. Keep it up.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 09/10/11 at 04:42 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Your story is amazing.  Thank you for sharing it.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 09/10/11 at 04:55 PM ET

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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