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Above the Glass

From the Dub: Dear Grinch, About Christmas

Portland Winterhawks fans are in the midst of a WHL regular season that is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. So I took a few nights off from NHL lockout and WHL sanction-related news to watch some warm and fuzzy holiday classics. Among them was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and it occurred to me that the plot of this beloved holiday favorite is a whole lot like the WHL sanctions against the Winterhawks.

First, let’s refresh on the overall plot of the Dr. Seuss tale:

• The heartless Grinch, thoroughly annoyed by the Whos down in Whoville and their incessant holiday celebrations, plots to steal Christmas, declaring “I must stop Christmas from coming somehow!”

• The Grinch carries out his evil plan on Christmas Eve, when he is nearly foiled by Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two. He thinks up a lie and he thinks it up quick, and narrowly escapes to complete his dastardly rounds, stealing the very last crumb even too small for a mouse.

• Upon discovering the Grinch’s evil deeds, the Whos down in Whoville still gather to celebrate the holiday all the same, singing in unison “Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day.”

• Overwhelmed by their holiday spirit, the Grinch’s heart grows three times its size that day as he realizes Christmas is about more than gifts and decorations. He returns Christmas to Whoville, even slicing up the holiday roast beast.

Now, let’s review how this is similar to the Portland Winterhawks’ current situation:

Grinch: The Grinch disguises himself as Santa and proceeds to steal every last Christmas tree, stocking, present and the last crumb too small for a mouse from Whoville.

Hockey: The WHL hands down the heaviest sanctions in its history against the Winterhawks, partially stealing the team’s future (9 total draft picks through 2017) and stealing Head Coach and GM Mike Johnston from the team for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.

***

Grinch: The Whos, upon discovering that their holiday gifts and decorations have been stolen, unite in Whoville to celebrate Christmas anyway.

Hockey: One week after the WHL brings the hammer down on the Winterhawks, Nashville prospect Brendan Leipsic is chosen WHL Player of the Month, he scores four goals in one 7-5 win against Everett, and the Winterhawks run their home game win streak up to 12. They go on to win two out of three back to back weekend games (Dec. 7 – 9), led in part by one of the league’s points leaders, Nic Petan, who now has 53 points in 31 games played. As of December 11, the Winterhawks are on top of the U.S. Division (six points ahead of the Spokane Chiefs) and they are number one in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, fans purchase “Free Mike J” t-shirts, give Mike Johnston a standing ovation at every home game since he was suspended and purchase tickets and teddy bears for the sold out Teddy Bear Toss.

***

The moral of both stories:

1. You can’t keep a good team down. Ten out of the 24 players and goalies on the current Winterhawks roster are rookies. Five are only in their second season with the team. So the talent cupboard is well stocked for the immediate future. As for the long term future: The Winterhawks have a knack for drafting well beyond the Bantam Draft. Two of the most memorable players to ever play in Portland – Sven Bartschi and Nino Niederreiter – were drafted from the Euro Draft. Fan favorite and resident ladies’ man Chase De Leo -- a rising superstar forward -- was drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 Bantam Draft. New fan favorite and enforcer Joe Mahon was signed after a strong performance at the team’s 2012 training camp. In the recent past: Stefan Schenider was never drafted in Bantam or by the NHL. Under the Mike Johnston school of player development he flourished both on and off the ice, ultimately signing with the Vancouver Canucks in 2010 as a free agent. Luke Walker (also never drafted in Bantam or by the NHL in his original draft-eligible year) is now having a hot season with the Lake Erie Monsters, after finally being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2010. Finally, I hear tell via Twitter that Winterhawks’ scouts were all over Shattuck in recent days. Coincidence? I think not. As the reality of losing those draft picks begins to hit home, the team simply must get creative about where they find their future talent. History tells us that they will.

2. Love conquers all.  In reality, the Winterhawks and their fans are highly unlikely to melt the heart of Ron Robison and convince him to give us back our Coach and our draft picks. And he’ll probably never get it that winning is about more than giving away some plane tickets and cell phones. But fans will endure all the same. Our love for this team has seen us through the notorious season in which the team won a total of 11 games and it has given us hope even when we were sitting through pathetic losing games in the freezing Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Like the Whos’ love of Christmas, you can’t stop us from loving and supporting this team. Speaking of which: Caught in the middle of this battle are 24 young men, ages 16 to 21 who left home to play hockey, live the dream and move on to the NHL.  Fans are an integral part of this dream, so much so that Ty Rattie calls us the 7th man. Our love for the Winterhawks will never change. It isn't for sale, and the WHL can't sanction it. Finally, there’s this: Local hockey fans live in a part of the world where the sun disappears in October and reappears in July. Ice and snow are more and more common each winter. Daytime highs don’t climb above 70 degrees Fahrenheit until after the Fourth of July. Residents of the Pacific Northwest -- by the sheer nature of our natural environment -- are built to last; so are Portland Winterhawks fans.

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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