Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Location, Location, Location

When I declared several months ago that I was traveling 8,107 miles one way to watch hockey in Australia, I wasn’t kidding. I did it. And I’m here to tell you that if you get the chance, you should go. In fact, June would be an excellent time to trek Down Under, seeing as how John Scott and Wayne Gretzky are going to be there next month. Oh, and there was that gold medal the Australian hockey team just won at the IIHF World Championships (Division IIB). Hockey in Australia is rising and now is the time to check it out for yourself. 

They like shiny objects. On April 16, Australia won the gold medal in the Division IIB at the IIHF World Championship in Mexico City. They will move up to Division IIA next year. En route, they defeated North Korea 22-1. No, that’s not a typo. The plaque that represents their victory is on display at O’Brien Group Arena, where I attended the Melbourne Derby, in which the Melbourne Mustangs and Melbourne Ice faced off in their home opener. The Derby was a sellout and seven members of the world championship team are also on the Ice’s roster. O’Brien Group Arena is on the far edge of downtown Melbourne, right under the Melbourne Star. (the city's version of the London Eye ferris wheel) But it’s really not that far away from our world here in the WHL:

Don’t we know you? If you punch your ticket to Australia this summer (their winter), save your pennies. In Sydney everything is expensive, including a cab ride to the suburbs. Trekking to the outer limits of Sydney made me realize just how far from home I was. That is, until I opened the game program to see one of the newest additions to the Sydney Ice Dogs’ roster: former Swift Current Broncos forward Grant Toulmin. Once an opponent of the Portland Winterhawks, he used to play in our rinks. You never know where life will take you. I only went to Australia for a few weeks and I already want to go back. It’s a special, magical place and I hope Grant Toulmin enjoys every second of it. And BTW, if you don’t believe there is such a thing as “the WHL style of play” think again. Even if I hadn’t read that program first, I could have picked him out of the crowd simply by his style of play. Speaking of familiar faces:

#FreeMikeJ: By now, most of you know that Mike Johnston has returned to the Portland Winterhawks as the Head Coach (his primary reason for choosing to come back), General Manager and Vice President. I’m still trying to believe it’s real. To say that Portland is ecstatic would be an understatement. It’s easy really; there’s just no one quite like Mike. He’s irreplaceable. His return comes on the heels of the WHL Bantam Draft, so training camp, the pre-season and the regular season opener already look to be epic this year. Stay tuned; I will be covering the return of Portland's conquering hero as we look forward to a bright future and a return to championship contention. Back to topic:

It's worth the investment. If I told you how much I paid in total for all four cab rides in Sydney, you’d really think I was officially crazy. So I’ll put it this way: it was more than $100 and less than $500. It was worth it. 

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The Derby between the Melbourne Mustangs and the Melbourne Ice marked the first time I ever watched hockey in Australia. For the most part, rules and plays are the same, but there are some subtle differences: 

  • A game is comprised of two 15 minute periods and a 20-minute third period. 
  • Warm up happens right before the game. There’s no break in between warm up and opening face-off.
  • Both teams shake hands after a regular game.
  • Games are played only on weekends. The regular season is 28 games long.  
  • The AIHL is a semi-professional league, which means the players are not paid a salary. But they do receive assistance from their team with regard to work contacts, job assistance, access to a car, bus rides to games and accomodation. 

Ya’ Wanna Go? I kept thinking I’d missed part of the games I saw, because they seemed quiet, clean and quick. I think it was because there were very few penalties and no fights. There's a great article on HockeyWise that explains it all much better than I ever could. 

Game day nap. Ever wonder why koalas don’t do much except sit in trees and eat eucalyptus leaves and look cute for tourists to photograph? Because they sleep 20 hours a day. Imagine the strength, speed, focus and power hockey players would have if they took a 20 hour game day nap and played the other four hours. In reflecting on the ridiculous schedule Jamie Kompon cobbled together for the Winterhawks this past season that left them about five minutes for rest and recuperation from triple-header weekends, I can only imagine how many lost weekends wouldn’t have been lost. Or how many games might have been won if the players had been given more time to recover in between games. That's one thing we can look forward to on Mike Johnston's watch: a more reasonable schedule and more respect for the importance of rest as a valuable part of a hockey player's long-term health.

Pre-game snack. From the minute I stepped onto my Qantas flight in LAX, I was offered two weeks of non-stop food, drinks, snacks and more food, drinks and snacks. Hospitality is Australia's middle name. From the minute you step onto their national airline to the minute you touch back down in Los Angeles, you'll be well-fed and slightly tipsy. A two-week vacation there gives new meaning to fat and happy. Which is why I'm already plotting a return trip:  

I'd do it all again.  I'm seriously thinking of going back for that Wayne Gretzky world tour in June. I've traveled much of the world and there really isn't any place quite like Australia. It took 24 hours, two cab rides, a five-hour layover in LAX, and a 16:46 flight just to get to Melbourne, one way. And I'd do it all again. Because the Australian people are some of the kindest, most polite, sincere and generous people you will ever meet on this planet. Their hockey fans are a small but mighty band of brothers and sisters who thrive in a country where most of their fellow countrymen don’t even know they have hockey teams, let alone a gold medal from the World Championship. The rinks are on the far edges of their cities and hold somewhere in the neighborhood of about 300 – 500 people. Even if their teams were mentioned in the sports pages, they’d be eclipsed by the Aussie rules football games that dominate the headlines. Australian hockey fans are a fearless, brave lot who love their teams. And their country. I now see why Blindspot star and Melbourne native Sullivan Stapleton posted a photo of Australia on his Instagram account, with the caption “oh how I miss you.” I was only there for two weeks and I miss it already. If immigration would let me, I’d move to Melbourne. That being said, I want to personally thank the Melbourne Mustangs, the Melbourne Ice, the Sydney Ice Dogs and the Sydney Bears for their hospitality, generosity and warm welcome to your country. I promise I’ll see you soon. 

You must chill! You must chill! The next time I have to deal with some whiny, cranky person at work or elsewhere, I'm going to take out my picture of a koala taking a 20-hour nap, shove it in their face for a few seconds, stand back and watch what happens. Nobody can look at a photo of koalas and kangaroos and still be in a grumpy, unhappy mood. It's impossible. The same can be said of Australia – it’s impossible to go there and come away unhappy or disappointed. They do things the right way there. Australians don’t get rattled by much of anything. You could drive over them with a truck and they’d get right back up and be like “when’s lunch”... “do you want a chocolate?” Nothing fazes them. They live in a country that's also a continent and where nearly every living animal or creature will kill or seriously harm you. Like hockey players, they are fearless, sturdy and built to last. They just have another pint and carry on. So you can see why I  looked up availability at the Langham Hotel yesterday to see if I could book a room for the Australian Grand Prix. Of course, I might not be able to wait that long. Wayne Gretzky is bringing hockey to Australia in June. He’ll be at the games in Sydney for a meet and greet. If you want to punch your ticket to the Ice Hockey Classic, click here for the details. If I can swing it, you just might find me in the crowds.  

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Glad you enjoyed your time down here Samantha. It’s not the NHL, but we do our best!!

Posted by steviey11 on 05/15/16 at 11:13 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