Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Do the math

There's nothing like an invitation to your 30th high school reunion to make you realize that your day, if ever there was one, is over.  Even worse is the realization that in the minds of the teenage hockey players you interview on a weekly basis, you're old. In fact, I'm younger than some of the Portland Winterhawks' parents. So you'll understand that when said invite arrived in my mailbox this week, I thought it was junk mail and almost threw it away; I even laughed at the poor soul who had to deal with the reality that three decades of his or her life had just blown by like a hurricane. That is, until I turned it over and realized it was addressed to me and was in fact from the high school I attended in my senior year. I started thinking about where the past 30 years went and what did I have to show for them? That's when I realized that the math on every major achievement and milestone in my life added up to one thing: hockey. 

I believe in miracles: It really only takes one miracle to change your whole life forever. In my case the miracle literally happened courtesy of the United States Olympic hockey team on February 22, 1980. It was the game of the century, and I amost tuned it out completely. I know what you're thinking....every American was tuned into that game, how could you not realize how huge it was and what it meant? Because I was 12 and I had much more important matters on my pre-teen mind, like the lessser-known, pre-Hi Infidelity REO Speedwagon album I'd just bought with my allowance money. I just about lost the chance to watch what became known as the Miracle on Ice, until my father  intervened. His fanaticism for sports was surpassed only by the volume of his voice, which in the pre-iPod days couldn't be tuned out with earphones. I had no choice; I had to abandon all hope of perfecting my karaoke sing-along technique and get with the program. The rest  is history. But it would be another five years before hockey would once again change my life. 

Go Hawks: Life was rolling right along in the spring of 1985. Having reached the ripe old age of 17, I was cruising. I joined my high school swim team. I was dating a basketball player. My grades were good. I was about to enter my senior year, finally freed of the nerd alert I had been in 1980. It was all good. Which is usually about the time life shoots the puck out of play and hits you in the face with it. The puck came in the form of my father's announcement that we were moving to Portland, Oregon. In my senior year, we were moving to a place I only knew from the highway signs on road trips to my mother's hometown of Seattle. After three years of struggling to make friends, fit in and find an extracurricular activity I was good at, I'd have to start all over again. What appeal could there possibly be in moving to a place like Portland? The same appeal that keeps me here today: the Portland Winterhawks.  Did I realize then how they would change my life? No, but that's the beauty of it all: things happen for a reason. But first, I took a detour: 

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere: Never mind Portland or the Winterhawks. My real dream was to live and work in New York City. Naturally, I assumed life there was all like a Woody Allen movie: everyone lived in a fabulous three-story brownstone on the Upper West Side that cost about $100 a month in rent and ate every night at 5-star restaurants. All while writing the great American novel, but of course. I really did think that's how it was going to be. I just needed the right attitude, a little money in the bank and my dream, et voila! Things would work out. I left Portland in a 1988 Toyota Corolla with $3000 dollars in the bank and everything I owned in the trunk. There was one small problem: $3000 only covered the deposit and one month's rent for a studio in a third-floor walkup in Queens and parking the Toyota in a lot would cost about half that. Then there was the small matter of finding a job with only two real jobs on my resume. But I did it and I even stayed for 10 years, which was about nine more than I should have. The easiest way to explain my decade in New York City is that I took a lot of shots on goal, but most of them either went wide of the net or rang off the post. But I wouldn't trade it now for anything. Because there's nothing like New York City; living there will change your life.  Also, there was hockey: out of sheer luck, I snagged a ticket to the 1994 Stanley Cup banner raising. If you've never seen a Stanley Cup final in person or been lucky enough to have your team bring it home, put it on your bucket list. Even if the teams aren't yours, do it. Buy a ticket, get on a plane, train or automobile and go. The pride, love, passion and sheer bliss of it all will change your life. If only the next ten years had been as sweet, I'd still be there now. As fate would have it, my destiny lay elsewhere.

You can go home again: Nearly 25 years to the day after I moved to Portland, I posted my first Winterhawks blog on oregonlive.com.  Back then, they had just made the playoffs for the first time in four years and hopes were high that Mike Johnston could take them even farther in 2011. He did: they earned the U.S. Division title and the first of four consecutive Western Conference titles. If I'd stayed in New York, I never would have experienced those championships and I never would have met players like Seth Jones, Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreitter, Sven Bartschi, Paul Bittner, Dominic Turgeon, Mac Carruth, Oliver Bjorkstrand and the number one Winterhawk of all time, Ty Rattie. All those things that happened between February 22, 1980 and August 17, 2010 happened for a reason; that reason is hockey. 

Moral of the story: If like me, you are out there right now contemplating a high school or college reunion or dealing with a life change that's making you question everything that led you to where you are today, think of all the things you've done, the places you've been and the people you've met because of hockey. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I'm pretty sure if you do the math, it will add up to a life well lived. 

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As I think back on my life while waiting for my 50th. anniversary from high school, I think about my Uncle Willie taking me to games and seeing Maurice Richard, Plante, Harvey, Howe.  I remember waiting in line all night to get tickets to the Stanley Cup with my buddies.  Moving to FL and not seeing any games in the 70’s.  Wisconsin brought a Norad dish in my backyard to see the Wings.  It also brought 20 years of playing house league hockey.  2002 brought me and the Wings face to face with the Stanley Cup at the Joe.  Today I make goalie masks to put in my basement.  Yep its been all good.

Posted by Wisconsindale on 02/24/16 at 09:33 AM 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