Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: #safetyfirst

I've spent the past five months on injured reserve, waiting for the day when I could be cleared for contact with the real world again. That day came this past week, but I realized that maybe I didn't really want to get back out there after all. Life outside the rink is full of complicated entanglements, ordinary dullness and everyday annoyances like bills, gridlock, forgetting to buy the one thing you really needed on the grocery list and losing socks in the dryer. And for me and my fellow fans, the series finale of Strike Back. Watching the last hurrah of my favorite series on the same night the Winterhawks shut out a prime U.S Division rival, I realized that there is safety in injured reserve. Why? Because when you spend all your time focusing on one broken part, you tend to forget about the other things in your life that may need fixing. What did it all teach me about hockey?  Safety first, boys and girls. Keep reading...you'll see what I mean. 

Mission accomplished. I knew this was the final season of Strike Back before it ever aired and I thought I was prepared for the day when I'd have to find something else to do with my post-game time on Friday night. Together, the creators, directors and actors delivered the perfect ending to a perfect series. After four seasons of bringing some measure of peace to the world, Scott and Stonebridge finally found peace within; presumably somewhere on the road to Vegas, but of course. So why did it feel like somebody died last Friday? Because you knew exactly what would happen in an episode; Damien Scott uses the F-word a minimum of 20 - 30 times and sleeps with a minimum of one hot chick, Stonebridge kills bad guys with perfect aim and always does the right thing, the mission always goes awry and Scott and Stonebridge fix it by blowing something up. Done. The fun was also in seeing what they'd do the next time, knowing there would be a next time and in knowing that it would always be awesome. Lesser actors might have phoned it in, but in the hands of Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton, Scott and Stonebridge were much more than your average action heroes. If you think about their performances in hockey terms, they changed the game. No matter what else was going on in everyday reality, Winchester and Stapleton could always be counted on to deliver something special. After four seasons that went by way too quickly, it's over. Ok Sam, but what does that have to do with hockey? Here you go: 

Back to topic.  In the U.S., the series aired from 2011 - 2015, during which time I've also covered the Portland Winterhawks. Until last season, I'd only ever known the team during the Mike Johnston years. Years during which he changed the game and the result was four championship seasons. Like the end of Strike Back, those years are over.  And with them, the certainty of victory that had spoiled us rotten. I'm not sure that fans will find peace ourselves this season because it looks like it's going to be a rocky ride. With a breaking trade that has just been announced, more than a few fans are even more puzzled than we were on Tuesday, when the team phoned it in and fell to the Prince Albert Raiders 4-0. Defenseman Nick Heid has been traded to the Medicine Hat Tigers for a fourth-round draft pick. Nick's playing time in Portland has been limited due to injury, but he was highly touted when he was signed and when he did play, he stood out. He has also been widely respected as a good teammate and all around good guy. Take care with your prize, Medicine Hat Tigers. I hope your team is smarter about making the most of his talents and has more faith in him than our current coaching staff apparently did. As for local fans, we will always support our boys no matter what. It's like San Jose Sharks prospect Alex Schoenborn told me at training camp; "we always want to win" and fans will always do our part to help the boys succeed.  

As for Strike Back, I have the perfect cure for withdrawal: 1) The movie that is in development . 2) A crossover episode between Stapleton's new series Blindspot and Winchester's new gig on The Player. 3). In the meantime, rewatch the Season 3 episodes in which our heroes drop out of a helicopter to commandeer a train and of course, the episode where Scott tells a suspect to "freakin' pull over right now," Stonebridge tells him to say please, he thinks about it for a second and then tells the suspect to "please freakin' pull over." It never gets old. 

Moral of the story: Describing what exactly happened in Tuesday's game would pre-suppose that  we were watching an actual game for which the Winterhawks actually showed up. I don't even remember the last time they just stone cold checked out.  It was physically painful to watch, but over time I've also learned a valuable lesson about the flip side of defeat. There is safety in a game that's already on the downhill slide. When you let go of what you wanted a game to be, you see things you might not have: like the natural team leaders who step up to rally their teammates even when there's four seconds to go in the third and it's 4-0 in favor of the Raiders. Case in point: Winterhawks Captain and Red Wings prospect Dominic Turgeon. Or goalie Adin Hill, who will need to replenish the sticks he keeps giving to the kids who give out the three stars. Here in the WHL -- land of rookie mistakes and rotating rosters -- games can be a lot like the Strike Back finale: exceptional players shine the brightest when everyone else has given up on them. Next time your favorite junior team phones it in, pay attention. You just might see the hidden gems waiting to shine. 

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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