Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: World View

The WHL has dispatched some of its best talent to the World Junior selection camps, which are still underway now. Three Portland Winterhawks are still with their respective teams and all three are in good position to make the final rosters. I am excited for players like Henri Jokiharju and Kieffer Bellows, but it's tempered by a sudden downturn in the Winterhawks' performance following a nearly perfect November. Thankfully, the league is on a much-needed holiday break. It's given me time to pause and look at the bigger picture, starting with the World Junior Championship.  

Wait, what? Team Canada has a legendary reputation for either not inviting or cutting players from their World Junior camp that fans would have chosen were we in charge. This year, the WTH player was Cody Glass, who was cut only a few hours after playing in a camp selection game. In my experience, the Winterhawks will ultimately benefit. Team Canada players who get cut always improve their game in response. Exhibit A: The Winterhawks lost two back-to-back games this past weekend, but Cody still put up four assists just a few days after returning from camp. Case closed. Get ready, because it's going to be a whole new hockey game in the new year.

Trifecta: Kieffer Bellows is still with Team USA as of today and he's widely expected to make the final roster. Kieffer already won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2017 World Junior Championship to go along with his bronze medal from the 2016 U18 tournament. 

Keep the enemy closer: Also in contention for the World Junior tournament are Spokane Chiefs' forward and Oilers first round pick Kailer Yamamoto (Team USA) and Everett Silvertips goalie and 2017 World Junior MVP Carter Hart (Team Canada).You don't need me to tell you this, but both are the real deal. Other WHL players to watch out for on Team Canada: Regina Pats Captain Sam Steel, Dillon Dubé and Cal Foote (Kelowna Rockets), Kale Clague (Brandon Wheat Kings), Brett Howden (Moose Jaw), Jake Bean (Calgary Hitmen) and of course, Tyler Steenbergen (Swift Current). They may be the Winterhawks' opponents, but one must still give credit where it is due. It is a privilege to watch the development of the NHL's future up close and in person, regardless of which team they play for. The World Junior tournment is a chance for the rest of the hockey world to glimpse what we see every day. Tune in to TSN or the NHL Network when the tournment starts on December 26. 

European influence: The Portland Winterhawks also dispatched Euro players Henri Jokiharju and Joachim Blichfeld to World Junior camps and both are still with their respective teams (Finland and Denmark). Also in contention for Team Finland is Sami Moilanen (Seattle Thunderbirds). Tri-City Americans defenseman Juuso Valimaki has already been named captain for Finland. 

Growing pains: It means short-term pain for fans here in the Dub, but all of the above news is very exciting in the long run. The experience players gain at the World Junior Championship will benefit their teams in the second half of the season. Here in Portland, the absence of Henri, Kieffer and Joachim has exposed an Achilles' heel that will probably also be temporary: the team's heavy reliance on their top forwards and top defenseman. But there is hope: younger players like Lane Gilliss, Jake Gricius, Ty Kolle, Brad Ginnell, Clay Hanus, John Ludvig and Matthew Quigley are emerging as the players to watch in 2018. One of the hardest things about being a junor hockey fan is that player development is not an overnight sensation. Not every player is Cody Glass or Henri Jokiharju. This is why you see players and their teams really turn on the gas after the trade deadline, when final rosters are solidified and players are back from World Juniors. Here in Portland, the Winterhawks have consistently done their best work in the stretch run, when the experience and lessons learned from the first half of the season start to bear fruit.

The future is now: The World Junior Championship is pretty much the best of the NHL Entry Draft in action. With regard to the WHL players represented, I can assure you the hype is real. For local fans in the Dub, it's just the start. We get the privilege of watching those players as they continue to grow once they return home. If you like what you see in this year's tournament, you can keep up with your favorite players via live games on whl.ca.

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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