Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Portland is the new Switzerland

While the rest of the hockey world prepares for the Pronger vs. Chara showdown and pontificates how it is that Tampa Bay now leads the series with Washington 2 - 0, here in Portland we will be taking a momentary break for a Game 6 WHL Western Conference final. The Portland Winterhawks lead the series with the Spokane Chiefs 3 - 2, so a win tonight means that Portland would advance to the WHL Championship series. It took more than one player to get this far, of course. But Game 5 on Saturday was huge, and it was led by Sven Bartschi, a top draft prospect who came to us all the way from Langenthal, Switzerland. He was part of all three goals and late in the third period, he lept face first to block a slapshot that helped Portland hang on for a 3-2 win. Tonight’s game is the first time in 10 years fans can think about what it would be like for our team to go all the way to the WHL Championship. Now I finally get why sports fans get so freaked out about games like this. Because it’s about more than the game.

I think I already know how this one will end: The game scores for the Portland-Spokane series have been as follows:

Game 1: 2 - 1 Spokane
Game 2: 2 - 1 Portland
Game 3: 3 - 2 Portland
Game 4: 8 - 3 Spokane
Game 5: 3 -2 Portland

If the above numbers are any sign of things to come, then Portland will win tonight by a score of 8 - 3.

Location, location, location: Sven and Nino Niederreiter traveled across at least two continents, one ocean and all the way across the United States to play here in a moderately large city that sits about an hour and a half away from the end of the Oregon Trail. Other players on the roster are from Alaska, Colorado, California, Minnesota, Canada and thanks to newly signed goalie Brendan Burke, Arizona. But tonight, they will all be in Spokane playing in one very big game for one very big dream. Fans come from all over too. Tonight we will be in Portland, listening, watching and waiting. It doesn’t matter where we came from. It only matters where we are right here, right now.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: Sven scored the game tying goal in the last 33 seconds of the first period when he redirected a rocket of a shot from Joe Morrow. His linemates Craig Cunningham (Boston Bruins draft pick) and Ty Rattie (top prospect for the 2011 Entry Draft) scored the other two and Sven assisted on both of those. Joe is also a top prospect this year. I have already picked him as my prospect most likely to blow everyone’s minds and go way higher than predicted. 

It’s about more than the game. Now I understand why:

1) It’s our dream too. As fans, we can’t do anything to control the outcome of the game and in the case of road games, we can’t even be in the building with our hometown team. But we can dream about what it will feel like if the Winterhawks win tonight. Like the players, we come from all over and we all have different reasons for watching the game. But we all want the same outcome. 

2) It gives everything else meaning. I have a large list of things to do today that includes highly earth shattering tasks like returning messages at work, remembering to make a tuna sandwich to bring to work instead of buying the $10 tuna sandwich at the deli downstairs and folding socks that are sitting in a laundry pile at home. But it’s game day, so today those are not the menial tasks of my non-hockey existence, they are a means to the end of a day that begins anew at 7:05 pm Pacific in Spokane.

3) It reminds us of our own youth. Somewhere in Eastern Washington, a gaggle of teenagers and young men are waiting, hoping and planning for one of the biggest games of their junior careers. That kind of excitement only comes once in life, when it’s all ahead of you and it’s all possible and even in 20 years when it’s all said and done, you’ll still be young. Sure, there’s still plenty of excitement to be had later in life, but it’s about different dreams and somehow it gets more complicated. But for tonight, no matter what our age, we can be transported back in time for a little while to a time when the dream was simpler and possibilities were endless.

4) Anything is possible. That’s the very best part of any game day, especially this one. Until face-off, we can still believe that the scoreboard will say 8 - 3 Portland. We can still think Nino and Sven (or the favorite player of your choice) will lead the way. We can’t change fate, but for today we can believe that it will go our way.

In case you want to take a break from NHL playoff mania tonight: Will Swiss players lead the way tonight? It’s a good bet they will, but tonight’s humdinger could come from any player. As for Portland fans, the Winterhawks can’t see us or hear us, but we’ll be here, holding on, tuning in, watching, waiting and hoping. If you’d care to join us, you can hear what all the Portland-Spokane Game 6 fuss is about on Freedom 970. Face off is at 7:05 pm Pacific time. 

Late Monday update: The Portland Winterhawks just became the WHL’s Western Conference champions with a 6 - 3 win over the Spokane Chiefs. They clinched the best-of-seven series by winning four out of six games and captured the Conference title. The team will hang two banners in the Memorial Coliseum this fall. You can read all about it on http://www.oregonlive.com/hawks I lov.e it when my predictions are almost right.

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tongue rolleye

Hey Samantha. Glad to find you here. When I first stopped at KK, I was looking for 87 in 107. Above the Glass. Now I know. Portland might be the new Switzerland. Any Suisse in the pipeline?

Posted by Bee Cee on 05/03/11 at 02:17 AM ET

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Posted by Bee Cee on 05/03/11 at 02:23 AM ET

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I’m glad you found me here. Welcome. I haven’t heard about any Suisse in the pipeline. But now that we’ve had Luca Sbisa (end of 2009 - 2010 season), Nino and Sven gracing the roster these past two seasons, I think the Hawks should institute a Two Swiss Minimum rule for the roster from now on.

Posted by Samantha from Portland, Oregon on 05/03/11 at 03:04 AM 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