Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Survival of the fittest

The L.A. Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins are my favorite teams. So I had visions of a win-win Stanley Cup final; no matter who won, I’d be happy. Instead, I’m choosing a new side as the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks do battle for the Cup. Of course I’m watching the finals. It's an original six match up and Game 1 went to triple overtime; game on. But for all intents and purposes, my favorite teams are done, so I’m done. The off season has unofficially begun. What are fans to do when our favorite teams are toast? For starters, I think the NHL’s future can teach us a thing or two about rebounding, rebooting and recharging.

"Never get too high or too low about one game." After the Pens went down in Game 4, it was one of those rare occasions where I declare that "I’ve had it with the game, that’s it, I’m done, no more hockey for me, no sir, I’m taking up more civilized sports like golf, macramé, and decorative basket weaving!” But then I thought of the Portland Winterhawks. All of them -- notably top prospect Seth Jones -- tell me the same thing about success and playing their way to a championship season: “never get too high or too low about one game.” It’s easier said than done, in hockey and life. But it can be done, and the NHL’s future is proof. The most impressive thing about this year’s Winterhawks roster was their resilience. Sanctioned by the WHL in late November, they ended the season on May 26 with four titles in hand (Scotty Munro for best regular season record, U.S. Division, Western Conference and WHL). Even though the Halifax Mooseheads ultimately went home with the Memorial Cup, the Winterhawks rallied in the last five minutes of the final to close a three-goal gap and come within one goal and one minute of tying the game. The final result wasn’t a win, but they went down swinging and knowing that they did everything they could to change the game. They have nothing to regret or apologize for, especially when you consider that people were declaring that the sanctions would be a death sentence for them. On the other end of the spectrum, will I ever totally get over the Pens blowing it so utterly when they were so close to the Cup once again? Probably not, but if I were to give up on them now it would be a lot like leaving a game early: I could end up missing the most awesome part of the game. As a lifetime fan, I'd like to think that the Pens’ game isn’t lost and gone forever; it's just missing in action. Since they obviously need a little extra help finding it again, I know just the team that could help them: The Portland Winterhawks will open training camp on August 21. I’m pretty sure the NHL’s future would be happy to offer a few tips on how to rebound, reboot and recharge. Speaking of charging up:

Breakfast of champions. If Rich Campbell, the Portland Winterhawks’ strength and conditioning coach, saw what I put into my body on a daily basis during the season, I’d probably have my press pass revoked, placed on a mandatory juice fast under pain of death and forced to participate in a bag skate. And he’d be right to do so. My mom refers to game night as “nacho night” and I once ate a bag of Pepperidge Farm Amaretto Milano cookies for dinner. My regular season diet is a lot like the Pens going poof in the Eastern Conference final; there’s no excuse. I did it and I’ll probably do it again. But the off season marks a chance to renew one’s commitment to maintaining a healthy diet and fitness regime and get in tippy top shape for the next regular season. Like any professional athlete in the making, the Winterhawks spend the summer working out and training. I try to do the same each summer. It’s like a second new year; it’s a chance to recommit to healthy habits and start over. After all, it’s a long road back to the top; we must fortify accordingly. 

Everybody stay with your buddy. Another thing the Winterhawks are known for around these parts is their closeness and camaraderie. Together, they believed they could come back in that final game and they did. Ditto for the L.A Kings. Behind every united team is a united, faithful and loyal fan base that believes in them. I never give up on my favorite teams because I believe that the minute we give up hope is the minute we die. The off season has unofficially begun for some of us, but the next season isn’t that far away. Here in Portland, we are staying with our hockey buddies by mailing in our season ticket applications, plotting where to meet up for the Winterhawks’ official draft viewing parties and Tweeting each other about the Stanley Cup finals. This season, NHL fans survived the lockout, the loss of half a season, the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game and Portland fans in particular overcame the added challenge of the WHL’s sanctions. In return, we were appreciated and loved by our teams for staying loyal through it all – even more so when their chips were down. In short, staying with our hockey buddies is the best and most important way to survive the summer and whatever the next regular season brings. Because no matter what hockey throws our way or how badly our team might blow a game or a series, it’s the one thing that never changes and on which we can always rely.

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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