Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Welcome Home

The natives are restless here in Portland, where the Winterhawks suffered their worst loss of the season on Friday at the hands of Kailer Yamamoto's hometown team, the Spokane Chiefs. The Hawks quickly rebounded on Saturday, but it has some local fans in a blather about how the team isn't really that good without its top players.To the contrary, stats just released by the team's play-by-play analyst show that individual players actually did quite well while Henri Jokiharju, Kieffer Bellows and Joachim Blichfeld were in Buffalo. It's all why I look forward to welcoming back the players who did us proud at the World Juniors, and more importantly, to what the team as a whole will do in 2018. 

Records are meant to be broken: Kieffer Bellows will bring home something more than a Bronze Medal from World Juniors. He is now a part of tournament history. Friday marked the first time Team USA has ever won three medals in a row at the tournament. Kieffer scored nine goals total, breaking Jeremy Roenick's 27-year-old record of most goals scored by an American at the World Junior Championship. Typically, the Winterhawks hold a pre-game ceremony to honor all the players who played in World Juniors, no matter how their team did (or didn't) do. I would expect the same celebration to take place this year, once all players are back and healthy: 

Get well soon: That hit on Joachim Blichfeld in Denmark's second relegation game was scary. You never want to see that kind of thing in this game: he had to be stretchered off the ice. The good news is that he will be ok after some well-deserved rest. And despite their performance in the prelims, Team Denmark survived to win that game, securing their place in the top pool of next year's World Junior tournament.

One and done: I should have known Tyler Steenbergen would save the best for last. A superstar here in the Dub, he registered just one assist over the course of the World Junior tournament. Until Friday, he was all but dormant. But good things come to those who wait: he scored the game-winning goal for Team Canada in the gold medal game. His local team the Swift Current Broncos roll into Portland on January 19. Provided he's not scratched, we'll see him up close and in person. I'll report back, but clearly the boy is the real deal.  

Trade ya': January 10 is the WHL trade deadline and it's been a busy 48 hours. The biggest trade so far involved Jake Bean. The Calgary Hitmen have traded him to the Tri-City Americans. In return the Hitmen received a package of two players (Carson Focht, Dakota Krebs) and three draft picks (2nd round in the 2018 and 2020 Bantam Drafts, 1st round in 2019). Needless to say, the U.S. Division just got a lot more interesting. Bean is expected to be available for the Americans' game with the Winterhawks on January 12. The Everett Silvertips also made a huge move today: they have acquired defenseman Ondrej Vala and center Garrett Pilon from the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for forward Orrin Centazzo, defenseman Montana Onyebuchi, a first and fourth round pick in 2019 WHL Bantam Draft and the rights to prospect forwards Nate Hinds and Kalen Ukrainetz. Portland hasn't made any big moves yet, but they are expected to be a buyer, most likely to bolster defense or secondary scoring.  

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble: December was an exciting time for Portland's World Junior players, but a dismal record back home set off a flurry of posts, Tweets and general chatter that minus the top players, the team isn't really that good. New stats just released by Winterhawks broadcaster Evan Richardson on Twitter tell a different story. The win column wasn't ideal, but individual players did well and as Evan noted, kept the team afloat. Since the World Junior departures: 

Record: 2-4-1-1. Over those eight games: 

Cody Glass: 3 g, 7a

Skyler McKenzie: 8g, 2a 

Brendan De Jong: 7a

Alex Overhardt: 2g, 5a

Ryan Hughes: 2g, 5a

Jake Gricius: 5g, 1a

Mason Mannek: 1g, 4a 

Jake and Mason stepped it up during the World Junior gap and are on my personal watch list. I also like what I see in defensemen Clay Hanus and John Ludvig, forwards Ilijah Colina and Reece Newkirk and backup goalie Shane Farkas. 

Welcome home: I love this time of year in the Dub. With the trade deadline fast approaching and World Junior players returning, the final rosters will soon be solidified. As such, the second half of the season is really where things get interesting, both at home and across the league. It's when I remember the words of former Winterhawk forward Taylor Peters, who now runs a hockey school in Sherwood, OR. He once told me "you can't take any team in this league for granted, because they're all good." Some may be better than others, but he's right. This is junior hockey, after all. Halfway into the season, the best is still yet to come. 

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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