Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

The plus/minus of losing

The Portland Winterhawks gave us all a scare on Friday night, when they dropped a game to the Tri-City Americans 6-2, one of the few times this season they've lost in such an ugly way. They rebounded quickly on Saturday with an overtime win against the Vancouver Giants. Ironically, they got a little help from the Ams on Saturday; Tri-Cities beat the Spokane Chiefs and as a result the Winterhawks clinched the U.S. Division title. The Hawks learned and they learned quickly, which got me to thinking about why it is that we learn more from losing than winning.

The minus

The other guy(s) gets all the glory. To add insult to injury on Friday night, the game was on home ice and it was aired on Root Sports. It was physically painful to watch while all three stars went to the Tri-City Americans and they did all the post-game interviews with Root. But the cold, hard truth is that they deserved to win and they deserved all that glory. The Winterhawks started off slow and never really got back in the game; even Portland fans would tell you they got out of the game what they put into it: little or nothing at all. To their credit, one line tried to keep Portland in the game: together Oliver Bjorkstrand, Taylor Leier and Chase De Leo scored the team's two goals. Alas, it was too little, too late and down went our Friday night. The next day, in a Daylight Classic game that ironically was delayed by daylight glare at center ice, the Winterhawks squeaked past the Vancouver Giants in a 4-3 overtime win, thanks to Brendan Leipsic. Did Friday's loss motivate them to get back on track? From Saturday's win one could say yes, but the real test will be if they can stay on track in another slightly delayed Daylight Classic today and in road games against the Kamloops Blazers and the Prince George Cougars. The Winterhawks are better on the road these days and after a triple header at home that didn't go quite according to plan, I would safely bet that they'll get 'er done this week.

It gives the WHL another reason to hate us and rejoice in our defeat. The only thing that bugs me more than the loss itself is knowing that somewhere out there WHL executives are saying to themselves "I told you so." It's all the more reason to rejoice each and every time the team wins.

It wounds everyone's pride. I'm writing here about my hometown team, but these points could apply to any team, anywhere. When our favorite team goes down, it doesn't just wound their pride and make them feel small, it affects us all. We paid money, we showed up and cheered and our team didn't live up to the hype. But when they lose because they didn't even show up, it just pours salt on the wound. I'm actually ok if my team plays 150% right to the buzzer and they just run into a hot goalie or the hockey gods weren't on their side that night. But when I see a good team lose an ugly game, it's an even uglier reminder of something that extends beyond hockey. Watching our favorite teams win reminds us of the extraordinary things we could all do with our own lives, and watching them lose reminds us of what we could have and should have done.

The plus

We live and we learn. Less than 24 hours after losing in a crushing defeat, Nashville Predactors' prospect and local fan favorite Brendan Leipsic (and his out of control flow) saved the day with the OT winner against the Vancouver Giants. I'm not sure what was more exciting; the goal or his celebration. Nobody celebrates a goal quite like Brendan, as you can see from the game highlights. Notably, both Brendan and 2013 draft prospect Nic Petan both scored their 41st goals of the season in that game. On the other side of the line, I must also give proper credit where it is due to the Vancouver Giants, who had suffered a crushing defeat of their own to the Winterhawks in an 8-3 loss home ice loss on Feb. 11. They challenged the Winterhawks every step of the way, but it's what they did afterwards that impressed me the most. Rather than simply skating off to their dressing room, they all huddled around goalie Jared Rathjen to congratulate him; if you didn't know better, you'd think they'd won. We can all take a cue from the Giants on how to keep this game classy.

We get smarter, stronger, faster and better. There's a strange phenomenon that happens when you interview players after games. When they win, they will credit God, luck, teammates, fans and sticking to the game plan ("we played our game"); but beyond that, they will give no particular reason for the victory. When they lose, the more honest players will tell you right to the letter why they lost. Why? Because in hockey, as in life, we learn more from losing. Every loss, every humiliation and every mistake makes us better; of course we don't always learn as quickly as the Winterhawks did this weekend. But the important thing in life and hockey is to acknowledge that you've made a mistake and do your best to correct it with each game you play, and each day that you live.

It's motivation for the next game. You could tell by the way they were playing on Saturday that the Vancouver Giants were going to let another 8-3 game happen over their dead bodies. Which may explain why the game was so close: the Winterhawks were doing the exact same thing. I firmly believe that the underdog always has the upper hand, whether they are on home ice or not. Why? Because they want it more and nobody is sitting there waiting to knock them off the pedestal; they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Need proof? Last year the Winterhawks were sitting right on the doorstep of the WHL title, having defeated the Edmonton Oil Kings in a glorious Game 6 win on home ice. One more game like that, and they could have won.  What they learned the hard way is that while they sat on the plane to Edmonton celebrating, the Oil Kings plotted their revenge. For the second year in a row, the Winterhawks just missed the WHL title. That is why If this year's WHL Championship series is a rematch between the two teams, I don't mind if the Edmonton Oil Kings win Game 6 and push it to a win or go home Game 7. When all is said and done, the plus/minus of losing is that 1) Losing usually follows getting too high on a win. 2) Winning usually follows a crushing defeat or losing streak. That's hockey and that's life.

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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