Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Some wins are bigger than others

Like the Tampa Bay Lightining’s 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. Or the one where Ryan Johansen helped the the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers. And finally, here in the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Winterhawks slayed a Goliath of their own by beating the Tri-City Americans 5 -1 in a franchise record-breaking home win. So, why is it that one game can matter more than all the rest put together? I think I’ve figured out part of the answer.

1) It’s too long overdue. The Winterhawks had not beaten the Tri-City Americans at all this season, and then in one game, a player scored the first hat trick of his career (Oliver Gabriel), another was the first player in the whole CHL to reach the 40-goal mark (Ty Rattie) and the team’s win broke a franchise record for consecutive home wins. It had stood at 16 since the 1993-1994 season. Oh, and it was top prospect Derrick Pouliot’s 18th birthday—he was born in the season the record was originally set. Coincidence? I think not. The win over Tri-Cities was lucky number 17, and they have a chance to continue the streak in a week, when they will face the Everett Silvertips on Taylor Peters’ birthday.  As for Columbus, well….you don’t need me to tell you any win for them is long overdue. And for Portland fans, it’s about time we beat Tri-Cities and started turning on NHL Center ice to see our former superstar Ryan Johansen scoring and getting serious ice time. We were worried that was never going to happen. In short, good things come to those who wait, better things come to those who wait longer.

2) It restores confidence. When I asked Oliver about the key to finally beating the Ams, he told me that confidence was key because it’s something they don’t normally have when they play that team. Winning isn’t everything until you haven’t done it for a really long time. And then it’s all you think about, 24/7. Of course, it’s all a true competitor thinks about 24/7 anyway, but still. When confidence is on the wane after a full-scale routing or two by a division rival, that’s usually the trigger for a seemingly endless losing streak. By the same token, an epic game a team that thinks it’s dialed your number can turn the Titanic back around and start new winning streak. Or, in the case of the Winterhawks, continue one.

3) It can mark the return of a full, healthy lineup. When I asked Troy Rutkowski (also known around these parts as “Colorada Avalanche Prospect Troy Rutkowski”) about how the team beat the Americans, he told me having all their guys in the lineup and playing like a team. Now, mind, Malkin is proving that when your lineup’s on the sidelines you can still get ‘er done, but a full, healthy lineup never hurt anybody either. On Monday, Sven Bartschi returned to the lineup after sitting out with a head injury suffered at World Juniors, and assisted on Ty’s goal number 40. Oliver was the season’s biggest and best surprise when he returned to Portland from the Springfield Falcons. No sooner did he come back, than he went down with a wonk to the shoulder. Plus, it’s his overage season, so everything he does has even greater significance because the clock is ticking. Oh, and the hat trick was not only his first, it was a nattie hattie. So, Sven didn’t score a goal. He didn’t have to. It was the confidence that came from knowing it was a big game and knowing your team was going fully armed to the battle that powered everything else. Funny what a few good men can do when they are all present and accounted for.

4) Emotion. The most important pre-game ritual of all. On the Lightning’s win over Boston on Tuesday night, Coach Boucher said simply “The difference is, when the puck dropped, we had emotion.” In a replay of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, or the playoff-esque showdown between the Hawks and the Ams, you simply can’t leave home without it.

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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