Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Let’s do dinner

At the beginning of the Eastern Conference finals, I entered into a bet with my friend Mike about who would win. I was in for a Game 7 nailbiter in which Tampa would prevail four games to three over Boston. I was right about the games, but alas, not the team. And so it’s time for me to buy Mike dinner in Portland. It also seems an appropriate time to pause for a little trip down memory lane, back to 2009, when I knew I loved hockey but suddenly realized I didn’t really know a whole heck of a lot about it. It’s been two years since that day in the playoffs when Evgeni Malkin scored that no-look backhander into Carolina’s net that made me ask “what’s a hat trick?” Have no fear. I do know what a hat trick is, and I even figured out that icing isn’t what happens when players “snow the goalie.” It’s been a long strange trip, but it was worth it. Because now I know that everything I need to know about life can be found in a hockey rink.

C is for Captain. And Class. And Cool: Rather than flying solo in the photo with the Prince of Wales trophy, Boston Bruins’ Captain Zdeno Chara waved his teammates over to join him. It reminded me a lot of the day I discovered hockey in 1980, when the US beat Russia in the Olympics, and the moment a few days later when Mike Eruzione called his teammates onto the podium to accept the gold medal with him. It was a class act then and it’s a class act now.

It’s also for courage: The dictionary definition of courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.” Which is exactly what Steven Stamkos literally did when he took a puck right to the nose and came back to play with a full face mask and those cotton plug thingies up his nose because it keep bleeding. 

He’ll have quite the story to tell one day: Rookie Tyler Seguin will make his first trip to the Stanley Cup final in his first season with the team. On one hand, it makes you realize that things happen for a reason. If Seguin had been the first overall pick last year, he would have been sitting home watching this on TV with the rest of us. On the other, the side effect of peaking early is that everything else after that is a disappointment. And most people who peak early don’t always appreciate their good fortune. Let’s hope one of Seguin’s virtues is that he will appreciate this year. And he’ll be humble enough to realize not every season will be like this.

H is for hope: “There is hope at all levels.” That’s what Guy Boucher told reporters after the game. There was hope tonight before the penalty-free Game 7 between Tampa and Boston, and for Tampa there is still hope. If this is what they did in only one season with a new owner, new GM, and new coach, imagine what they’ll do next year. Or the one after that.

Go Bs!:That’s what Mike always says before we enter into bets that involve the Bruins. As for me, I was one of the few people who picked Tampa to win the cup in Paul’s survey and I stand by my story.  I still believe they had a legitimate shot at it. But if you can’t beat’ em, join ‘em, so for the final I’m joining Mike.

Yes, I know what a hat trick is now, but I would never do this: According to a fellow fan here in Portland, he once threw hat to the ice that didn’t quite make it, and the dude who picked it up looked at it like he might keep it instead of ensuring that it got to its rightful destination. I believe the official call for such an offense would be ticky-tack. A lot of crazy stuff happens in hockey games, but none are as shocking as some of the things seemingly normal human beings do every day. And for those who are still learning the sport yourselves, welcome to the madhouse and make note that the proper etiquette is to pick up the hat and toss it over the glass onto the ice. Period. No exceptions.

Meanwhile in the junior leagues: The little team that could the Owen Sound Attack was defeated in a tie-breaker game by the Portland Winterhawks’ new nemesis, the Kootenay Ice. I was all in for the Attack, but I’m still keeping my eye on them even though they are done. As for the Ice, what goes around, comes around. They were defeated by the host team the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, who will now face the Saint John Sea Dogs in the final. I’m going from one little team that could to the other: I’m in for the Sea Dogs, who are playing in their first-ever Memorial Cup final. Plus, I can’t help but get behind any team who has the balls to name their mascot Fleaburn. It’s a moral imperative.

When all is said and done: The official dictionary definition of losing is “failing to win, as in a sport or game.” ‘Tis true, the Tampa Bay Lighting did fail to win Game 7 and the title that went with winning it. But their comeback from not making the playoffs for the past four years to this momentous occasion made me wonder…what really defines winning and losing? It’s definitely more than the dictionary would have you believe:

Losing is:

—Giving up hope and giving in before the final buzzer sounds.

—Diving or embellishing at any time (always a losing move in my book). Specific to the playoffs: displaying unsportsmanlike conduct in the handshake line or elsewhere after the final buzzer has sounded.

—Forgetting what’s really important and playing a game for the wrong reasons, like money, fame or shiny objects. Those are nice too, but you’ll be sorely disappointed if they are the only reasons you play this game.

Winning is:

—Playing right to the final buzzer with the hope that you can still tie it up and win it.

—Winning games for your seriously ill assistant coach because you view your coaches and teammates as family and that’s what’s most important.

—Leaving a game after getting clocked in the face with a puck, coming back out with every manner of gear and nose plug thingy protecting you and playing on.

—Collectively declaring “rock on” when the new coach, GM and owner come to town and promptly proceeding to go from not making the playoffs in four years to making it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, where you push the opponent to a completely penalty-free Game 7 and your 41-year-old goalie holds the line until well into the third period. 

When all is really said and done: Kudos to both Boston and Tampa for playing an honorable game where both came out winners in one way or another. Using my handy guide to winning and losing, Tampa may have lost on the scoreboard, but they won in other ways that don’t show on a scoresheet. Like I said, if they turned things around this quickly, imagine what they’ll do next year. That being said, since I now must choose a different team to get behind in the final…Go Bs!


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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