Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: the road less traveled

In about three hours, the Portland Winterhawks will begin their fourth straight bid for the WHL Western Conference in Kelowna, BC. There is no easy way to get from Portland to Kelowna, but the journey is worth it. When I departed Portland late Wednesday to stay overnight in Kennewick, I figured Thursday would be long but not overly so with a few stops along the way. Normally, it takes about 6 to 7 hours to drive north to Canada, and the road is a little more predictable.  That is, if you follow the Mapquest directions that instruct you to stay on highway 24 where it turns into 240 instead of turning left on 24 to drive through Yakima before picking up highway 97 north. It took two extra hours of driving and a large McDonald's chocolate milk shake to survive the longer journey, but we made it. Along the way, I realized you can learn a thing or two about hockey by taking the road less traveled.

As we rest, we are getting stronger. Portland Winterhawks strength and conditioning coach Rich Campbell frequently Tweets this expression to remind his players that game day naps, eight hours or more of beauty sleep and taking it easy on days off are just as important as workouts, practice and nutrition. It's the same for fans. If you're going to hit the road for 7 hours on a Thursday, eight hours of sleep in a row is a must. Alas, with trains whizzing by and my mom snoring away, four was the magic sleep number. Which is probably why the game plan didn't quite work out:

Stick to the game plan. I've taken this trip twice before, so there really isn't any excuse for not remembering which fork in the road to take. But the four hours of sleep combined with some backseat driving from mumsie combined for a side trip to Yakima, and from there through Ellensburg, the Wenatchee National Forest and finally, the road north to Canada. We got here, but not without a few cramped muscles and grumbling stomachs and a few lost hours of sleep. We didn't lose the game, but winning it wasn't pretty. It's the same in hockey. After losing games, the Winterhawks often tell me that they lost because they got away from their game plan and let the opponent get them off their game. It doesn't always result in a loss, but even when they escape with a win after being distracted, it's because they had to fight for it. Fight they did in the series with the Victoria Royals, and it will serve them well as they begin their quest for a fourth straight title tonight. Sticking to the game plan will be necessary against the Rockets, because they are all business and they have come ready to play all season long.  I look forward to an equally matched series tonight between two teams that will bring their A Games. Still, gut instinct tells me this series may take a few unexpected turns, so it's a good thing I learned this:  

The road less traveled opens your mind: Forward Alex Schoenborn was assigned to the Wenatchee Wild for the latter half of last season, where he got more ice time, used it wisely and earned his way back to the Winterhawks roster this season.  He has been rewarded for his effort; he played in all 72 regular season games and earned an NHL Central Scouting ranking of 78. With every tree we passed through the Wenatchee National Forest, I thought of Alex and how his journey to the Winterhawks wasn't easy either. He arrived in our town from Minot, North Dakota with dreams of playing on a championship team.  Instead, while the team answered record breaking WHL sanctions with their best regular season ever, Alex played in Wenatchee, waiting for his chance to rejoin them. During his detour to Wenatchee, he worked hard and earned that draft ranking and his newfound status as a Winterhawks fan favorite. Alex, is one of the nicest, most well spoken and sturdiest players on this team; he's absolutely one of my favorite players to interview after games. You can tell instantly he was raised right by good people. He didn't complain about his time there; he made the most of it and the journey was worth it. So I lost a few hours in the Wenatchee forest, so what? Alex's journey back to Portland was a lot harder and you don't see him complaining. In my experience it's best to follow the lead of the NHL's future, so I kept my mouth shut.  This helps too:

Hockey makes a good passport. When we finally arrived at the Canadian border, the same agent who took my passport and cleared me through on my last trip to Kelowna was on duty and he remembered me. If you travel for hockey-related busines to the country where it is a religion, bust out a few players names and stats, and you'll breeze right through.

The road less traveled is worth it: Nine hours and a few unhealthy road snacks later, we are safely esconced in Kelowna. Our room has a fireplace, a jetted tub and a terrace with a view. I'm spending two hours at the spa tomorrow. Several of my fellow fans have made the journey (see you later, famous three Ms) so we are in good company. The road to Kelowna wasn't easy for me and my mom or the Winterhawks, but it was worth it.

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Nice read. Go Rockets! : )

Posted by Moose Moss on 04/18/14 at 11:34 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