Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Vengeance is Ours!

In late September, the Tri-City Americans humiliated the Portland Winterhawks with a 6-2 defeat in Portland. Caused by an epic lapse in the Winterhawks' defense and their general lack of interest in showing up for the game, it was painful to watch right from the start.  After the game, Columbus Blue Jackets' prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand told me "we can't lose like that." Honoring his word, four nights later he racked up four goals, one assist and the first star of the night in 10-4 rout of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Flash forward to the week of October 14, where the Winterhawks have redeemed that early loss with two wins against the Americans. On Wednesday, goalie Brendan Burke earned first star of the night in a 4-1 home win over the Ams. On Saturday night, the Winterhawks doubled down and kicked off a weeklong road trip with an 8-1 devastation of the Americans. It's safe to say the team has atoned for its early season sins. To the boys, it's two points and a celebratory dinner at Applebee's or if they are on the road, a movie on the bus. But for fans, the team's redemption is about so much more than just the game. 

We all fall from grace. The loss to the Tri-City Americans was a team effort, compounded by an individual action that is easily one of the biggest WTH moments that I’ve ever seen in my life. Goalie Brendan Burke decided to go behind his net to pick up his lost stick while the game was in play in the Winterhawks’ zone, opening the door for the Americans to score yet again. Any hope, if there was any, ended in that moment. It was painful to watch, but more painful was the reminder of my own WTH moments in life, many of which happened more than once before I learned the lesson. The real test is whether we keep falling or we get back up and move on. The Winterhawks chose the latter, which is how this happened:

Hello, my name is Oliver, pleased to meet you. Get ready Columbus, because if your team is smart they will sign Oliver Bjorkstrand before the season is over. The Danish sniper rarely gets rattled and he rarely misses when he gets a scoring chance. So when he redeemed that loss with four goals (two shorthanded) and one assist, he did more than give the Winterhawks two points. He gave them back their confidence and with it, fans’ faith in the team. That’s the thing about hockey; every game is another chance to make things right for the team and for fans. Oliver is the kind of player who can be counted on to take that chance, each and every game. 

Redemption is its own reward. In the regular season, redemption doesn’t come in the form of a dramatic Game 7 win and a trophy. It doesn’t even get celebrated with headlines in the Oregonian. It happens on a Saturday night in the Moda Center when a gaggle of teenage and early 20-something boys decide that “we can’t lose like that again.” The numerous mistakes of the previous week were washed away with the tide of victory. Life isn’t so easy because second chances don’t come along that often, but that’s the appeal of sports. Even if only for a little while, there is redemption in victory; because it’s not just their win, it’s ours. Ask any hockey player and they will tell you fans are everything to them. When they win, we all win. It’s that simple.

Success is the best revenge. Because in life and in hockey, it's living proof that the doubters and haters were wrong. Exhibit A: Brendan Burke went from WTH to the first star of the night when he stopped 29 of 30 shots last Wednesday to backstop the team to the first of two victories over the Tri-City Americans. Exhibit B: On Friday, Brendan Leipsic came off a recent three game suspension to score a game changing/tying goal against the Swift Current Broncos, with 22 seconds to go in the first period. Exhibit C: Saturday night, forward Paul Bittner scored in his first game back from injury. Keegan Iverson, fresh off a four game suspension, scored 35 seconds into the second period. In the next minute and thirty seconds the Winterhawks scored twice, courtesy of linemates Chase De Leo and Taylor Leier.  An early loss and back to back suspensions for Brendan and Keegan left some fans wondering “where are the Winterhawks and what did you do with them?”  More importantly, what did they do to themselves? In short order, they found themselves again, just in time for their signature move: road warriors. The long and winding road back to Portland is paved with games against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Kootenay Ice and the Spokane Chiefs. The team’s previous road records are impressive and if they are any sign of things to come, that road will be paved with victory. Take, for example, what they did last year when they hit the highway in October: 

• Picked up nine out of 12 possible points and went 4-1-1-0.
• Three rookies scored their first (and second) WHL goals. Alex Schoenborn scored what turned out to be the game winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Brandon. Presten Kopeck scored his first and second WHL goals 25 seconds apart in the second period of a 4-0 shutout of the Saskatoon Blades. Looking back, I guess we should have know Seth Jones would “fall” to fourth in the 2013 Entry Draft: he sealed the deal in Saskatoon when he scored goal number four, which was also his first WHL career goal.

Moral of the story:  The Winterhawks’ redemption of recent losses is a reminder that we should all live life the way Brendan Leipsic plays hockey. Never, ever give up on the play, because the next move you make could change the game.

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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