Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Hockey’s hope springs eternal

There are 26 NHL teams in action today, but here in the Dub, Portland hockey fans have their eyes keenly fixed on only one prize: a rematch with the Kootenay Ice. You may recall that last year, the Winterhawks lost to the Ice in Game 5 of the WHL Championship finals. It was the end of magic as we knew it. But the cool thing about junior hockey is that each season, the magic begins anew. Tonight, somewhere in Cranbrook, a new gaggle of teenage boys face off against their new arch enemy and that neutral zone trap thingy. It’s like the time Sven Bartschi told me how he knew Ty Rattie would score last year’s teddy bear toss goal: “I could feel it. This is how it is with big moments like this.” And so it is here in Portland, where we wait while those boys get ready for the biggest game of their 9-game, 17-day road trip extravaganza. This is the only time the Winterhawks will play the Kootenay Ice during the regular season. It is their only chance to avenge what was lost last May. So you can see why today is no ordinary day here in the Rose City, where hope simply must spring eternal.

But before I wax rhapsodic about the present, how about a trip down memory lane?: Portland fans have probably seen this, but if you want to see why this game is such a big deal, read this first.

Totally random quirk: The score in Game 5 was Kootenay Ice 4, Portland Winterhawks 1. Last night, the Winterhawks beat the Lethbridge Hurricanes by a score of 4 -1. Thank you, Brad Ross for the empty netter on a breakaway to seal the deal. What does it mean? Not sure, but on a day like this, I’ll take any sign I can get that things will go in our favor tonight.

“Never, ever give up”: Each month this season, I am profiling a Winterhawks rookie for the Booster Club’s newsletter. Among the questions in the Q&A format are “what advice would you give younger players about what it takes to make it in the WHL?” That quote is among the answers that were given to me by rookie Chase De Leo, who turned 16 on Tuesday. I haven’t talked to him since they’ve been on the road, but I’d venture to guess the roller coaster that has been their road trip so far is teaching young Chase that never giving up is easier said than done. It’s easy to believe when you are 16, but as you get older and life gets in the way, it gets harder to really mean it and believe it. But that’s the cool thing about hanging around young hockey players. They still believe it and I for one don’t have the heart to tell them otherwise. So instead, tonight I will take my cue from an eternally hopeful rookie and his faith that the next game will be a winner. This isn’t just the next game, it’s the only game. Giving up is not an option.

Because this year’s Kootenay Ice roster is just as good as last year’s: Tune in to the frequency of the brothers Reinhart, one of whom played on a line with Sven Bartschi at the young stars tournament this past September (younger bro Sam and Calgary Flames draft pick Max). Also notable are Edmonton Oilers 2010 draft pick and newly appointed Ice captain Drew Czerwonka and goalie Nathan Lieuwen. Former captain Brayden McNabb by the way is currently playing with the Rochester Americans, alongside former Winterhawk Riley Boychuk.

So is Portland’s: The Winterhawks roster still boasts 10 draftees on the official roster (8 if you figure that Nino and Ryan are going to stay in the NHL), but they all have one weakness: losing their cool at crucial moments in games where the score is dangerously close and refs are making sketch calls that are putting them deeper into a hole. They don’t do it all the time, mind, but it has been known to happen in more than a few games. The good news is that when they put their frustrations aside and get down to business, the Hawks are capable of breaking open a game with multiple goals in one period (as they did last night Lethbridge) and coming all the way back from those holes they occasionally dig for themselves. Tonight, they cannot dig the hole and come back out. Tonight it’s time to check emotion at the door, remember the past just enough to not repeat it, and get those 10 shots in the first 10 minutes, which is a goal they always have in every game. They are entirely capable of doing so. The hard part is will they?

That’s where the rookies can help them: They weren’t here when the team lost that epic game last year. All they see is what’s ahead. They are all about proving themselves worthy. They just want to help their team and oh yeah, to win, win, win. All the time. Every time. True, rookie mistakes are part of the risk you take with such a young forward line as the Hawks have this year. But youth also carries with it something that no stat sheet or playbook can measure: hope. It’s a dangerous weapon when wielded wisely. We must put our own faith in the Winterhawks that they will do so.

So this is how it is with big moments like this: Tonight, the game of the season awaits the Winterhawks and their fans. Tonight more than all the others they must show us what they are made of, and find something in themselves that even they didn’t know was there. I know it is, because every time I talk to them I hear it, I see it and it’s like Sven said, you can feel it. Somehow, somewhere in Cranbrook, BC, the boys must find a way past everything in their way, including themselves. Which got me to thinking about this:

Parting shots: If someone asked me now, how or when did you know that Game 5 was over and lost? It’s painful to say this now, but I knew when the game had about 12 minutes to go. I remember looking down and thinking “this is over.” Not because I wanted to give up, or because they weren’t trying or they didn’t want to win. It was because on the ice were five players who all appeared to have five different ideas about what it would take to win. Across from the Hawks were five Kootenay Ice players who were playing like one player with one clear idea of what it would take to hoist the WHL title. And that they did. That being said, here’s the advice I would give to the boys were I their coach. It is my humblest of hockey opinions that winning tonight will take one thing above all others: you will have to play like one player, with one idea that you all believe in and buy into 100%. If you don’t, the Kootenay Ice will see it, they will smell it and they will take advantage of it. In short, a single victory isn’t the work of one player. It is the work of one team. One team that all of Portland’s hockey fans will be behind 100 percent, tonight and always. The rest, boys, is up to you. We’ll be watching. You’ll be doing. For our part, we plunked down money for season tickets and jerseys and noisemakers, and even that crappy WHL video feed. All we ask in return is that you show us why. I know you will.

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WestWing's avatar

Wow, a Portland WinterHawks blogger on KK.  Who knew?

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 10/29/11 at 06:31 PM 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