Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

On the Stanley Cup Final: ‘Round Midnight

I should be sitting here sending out resumes and hitting the gym, but I have bigger priorities today; like watching the Stanley Cup victory parade and learning about soccer, my new off-season sport of choice. It’s all part of a three-day weekend that started on Friday night, when Game 5 ended here on the West Coast at a relatively decent hour: 9:26 p.m. Pacific Time. That didn’t include the post-game celebrations. In New York, however, it was 12:26 a.m. My non-hockey loving friends checked out after the first overtime, having lost interest in watching to the bitter end. My Rangers-loving friends were still up in the midnight hour, still hoping things would turn out differently. In the WHL, we’ll do it all again during the regular season, as many of us sacrifice beauty sleep to watch the World Junior and other international tournaments live at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning. For hockey fans, it's a moral imperative. But how do I explain to non-hockey friends and family that these noble sacrifices are worth it and that hockey really is the best game in the world? Exhibit A: The 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

Things happen for a reason. The Los Angeles Kings fan in me wanted a sweep, but the former Rangers season ticket holder in me was hoping for a comeback. The Rangers' Game 4 win gave their fans hope while paving the way for what I ultimately wanted: a home ice Stanley Cup victory for the Kings. For the LA Kings at least, Game 4 happened for a reason. They could have pulled off a sweep, but in the end a home ice victory celebration was so much sweeter. If the Rangers continue putting their best foot forward next season, this year's epic loss could be next year's Stanley Cup. In life, it takes much longer than one game for things to turn around. Sometimes what started as a good year turns into what I like to call a “do over in summer” year where you just have to weather the storm before things get better. The difference in hockey is that come October, it will all start again. All 30 NHL teams will once again have a chance for a championship and/or comeback season. The magic of hockey is that each new season represents a new opportunity to start again and the chance to believe that anything is possible. On that note:

Hope springs eternal. Whether it’s the first game of the pre-season, or opening face-off in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, the start of each game, each period and each shift is a chance to change the game. In the junior leagues, our hope springs eternal each season in the form of rookies and 15-year-old Bantam Draft picks who report for camp with all their hopes and dreams of making it to the NHL. Next to playoffs, it’s the second-most wonderful time of the year. Fans all get older every year, but Portland Winterhawks training camp is like a time machine: the incoming players are always 15 to 18 years old, with a few “older” 20 year olds in the mix. No matter what else is happening beyond the rink, those players and their dreams give us all a reason to hope for better things to come on the ice. 

It's all worth it. Maybe not so much right now for the Rangers, but they really did put their best foot forward and earned their first Eastern Conference title in 20 years. Things might look a little more hopeful come fall, when they emerge from the off season stronger, smarter and more determined to win. Here in Portland, we feel their pain. In 2012 and 2014, the Winterhawks lost the Ed Chynoweth Cup to the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 7. But we'll always have the 2013 WHL Championship and Game 6 of the 2014 WHL Final, when the Hawks roared back from a 5-2 deficit to a third period surge and an overtime win. And nobody around these parts is going to complain about a fouth consecutive Western Conference title or a second consecutive U.S. Division banner. My point is this; Win or lose, the 2013-2014 season was worth every cent of the Winterhawks season tickets I paid for and the NHL Center Ice package on cable. I know next year will be more of the same. Life doesn't always reward us for a job well done, but hockey is always worth the price of admission.

It’s #allin or nothing. This banner caught my eye during a World Cup game, and it’s also true of hockey. There’s no halfway and there’s no-in between. Plus, it’s like my mom said; “I like this game because if you don’t like what a guy’s doing, you just hit him.” Of course, there are short and long-term consequences to fighting in hockey that are currently under debate, but this much is true: both players involved know where they stand and there’s no B.S. They just drop the mitts and go. Imagine if you did the same thing in real life; you’d either be fired or arrested. We have to put a lid on our emotions in many aspects of our everyday lives, but the rink is the one place where we don’t. Perhaps that’s the best reason of all to love hockey. It’s played the way life should be lived: #allin or nothing.

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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