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Above the Glass

From the Dub: Happy Hockey New Year!

WHL teams open training camps this week, including the Portland Winterhawks. August 21st therefore marks the official end of the off season in the Rose City. While we bid a fond farewell to players who are moving on to other pursuits, it’s also time to welcome our future superstars, some of whom were just drafted this past summer. The changing of the guard affects the coaching staff as well; Travis Green has departed to coach the Utica Comets and we will get our first chance to meet new assistant coach Karl Taylor. It’s all why this is simply the most wonderful time of the year. Here in the Western Hockey League, on a warm summer day in an ice-cold rink, hope is about to spring eternal and it’s all still possible. First and most importantly, it's also time to #freemikej.

He’s back, Jack. Portland Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston was exiled for most of last season as part of record-breaking WHL sanctions against the team. We last saw him in our rink on November 23 and we didn’t see him again until the league granted him a reprieve to join the team and fans to celebrate the 2013 WHL Championship. This weekend will be the first time that fans have seen him live and in person in a rink since last November. Mike J has been freed after nearly a year in the WHL’s prison and the 2013 – 2014 regular season is going to be one long jailbreak. The experts seem to agree: Early pre-season predictions already point in the direction of the Winterhawks being a top team again this year.  Mike J is a big reason for the team's success and one of his best skills lies in the GM department, where he often finds young gems like these:

Welcome to Portland. Among the draft talent reporting for training camp duty is quite possibly the only person more excited than fans about the start of the season; defenseman Carter Czaikowski, the team’s first pick in this year’s Bantam Draft. He took to Twitter (@czaikowski5) immediately to express his gratitude and excitement at being chosen by the Hawks. Banned from the first five rounds of the Bantam Draft under the WHL sanctions, the team did not choose Carter until the 6th round, 121st overall. He currently plays for the Calgary Flames Bantam AAA team, where he led his team's defensemen with 11 goals and 28 assists for 39 points in 32 games. Would a player normally jump and down at being drafted 121st overall? Probably not and frankly, fans probably wouldn’t get overly hyped either. But when that pick is for all intents and purposes your first round selection, you get hyped just like you would for a first round pick. We are excited to welcome Carter to our town and I hope Portland turns out to be everything he hopes it will be. If you are on what I call “early bird special” prospect watch, I’d give the kid a follow on Twitter. 

Good luck charm. Another Bantam Draft pick in the Winterhawks’ system is center Kieffer Bellows, drafted 142nd overall. His father is former NHL player Brian Bellows, led the Kitchener Rangers to the Memorial Cup in 1982, the year Portland became the first team outside of Canada to make the tournament. In 1983, with a little help from rookie Cam Neely, the Portland Winterhawks became the first American team to win the Memorial Cup.

All in the family. Also in town this weekend are the younger siblings of Winterhawks superstars Brendan Leipsic and Ty Rattie. Jeremey Leipsic and Taden Rattie are in town and ready to make local junior hockey a family business. If their chirping on Twitter is any indication, I would look for an explosion of some choice Twitter verbiage from the brothers Leipsic (@leip28 and @jleipsic8) over the weekend. Finally, goalie Brendan Burke (son of Sean Burke) has been the back up for Mac Carruth the past two seasons. Despite spending the majority of his time on the bench, when he was on the ice he put up some solid numbers. One of the most impressive were the three shutouts he posted in January, two of which happened in consecutive games. Drafted 163rd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by his hometown Phoenix Coyotes, it’s finally time for Brendan to show us what he’s got. When I first profiled him for the Booster Club newsletter two years ago his primary goal was to prove that he could be a starter in this league. After a limited but impressive showing this past season, the time has come for Brendan to prove he can be a starter, if for no other reason because he simply has to.

What’s in a name? The Rose Garden has been renamed the Moda Center, after owner Paul Allen sold the naming rights to a local health insurance company. The company may have poked one giant bear in the form of Portland sports fans (including yours truly) who hate it and will always call it the Rose Garden. But it does have an upside, as the company’s investment will ultimately pay for numerous upgrades to the facility. Personally, I’m starting a citizen’s petition to include among these upgrades the importation of Tim Hortons coffee and donuts and expanding the Beaverton Bakery cart to include more cookies. Game time is work time when you cover the Winterhawks, so in the interest of press pass perseveration, beer is best reserved for a post-game late night snack at the Widmer brewery. But nobody said I couldn’t get all jacked up on frosted shortbread cookies and a double-double during intermission. Who’s with me on this?

Hope springs eternal. The start of the regular season is like the hockey new year for fans. Therefore, in Portland it’s officially New Year’s Eve as I write this. On August 21, while I'm going about the business of my ordinary life, across town in a freezing rink in Beaverton, the NHL’s future will go about the business of chasing their dreams. They have yet to learn what life can do to a person if you let it or that dreams have a tendency to lose their grandeur coming true. They’ll learn soon enough; after too many long bus rides in the middle of the night and too few game day naps in the stretch run, they’ll learn. But for five days in August, the only thing that matters is hope, beauty and love. At training camp it’s all still possible. Every player can make the roster, save for those who are too young to do so. Every opponent is still beatable. Every trophy can still be won. Here at the start of the Hockey New Year, hope springs eternal. It comes from Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Minnesota, California and Arizona. It’s under 21 and it’s already amped for the next season of The Bachelor. In billet homes across Portland, young hockey players are waiting for the future to begin. And so it will on August 21; for all of us. #freemikej and the rest will follow.

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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