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Above the Glass

From the Dub: Must be 21 and over to play

Saturday night in Seattle reached playoff-like levels, as the Portland Winterhawks had the chance to extend their already ridiculous winning streak to 22, tying the record for most consecutive wins in a single season (previously set by the Estevan Bruins in 1967-1968) and clinching the U.S. Division title. For fans in the Rose City, it held the promise of an epic, history-making night that would go down in the record books. The Seattle Thunderbirds and their goaltender, however, had other ideas. And just like that, on a sold out Saturday night, the glorious winning streak that began nearly two months ago came to an end with a 4-1 loss to the T-Birds. Enter Winterhawks Captain and Flyers prospect Taylor Leier, who Tweeted how proud he is of the team for racking up the second best winning streak in WHL history. Leave it to a natural-born leader like Taylor to remind us all of how much the team has accomplished and more importantly, where will they go from here? They missed tying the league record by a hair, but the Winterhawks far surpassed their own franchise record of 15 consecutive wins, a record held since the 1997-1998 Memorial Cup season. What can one take away from such a glorious run? For me it means admitting that after a lifetime of living by the motto “it’s how you play the game that matters” there might actually be some truth to the expression” winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. As the WHL heads down the stretch, every point counts as teams vie for playoff spots, home ice advantage and division titles. The Winterhawks have already clinched a playoff spot and secured home ice advantage in the first round. The Kelowna Rockets are closing in on Scotty Munro trophy for best season record; they will likely succeed the Winterhawks, who won it last year. Once the Winterhawks passed the 15-game franchise record that had stood since 1998, it became a question of how many more can they win?  Can they break the WHL record? Will they lose again this season? With it came the selective memory loss of what it feels like to lose. The team had previously posted an impressive 12-game streak last fall, when talk of breaking the franchise record surfaced for the first time. In the midst of both glorious runs, I realized it was time to face facts: when your team is that deep into a streak, winning is the only thing. As in life, a winning streak is a rare thing of great and staggering beauty that doesn’t happen very often. Watching a team rack up a record-breaking winning streak is a lot like being in love; it causes a very similar, euphoric high that cause you to do stupid, crazy things and forget everything and everyone else around you. It becomes the center of the universe and you don’t want it to end, because we all know what it feels like when it does. In sports, even though the streak ends, the love goes on. Ask any player their favorite thing about being a Portland Winterhawk, and the answer is the same: the fans. Largely because “they love us even when we’re losing.” Love them though we may, that doesn't really change this:   

Losing sucks. There’s really no denying it. Whether a team fights to the very end for the win or they go down without a whimper like Team USA did to Finland, biting it on the ice totally bites for fans too. The hardest part of losing even one game is that it can’t be undone, even if it’s just one game from which the team will quickly rebound. The players can’t go back to opening face-off and start again. Team USA will have to wait four years to redeem what happened in Sochi this year. The Winterhawks will only have to wait two nights before they travel to Kennewick on Wednesday for game against the Tri-City Americans. I hate to admit it, but after a rare night on the losing end of a game, I finally began to truly understand why opponents and their fans hate our team. The numbers help tell the story:  

Total goals scored this season to date: 302, marking the fourth straight season in which the Winterhawks have crossed the 300 goal barrier.

Points gained in the standings during the streak: 42

Current standings: First in the U.S. Division, 15 points ahead of Seattle. Second in the Western Conference, nine points behind the Kelowna Rockets.

WHL leaders: Nic Petan is second in the league with 106 points. Not to be outdone, linemates Taylor Leier, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Chase De Leo also racked up some fun stats. Oliver Bjorkstrand is third in the league with 97 points. He’s also the third-leading goal scorer, with 43 goals in 62 games played. #9 Chase De Leo is ninth in the league in goals scored, with 36. #20 Taylor Leier is 20th in the league, with 32 goals scored.

Shutouts: Four.

Biggest goal differentials: Portland 8, Moose Jaw 2 (Jan. 17). Portland 8, Everett 1 (Jan. 29). Portland 10, Tri-Cities 3 (Feb. 7).

The moral of the story: My parents raised me to believe that how you play the game and sportsmanship were the two most important aspects of playing or watching sports; winning was nice, but it wasn't the only reason you should be an athlete or a fan. For most of my adult life, I believed them. However, after two months of non-stop winning on the homefront, I’ve realized that sometimes in life, winning is the only thing and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It's all about perspective - I was raised not to expect every game to be a winner, but the streak make me realize; if I didn't at least believe in the possiblity that my team could win, why would I even bother going to the rink? Fans have turned out at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in droves these past two months to watch the Winterhawks win and push the streak to record-breaking levels. Even if the streak had been snapped before Saturday, we kept going for the same reason we keep getting up and living live every day, even when it sucks; because we believe in the possiblity of victory. It’s like the Winterhawks are always telling me; think like a champion, you’ll be a champion. It’s true of hockey and it’s true of life. For the Portland Winterhawks, it's now one championship down, three to go:

What goes around, comes around: On Sunday -- one night after snatching history out from under the Winterhawks -- Seattle lost to the Everett Silvertips, meaning that the Portland Winterhawks have clinched their second straight U.S. Division title. It's also their third U.S. Division title in four years.

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alwaysaurie's avatar

Last year MacKinnon/Druoin/Frk & Fucale were able to deny Portland the Cup, here’s hoping this year they go all the way.

It’ll be a nice going away present for Petan.

Posted by alwaysaurie on 03/03/14 at 06:16 PM 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