Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Keep the Enemy Closer

When I first looked at the schedule for World Juniors it seemed like it would go on forever, with multiple games every day. But time flies and here we are, gearing up for the semi-finals already. Kieffer Bellows is the only Portland Winterhawk left standing, which leaves me with a little more free time to focus on the other Dub talent still in the hunt for a medal. 

So close and yet so far: Team Finland fell to the Czech Republic in a shootout on Tuesday. It was a heartbreaker for Finland, but that's what happens when you don't come out strong. It follows you the rest of the game and you're always playing catch up. Henri Jokiharju finished strong on a personal front and here in Portland, the Winterhawks stand to benefit from his experience in the tournament. At least his team put up a fight, but I feel for his teammate: 

Too little, too late: Yes, I still believed Team Denmark would make a late comback in the preliminary games. It's a tough job, but somebody had to do it. But in the end, it just wasn't their year and that's putting it mildly. For what it's worth, I can at least say with total confidence that Joachim Blichfeld is a higly competitive player who treats every game like it's a playoff match. He does have one weakness that I've noticed back at home; he has a tendency to get frustrated easily when he misses on a shot or the Winterhawks get scored on. It seemed like that's what happened to Team Denmark at the World Juniors; they just got the life sucked out of them and never really made a true comeback. Ironically, they ended up staging an epic comback in their relegation game against Belarus, in which Joachim notched two goals and one assist. If only they had put up more of a fight sooner, things might have ended differently for them. 

Rocket Power: Team Canada Captain Dillon Dube has played for the Kelowna Rockets for the past four seasons, where he helped the team win the WHL Championship in 2015. Fun fact: He is the first Rocket in team history to be named Captain of the Canadian World Junior team. His teammate Cal Foote is no slouch either. Hockey is in his bloodline. He's the son of Stanley Cup winner Adam Foote and his brother Nolan also plays for the Rockets.  

Swift Ascent: It's strange to see Tyler Steenbergen on Team Canada's fourth line. Stranger still to see that he's only got one assist so far in the tournament. As a forward with the Swift Current Broncos, he is the talk of the town in the Dub. He's currently fifth in the league in points, fourth in power play assists, third in insurance goals and second in goals scored, with 61 points in 27 games played (35 goals, 26 assists). That's not to diminish standouts like Regina Pats forward Sam Steel or Taylor Raddysh. But I'm just sayin...if you happen to be in Swift Current this season, you might want to drop by the Credit Union iPlex on game night. They play in Portland on January 19, so that's a back-up option.

What's in a name?: When it comes to good hockey names, it's hard to beat WHL alumni Steele Boomer (Kootenay Ice, 2007 - 2011) or Wheaton King (Brandon Wheat Kings, 2009 - 2011). But Sam Steel comes pretty close. He was famously cut from Team Canada last year, but he rebounded with a spectacular season in Regina. Steel ended the season with 131 points in 66 games played, earning him the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Player of the Year. Just to give you an idea of how spectacular last year really was for him: in 2015 - 2016, he earned 70 points in 72 games. 

Odds and ends: Tri-City Americans' defenseman Juuso Valimaki also fared well in the World Junior Tournament as Finland's Captain. He was already good before the World Junior tournament, so I'd start taking Tri-Cities seriously, if you weren't already doing so. And finally: Alas, the days when Carter Hart could employ his secret weapon/superstition of leaving the ice last may be over. Good for his opponents, bad for him. But that's what happens when you play in the spotlight; everybody gets a glimpse at what makes you tick. As for the semi-finals, I would not assume that Friday's gold medal game will be a Canada/USA rematch. Sweden and the Czech Republic have made it this far; they could go all the way. That's the very best part of any hockey game or tournament: anything can happen. 

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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