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Above the Glass

From the Dub: Let’s Do This

The Western Hockey League had a good year in 2019, with 28 players drafted in June and 105 dispatched to NHL training camps this month. Lesser known talent like John Ludvig, Reece Newkirk and Dustin Wolf made the second day of the draft worth watching. Seven players were taken in the first round, notably Bowen Byram and Dylan Cozens. The only damper was the Prince Albert Raiders' quick exit from the Memorial Cup after a perfect season. After two weekend road trips to preseason tournaments, I can safely predict that the WHL has produced another good vintage for the 2019-2020 season. The regular season opens Friday night with seven games and continues through Sunday. Here in the Dub, it's time to get things started. 

Tip of the Hat: The Seattle Thunderbirds have long dominated the I-5 corridor, where they will always be a thorn in the side of the Portland Winterhawks. A new force is rising in the U.S. Division and they are the Everett Silvertips. After capturing the 2019 U.S. Division title and making it through the second round of playoffs, they had two players drafted in June and went undefeated at their annual preseason tournament. The Silvertips lost their next three games, but they had a good excuse. Seven of their players were busy at NHL training camps: 

  • Jake Christiansen (D), St. Louis Blues
  • Connor Dewar (LW), Minnesota Wild
  • Gianni Fairbrother (D), Montreal Canadiens
  • Bryce Kindopp (RW), Colorado Avalanche. Kindopp was named Captain for the 2019 -2020 season following his return from camp. 
  • Riley Sutter (C), Washington Capitals. 
  • Dustin Wolf (G), Calgary Flames. My favorite draft pick this year, even if he is the opponent. Wolf was chosen 214th overall. You can't help but respect a player who literally had to wait until the final minutes of the last day of draft weekend to hear his name called. 

Hail to the Chiefs: The Portland Winterhawks have a new archrival in the U.S. Division; the Spokane Chiefs. The U.S. Division will be a tight race this year and Spokane is a big reason why. The Chiefs sent eight players to NHL training camps or rookie showcases:

  • F Jake McGrew (San Jose; 2017 6th round)
  • F Adam Beckman (Minnesota; 2019 3rd round)
  • D Filip Kral (Toronto; 2018 5th round)
  • D Ty Smith (New Jersey; 2018 1st round)
  • G Lukas Parik (Los Angeles; 2019 3rd round)
  • F Luke Toporowski (Winnipeg)
  • F Eli Zummack (Tampa Bay)
  • D Noah King (New Jersey)

You don't see that every day: Last weekend, the Chiefs also had players down with injuries, leaving them with only 14 dressed players for their pre-season game against the Americans on September 7. The result was a rare a four-on-four game against the Ams. For fans of the three-on-three overtime format, it was the next best thing. The Chiefs held their own but with fewer players to choose from, they fell to the Amercians 4-1. 

One and done: The Tri-City Americans only had one player taken in the 2019 draft: forward Sasha Mutala (Colorado Avalanche, 140th overall). He had 26 points in 68 games played last year. This year, he had 41 points in 65 games played. Even before he left for Colorado's camp, Mutala racked up six points (4G, 2A) in two preseason games played. Three of those goals were scored in one game against the Portland Winterhawks. You get the idea here. Mutala is the Americans' not-so-secret weapon. I believe Portland has learned its lesson with him. Let's hope the rest of the league does the same. He's one of the top players to watch this season. 

Island life: I'd tell you all the reasons forward Reece Newkirk is good for the New York Islanders, but it would take a whole other blog entry for that. He nabbed a hat trick at the Winterhawks' training camp and his team won the Neely Cup. Reece has the energy of a entire roster and he loves being the life of the party. In person, he's a natural leader who will be a good example for the team's rookies this season. The change between his rookie and draft years can be seen on the scoreboard: 11 points in 58 games played in his rookie season and 59 points in 68 games played in his draft year. And if all that doesn't convince you, he loves to chirp and get in the face of the opponent. Ditto for his teammate John Ludvig, a huge fan favorite here in Portland. You'd never know from all his penalty minutes that John plays the ukelele in his free time. Laugh all you want, but I still wouldn't want to run into him in a dark alley. One of his off-season training activities is boxing. 

Central concern: No sooner will the Portland Winterhawks launch their season this weekend than they will hit the road for nearly a month. Their primary destination is the annual swing through the Central Division, home to the Edmonton Oil Kings, Calgary Hitmen, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Red Deer Rebels and Medicine Hat Tigers. Which means they will be facing off against Hurricanes Forward and 2018 WHL Rookie of the Year Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres, 7th overall), defenseman Matthew Robertson (New York Rangers, 49th overall), and Calgary Hitmen forwards Mark Kastelic and Carson Focht. Provided of course, the Sabres return Cozens to his WHL team. One of the other stops will be Swift Current. The Broncos are now part of the Central Division, thanks to one of the more interesting but not entirely surprising headlines this year: 

Head east: The Kootenay ICE was the only B.C. based team in the Eastern Conference. Recent declines in the operational part of their business prompted an inevitable sale and a move to Winnipeg, where they will now be part of the East Division as the Winnipeg ICE. The Saskatoon Blades dominated the East Division in the preseason, with a record of 4-0-1-0. They finished strong last year, at second in the Division and the Eastern Conference. They are home to one of June's top draft picks; Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks, 3rd overall). If Chicago returns him, he will be joined on this year's roster by his younger brother Colton Dach. The older Dach's status with the Blades is still a question mark, as he is still in concussion protocol following a nasty hit on the first day of Chicago's training camp. One player we know for sure will be back is Brandon Wheat Kings forward Luka Burzan, one of the hardest working players in the league. He had 78 points in 68 games played last year, making him the team's second leading scorer. Burzan and Sasha Mutala were just reassigned to their WHL teams by the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. 

Start your engines: When my friends asked me what I'd be doing in Everett three weeks ago, the conversation went like so:

"What are you doing this weekend?"

"Watching hockey."

"What else?"

"Like I said...watching hockey."

If I could watch three live hockey games a day, 365 days a year, I would. That or hang around a racetrack watching Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc take the racing world by storm. Either way, really. Opening weekend is like race weekend in Formula One and we should party down accordingly. I'll be back with more updates as the weekend progresses, but for now it's time to enjoy the moment. The start of the season is like a do-over for the rest of the year, when you can start fresh and anything is still possible. It's all still ahead of us now and that's reason enough to celebrate. 

P.S. The CHL has just released their Top 10 Rankings for Week 1. Four WHL teams made the list: 

3. Saskatoon Blades

4. Kamloops Blazers

8. Edmonton Oil Kings

10. Vancouver Giants

Honorable mention: Calgary Hitmen

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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

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