Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Their Whole Season is a Blindspot

Now that Strike Back is over and NBC has cut short Philip Winchester’s new gig on The Player, I’m paying closer attention to his former co-star’s new series, Blindspot. If you’re tuning into this intriguing new show, you know the premise: a woman with no memory is left in Times Square, in a duffel bag labeled “call the FBI.” She’s naked and covered head to toe in tattoos that include the name of FBI agent Kurt Weller.  In trying to keep track of the plots, characters and anagrams/clues the writers have embedded in the episode titles, it occurred to me that Jane Doe’s experience is a lot like being a rookie in junior hockey. Really.

“Her whole life is a blindspot.” – Ashley Johnson as Agent Patterson

Drop in.  Blindspot opens in Times Square, where a duffel bag labeled “call the FBI” is found by a police officer. Cut to a completely vacant Times Square, where a bomb squad expert is about to open the bag when Jane Doe emerges, freezing, naked and covered in tattoos. She doesn’t know who she is, where she is or how she got there. I was gearing up for the Portland Winterhawks home opener on the same night the pilot episode aired, and that’s how I came to realize that our rookies’ experience is not unlike that of Jane Doe. The current Winterhawks roster hails from all parts Canada, the United States and Latvia. They leave home at 16 or even younger to pursue their dreams of making it the NHL, living for nine months out of the year in an unfamiliar city with what begin as strangers; their billet family, which many players later come to think of as their second family.  Some don’t have a driver’s license and not all of them have their own cars. They have to leave behind everything and everyone they know to begin a new life here in Portland, where they are dropped off about one to two weeks before training camp and then it’s go time, all the time. That’s why it’s best to stay sharp and pay attention to what’s going on around you:

“That's the reason why we bring her in the field.” – Sullivan Stapleton as Agent Weller, referring to the discovery of a hidden tattoo/clue on Jane’s face when they are exposed to ultraviolet light

Get a clue.  We soon learn that Jane Doe’s tattoos are in fact part of a puzzle. Each one is a clue to cases the FBI proceeds to solve with her help. Hiding among the bodily artwork is a scar that Agent Weller recognizes; it’s identical to one sustained by a neighbor who went missing while he was babysitting her: Taylor Shaw. Missing teeth, injuries and “zippers” (stitches) are a rite of passage for young hockey players and like Jane/Taylor, they tell a story. Take for example, the first time Taylor Leier took a stick to the face in a road game and had to get stitches. He showed me the scar like he was showing off his first WHL goal.  Preventing serious injury, however, is just one clue WHL rookies have to get if they are to survive a 72-game season.  The biggest lesson is one that I’ve heard from every rookie who’s passed through Portland: both their teammates and opponents are “bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled” than what they’re used to. With proper player development, a good coaching staff, discipline and support from their teammates and fans, rookies eventually prove to be very useful in the field.  Some -- like first overall Bantam Draft pick Cody Glass, Caleb Jones and Colton Veloso -- stand out from the start.  Together with their veteran teammates, they eventually solve the puzzle that is a regular WHL season, only it consists of wins, points and standings that add up to a playoff berth. 

“You are my starting point.” – Jaimie Alexander as Jane Doe/Taylor Shaw, referring to Agent Weller

