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Above the Glass

From the Dub: to market the WHL goes

Tuesday was trade deadline day here in the WHL, where more than a dozen teams picked up a few things, like new captains (Vancouver Giants), NHL talent that may or may not return to the Dub (Tri-City Americans) and of course, Bantam Draft picks. Today’s entry is a fan’s guide to the wildest, weirdest and biggest trades that have reshaped the league’s rosters for the second half of the season and playoffs.

Oh captain, my captain: The Moose Jaw Warriors received two players who until Tuesday were captains of their teams: James Henry (Vancouver Giants) and Cam Braes (Lethbridge Hurricanes). You feel for any player that’s traded away from a team they have been with their whole junior career , but the upside is that the Warriors are a team on the rise, and this could be just the chance these players need to showcase their talents in the playoffs and get to the next level of their hockey careers. They’ll have teammates to make them look good too: also on the Warriors roster are Rangers prospect Dylan McIlrath, and World Junior veteran and Florida Panthers prospect Quinton Howden. Braes, meanwhile, may have given up the C, but he will gain a better team: the Moose Jaw Warriors are second in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes are currently dead last in the Central Division and the Eastern Conference. 

Coincidence or fate?: Meanwhile back in Vancouver, Brendan Gallagher has been named the 11th Captain in the Giants’ history. He wears number 11 on his jersey.

Cam is the new hockey name for my list: The Winterhawks, meanwhile, acquired the rights to Cam Reid from the Edmonton Oil Kings. He has opted to leave St. Cloud State University and is joining the Winterhawks. It’s a boost for our lineup that cost the Winterhawks a second round pick in the 2013 Bantam Draft. That was a tough choice for any player. He’s only in his sophomore year in college, but in WHL years he’s an overager. Which means he will only play here for a few months, after which time he cannot go back and finish out his college career.  So how did the Winterhawks lure him? I think it might be the fact that according to Reid, he will be playing on a line with Ty Rattie and Sven Bartschi.  Sven is still out with a head injury, but that appears by all accounts from the team to be going in the right direction. For now, Portland will get its first look at Reid this week, when the Hawks take on the Kelowna Rockets. Look for updates on oregonlive.com/hawks.

Don’t we know you?: A few weeks ago, the Spokane Chiefs traded top scorer Anthony Bardaro along with goalie Luke Lee-Knight and a future draft pick to the Prince Albert Raiders. In return the Chiefs got goalie Eric Williams and forward Todd Fiddler. Weirder still is that Lee-Knight returned to Prince Albert after being traded in September for Chiefs defenseman Tyler Vanscourt. Since then, Vanscourt has been traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors and then the Vancouver Giants on January 9. Having moved around a lot as a child, I feel for Vanscourt. And he doesn’t even get to move with his own family; he has to move to a new billet each time. Gotta give props to the boy for manning up and bringing it every night with whatever team he’s with this week.

Be the thunder: That’s the Lightning’s tag line, but here in the Dub, part of the day’s thunder was created by a blockbuster trade that sent Victoria Royals’ standout Kevin Sundher to the Brandon Wheat Kings in return for Jordan Fransoo, Dakota Conroy and a first round pick in the 2012 Bantam Draft. The thunder was quite literal if you live in lovely Victoria, BC, where the Royals used to play a thunder clap after he scored. Not sure if they’ll continue the tradition in Brandon. But I do know that the Wheat Kings just got a whole lot harder to beat. 

Speaking of the Lightning, I hope in doesn’t strike in Kennewick: I hope for the sake of any of the Tri-City Americans’ opponents, most especially the Winterhawks, that rookie Brett Connolly stays right where he is with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Because if he comes back here for the latter half of the season and remains injury free, we can just skip the rest of it and hand a few titles to the Ams right now. They are nine points ahead of the Winterhawks in the U.S. Division and counting.

Bummer for us. Good for them: One of the casualties of trade day for Portland fans was the trade of Seth Swenson to the Seattle Thunderbirds in return for Marcel Noebels. A lot of people don’t like this trade because it also cost the team two first round picks for a player who is in a bit of a slump right now. Of course, Noebels is also playing on a team that isn’t exactly on top of the standings either. I hope for his sake and Seth’s that a change of scenery and a second chance will mean more points all around. All that being said, Seth is still one of my players to watch. I’ll just have to do it very quietly and carefully. If you see someone at a Seattle game in a Portland jersey shouting “Go Seth Go!” when he gets on a breakaway, it’s me. I did it and I’ll do it again.

Draft, what draft?: The Winterhawks traded away two first round Bantam draft picks, one second round pick, and one sixth round pick. The Noebels trade in particular has some people scratching their heads, because they think we got the shorter end of the stick. There are many reasons a team makes moves on deadline day, but there’s one that is often forgotten. I don’t know about scouting and such enough to make an informed prediction, but I do know about media, marketing and sales. And this I can tell you: the team has publically declared they are going for the Memorial Cup this season, and they consider this a long-term championship team. They have to back it with a roster that can get them close, if not all the way. There is tremendous pressure when you go all the way to the league finals in one season to go farther the next; it means ticket and merchandising sales, which in turn generate revenue to do things like renovate the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and ironically, recruit new players. So the question is in giving away so many draft picks, did the Winterhawks mortgage the future to pay for the current season? No, but they did use part of it to put a down payment on the present. Besides, fans can’t do diddly about it anyway, except maybe protest by not buying tickets.  But let’s face it, true hockey fans will go watch the team, even if we don’t agree with every move they make.

Parting shots: I find that trade deadline day is always more exhausting or exciting the next morning, when the reality of what just happened has sunk in. The reality of junior hockey is that no matter how long players stay with us before being traded or going to the NHL, they will leave eventually.  But it also means a team can welcome valuable incoming players, like Portland did last year when the Hawks pulled off a blockbuster trade to bring Vancouver Giants Captain and Boston Bruins prospect Craig Cunningham to town. Or in 2010, when through the magic of NHL and WLH rules, Luca Sbisa was acquired from Lethbridge to help the team push to the playoffs for the first time in four years. All we can do is appreciate every minute of every game that we watch shooting stars like the Brad Ross-Ryan Johansen-Nino Niederreiter line. Or the pairing of Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Joe Morrow and Colorado Avalanche prospect Troy Rutkowksi on the blueline. They don’t last long, our shooting stars. It’s all the more reason to appreciate them while they are shining in our rink. Here in the junior leagues, you have to treat every game like it’s the last one, because the day comes all too soon when it is.   



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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