Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Please Return to New York for a Left-Behind Item

Let's face it. Every off-season there comes a point where enough is enough. The warm weather and free time on weekends are nice, but I'm over it. Here in the Rose City, relief is in sight. The Portland Winterhawks have released their training camp schedule. The Neely Cup opens on August 24 at Moda Center and that means it's almost time to bid farewell to the off-season.  But first, it's time to reflect on hockey lessons learned during my summer holiday. My spring/summer break was going just fine until I went on a seemingly easy three day trip to New York, courtesy of my day job employer. And that's how I learned once and for all that there's no place like home. 

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I'm a West Coast girl. I was born here and I grew up here. Which is probably why I was always fascinated by New York City. It was a practically a foreign country compared to California beaches, Arizona deserts and Oregon's rugged beauty. But it was home to an Original Six hockey team, and that's all I needed to know. And so, at 26 off I went in my used Toyota Corolla, with everything I owned in the trunk and $3000 in the bank. It was early September 1994. The Rangers were the Stanley Cup champions. Banner raising night is the first thing I can remember about actually living in Manhattan.  I wouldn't trade those early days in New York for anything. Because they were a lot like training camp. Anything was still possible. Everything was still new. Like players, I had to fight for my roster spot as a New Yorker and I came ready to play. But nobody can really predict how life or even a hockey season will turn out: 

Excuse me, this isn't what I ordered:  A decade in New York taught me that things don't always turn out the way you planned. It was only when I returned home that I learned a more important lesson: sometimes, they turn out better. Take the Winterhawks, for example. In two weeks, Portlanders will get our first real look at  Kieffer Bellows, who was originally selected in the 7th round of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. As the son of Stanley Cup winner and NHL all-star Brian Bellows, he has already racked up his own impressive list of achievements. After being drafted 19th overall by the New York Islanders in 2016, Kieffer went on to help the United States World Junior team win a gold medal, their first since 2013. But here's the fun fact that I love the most: 2013 was also the year the team was banned from the first five rounds of the Bantam Draft. Today, he is one of the most highly anticipated additions to the Winterhawks 2017 - 2018 roster.

My point is this: you never know where the great players are going to come from. Often, it's the walk-ons and the late picks who turn out to be the game changers. There's at least one at every camp. On Mike Johnston's watch, there will probably be more than one. Exhibit A: Troy Rutkowski wasn't drafted by the Winterhawks originally, but he went on to become captain in the now-legendary 2012 - 2013 season. Late picks are great picks; Chase De Leo is one of the most popular players ever to pass through Portland, which might not have been obvious when he was drafted 192nd overall in the 2010 Bantam Draft. He would go on to be drafted by the Winnipeg Jets and spent last season playing for the AHL's Manitoba Moose. In the current Winterhawks lineup, Brendan De Jong and Skyler McKenzie were drafted on the second day of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, after being overlooked last year. Other players who got second chances over the summer via minor league contracts, an ATO or development camps include Keegan Iverson (signed with Ontario Reign), Keoni Texeira (Las Vegas Golden Knights), Evan Weinger (LA Kings), Alex Overhardt (Nashville Predators), Ryan Hughes (Nashville Predators) and Cole Kehler (Winnipeg Jets). The common demoninator? The return of Head Coach, GM and Vice President Mike Johnston. It's not a coincidence. I rest my case. 

Blink and you'll miss it: Under current WHL rules, players can potentially play for up to five seasons. On a calendar, five years seems like a long time. But just like the ten years I spent in New York, it's gone in the blink of an eye.  I can still remember when Brad Ross and Ryan Johansen got into a fight at training camp, only to be told by Mike Johnston they were going to play on a line together with Nino Niederreiter. In the short time they played together, that line racked up 428 points, 200 goals, 228 assists, one US Division Title and one Western Conference title. It seems like Ryan and Brad just got in that fight yesterday, but Ryan has become such a legend around these parts that one of the 2017 Neely Cup teams is named for him.

Careful what you wish for: When I moved to New York I dreamed of making it to the corner office on Wall Street, just like the final scene in "Working Girl." It took me a while and even though I didn't quite get the corner office, I made it to Wall Street. Literally. The stock exchange was around the corner from my office. There was one small problem: I started living the dream on July 11,  2001. Exactly two months later, the dream ended. I should have left on the next flight out to Portland, but I hung on for another three years. Why? Because letting go is easier said than done: 

Please return to New York for a left-behind item: I went back to New York three weeks ago for an all-expense paid business trip. Sounds like a nice gig if you can get it, right? Think again. Here's what really happened: The direct Alaska flight to Newark leaves at 6:50 a.m. on Monday, which means you have to be at the airport by 5 a.m.  My employer isn't quite that generous, so we have to travel in coach and in the middle seat, thanks to the last-minute nature of the trip. Hotel rooms in New York are double the price and half the size of the generous portions we are used to on the West Coast. And let's not forget the 90 degree heat with 80 percent humidity. More importantly, it's summer, so no hockey. In short, it was hot, exahusting, expensive and disappointing. The "business" I was doing there took exactly 10 minutes and by then, the meeting had already run over by 15 minutes into the lunch hour.  In spite of all that, I actually thought about staying and looking for a job. I actually looked at jobs on LinkedIn and seriously thought "I could try it again." Because a small part of me went back there to relive the life I left behind, even if just for a few days. But here's the thing: it's not my life anymore. My life is here in Portland, with the Winterhawks and my fellow fans. In the place where I belonged all along. Things happen for a reason. In my case, the reason will report to Portland Winterhawks training camp in two weeks. So will I, because you can go home again.

P.S. Portland, if you hadn't already heard, Neely Cup tickets are on sale now and this year, it will be in the Moda Center. I'll see you in two weeks. 

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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