Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Hello Peoria, Meet Brett Ponich

Last night Winterhawks play-by-play analyst Todd Vrooman interviewed the St. Louis Blues’ President of Hockey Operations John Davidson on an intermission show. Among other things, Davidson sang the praises of Ty Rattie and former Winterhawks captain Brett Ponich. Drafted 48th overall by the Blues in 2009, Brett is a defenseman currently working his way up to the big time by playing in the AHL with the Peoria Rivermen. So, Peoria, kindly allow me to introduce you to one of your players to watch.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression: The first time I actually met Brett in person, the Hawks had just suffered a bruising loss to the Kootenay Ice on a dreary Sunday. Even coach Mike Johnston, who is normally the epitome of calm, cool and collected, looked like he was going to burst into flames he was so pissed at the boys. In choosing which of the players to pull out of the dressing room for an interview, their PR director and I decided Brett might be, shall we say, the safest choice. And that he was. You’d think a 6’7” defenseman who’d just lost a game would hand you your butt in an interview. But what happened was just the opposite. He may be very imposing in his skates, but in person, there is a very youthful and boyish quality to Brett, which came through in the interview. I don’t think I ended up using it after all, but I remember that there in the middle of one of the ugliest post-games I’ve ever seen, there was light. It was easy to see even then why he was wearing the C. On the other hand:

He throws one mean punch: One of my very favorite fights on Winterhawk ice, ever, was a December 18, 2009 scrap between Brett and Andy Blanke, in which he saluted us en route to the box to serve his five minute major.  You can view it here.  When I’m stressed out at work or I just need a break during the day, I rewind and watch that fight. It truly is one of the best things ever. The only thing better is why Brett started the fight: to defend his teammates.

He puts others first: I first took note of Brett at the start of the 2009 - 2010 season, when he spearheaded a local fundraiser to help a friend of his back home. It raised $4000, as fans, like the players on the roster at the time, followed his lead. Flash forward to the 2010 - 2011 season, which Brett had to sit and watch for the second half after being sidelined by an ACL injury and surgery. He continued wearing the C right up through the end of the season anyway, which some fans and critics took exception to. They thought it should have been given to a player who was still actively on the ice. I’ve always believed that there is more to the C than what’s on the ice. In fact, I think it is the intangible, personal and natural leadership qualities that matter the most. It seems for the end of last season, the Hawks agreed and it’s easy to see why. When I saw him after Game 5 of the WHL Championship finals, in which the Hawks lost the title to the Kootenay Ice, Brett told me what he’d been up to in terms of off ice activity: training, getting the knee back in shape and I quote “I’m just doing what I can to make it easier for the guys.”  Not one word about his own off ice frustrations or struggles. Nothing. It was about the team, first and foremost. Enough said. Which brings me to this:

Some people are just born to lead: The first time I went down to the ‘Hawks Rose Garden dressing room to interview players, I looked down the hall and saw this gaggle of rookies following something. I figured it was either some pretty female fan or a coach. But when I poked my head around to see what the fuss was about, it was Brett, showing them the way back to the Winterhawks’ dressing room at the Coliseum. You didn’t even need to see him to know that he was somebody that others just naturally followed.

And some people are just born to play hockey: In addition to having the requisite hockey name, Brett was born on February 22, 1991, exactly 11 years to the day after the famous “Miracle on Ice” hockey game in which the United States defeated Russia.

“He’s a very low maintenance person”: I recall that’s what John Davidson said about Brett in last night’s interview, in the context of the fact that he’s very grown up, he listens well and you don’t have to do a lot to get him to lead and work hard and deliver results. He does that all on his own. So, I mean this in the very best way: duh. There’s nobody quite like Brett. He’s very special. If you have the chance to meet him while he’s in your town, you’ll see what I mean.

Well, ok, he does have one small flaw: On his NHL draft day, he was busy golfing in Portland. To refresh, June in Portland is around oh, say, maybe 50 degrees Fahrenheit if we’re lucky. Rain is common and it’s not at all uncommon to see people wandering about in fleece and hiking boots. In Brett’s defense, he truly didn’t believe that he was going to as highly as he did so he figured it wasn’t worth sitting around biting his nails about, but still. Golfing in Portland. In June. On draft day. It boggles the mind. Also, during training camp in 2010, I noticed that off the ice, he’s quite fond of wearing golf shorts that, shall we say, are just a little, um, too “colorful” for 6’7” defenseman. The only thing I can say is if you see him donning his festive golf apparel, may I suggest donning the proper protective sunglass eyewear in response. Trust me, it saves lives. And eyesight.

Parting shots: I’ve said it before, but it also applies in this case. The trouble with shooting stars is they don’t last long. And I’m most jealous that he’s shining in your rink now. So Peoria, enjoy your newest rising star while you can. I know we certainly did when Brett was here, and it still seemed all too short. He may be the tallest defenseman in your team’s history, but beneath the player who’s taller than a Christmas tree and who throws a mean punch is a leader and all around good person who will make you proud, I promise. So do take great care with our prize, Peoria. He may be all yours now, but Portland is always behind our players no matter where they go. So if you see him around the rink, tell him Portland says hi. And good luck.

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That’s really awesome, I really love him the first time I watched him play.

Posted by green valley resort ranch on 11/23/11 at 01:23 AM ET

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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