Everyone has to start somewhere.  With help from modern science, Agent Patterson reveals that it may not be possible for Jane Doe to be Taylor Shaw after all. Agent Weller’s reaction can be found in episode five’s decrypted meaning ("Split the Law" is “will the past”). He wants her to be Taylor Shaw so badly he refuses to believe the contradictory evidence. What we do know is that Jane can’t change the past. She can only start again from where she is today. She chooses to start with Agent Weller, whether or not he is indeed part of her past. Like Jane, rookies have to start somewhere. For the Winterhawks, that somewhere is Portland. The team got off to rough start this season, but the tide has turned.  The weekend of October 23 - 25, they won three consecutive games, a weekend sweep that turned into a five-game winning streak. It was snapped last night by the Everett Silvertips, but there was still a lot to be proud of. Goalie Adin Hill posted two shutouts in that weekend sweep and stopped 114 out of 117 total shots he faced. He was subsequently named WHL and CHL Goaltender of the Week and has been added to Team WHL for the Canada Russia Series, which begins next Monday. With what local fans call the #WallofHill holding steady in the crease, rookies have been a big part of the past week's turnaround. Names to take note of this season: Colton Veloso, Ryan Hughes, Cody Glass, Carter Czaikowski and Conor MacEachern. Until this past week, the Winterhawks’ season was going nowhere fast; they were in last in the U.S. Division and had only posted two wins prior to that weekend sweep. A lot of fans wanted to will ourselves back to the past; back to the days of Mike Johnston when victory was pretty much guaranteed. But we can’t. We have to start from where we are today. Thanks to the above mentioned players, it's a pretty good starting point.  Speaking of having faith in better days to come: 

“If your coming back has taught me anything, it’s to never give up hope.”  - Sullivan Stapleton as Agent Weller

It’s good to have back up. Agent Weller is the closest thing Jane has to a family, but it’s complicated. His father was the prime suspect in the disappearance of Taylor Shaw. To say the Weller family has issues would be underrating the outstanding acting job Sullivan Stapleton does with very little dialogue to show us that this family has some serious skeletons in its closet. Whether Jane turns out to be Taylor or not, Agent Weller has clearly been looking his whole life for the girl he still blames himself for losing. His loyalty, honor and support of Jane are what connect them today, regardless of what happened in the past. Sound like anyone we know? Like maybe hockey fans? In the past five seasons, the Winterhawks earned four Western Conference titles, three U.S. Division titles, one WHL title and a trip to the Memorial Cup final. Those days may be over for now, but don’t tell rookies that. They still want it just the same and judging by local fans’ enduring loyalty to the boys, so do we. It takes a lot of patience to be a junior hockey fan; rookie mistakes, roster rebuilds, rotating coaches and plain old bad luck mean that not every season can be a winner. That’s where rookies come in handy:  they believe that anything is possible. If they can believe it, so can we. It's that simple. 

Their whole season is a blindspot: If you have read any of my blogs before, you know that I never focus on negative criticism, especially with rookies. Why not? Because they have more maturity, discipline, fortitude, faith and hope than most adults twice their age. They will make mistakes, they will spend more time than I'd like in the penalty box and they may give me a slew of hockey cliches in an interview, but those are all part of growing up, both on and off the ice. They come to a strange town with little more than their NHL dreams and a suitcase and maybe a car if their family has the means. That's pretty much it. The next nine months are a blindspot, but most rookies navigate it better than a lot of adults. There is no guarantee that leaving home at 16 or 17 to live and play in a strange town will lead to the NHL. For many players it leads to career-ending injury and never cracking the roster of the team they signed with. For the chosen few who make it to the NHL, it's a long road paved with sacrifice, hard work and a lot of hard knocks. That road starts in their rookie season, which is a lot like the puzzle Blindspot solves, one episode at a time. Ask any rookie how they solve the mystery that is their first WHL season and they'll all tell you the same thing; "You just gotta take it one game at a time" and "not get too high or too low" about wins and losses. Here in Portland, there are no chamiponships for the Winterhawks to defend this year, there isn't any "drive for five" pressure to live up to: they are living, learning and winnning, one game at a time. When it's all said and done, I will consider the puzzle that was the Winterhawks slow start to the season solved if their wins outnumber their losses, draft-eligible rookies get drafted and they are all playing a better game in March than they were in September. Yes, I learned all that from a rookie NBC series. How? Because I'm a lot like Ryan Johansen. Ryan's mom once told me on parent's weekend that "Ryan was all hockey, all the time, nothing else" when he was little. And there you go: even when I'm pausing to watch my favorite new TV show, I'm all about hockey, all the time. What loyal hockey fan isn't? 

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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