Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

The trouble with shooting stars is they don’t last long

Friday night, the Kootenay Ice ended the Memorial Cup hopes and the season of the Portland Winterhawks when they captured the WHL championship title in a 4 -1 win in Game 5. I never get choked over sports or even hockey. I mean please, it’s only a game right? Wrong. The 2010 - 2011 Winterhawks were built for a Memorial Cup, and it is likely the last we’ll see of that kind of team for a while. We started the season by watching eight players get picked in the 2010 draft and we ended it by watching the Kootenay Ice hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup in our rink. It’s not so much that the season is over or even that we lost. The Winterhawks will still hang two banners in the Memorial Coliseum this fall, the first time we have done so since 2001. It’s that a team like this won’t come around again for a while. Our shooting stars, including the fourth and fifth overall draft picks Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter, will very likely be shining in NHL rinks next year. Friday was the last time I’ll almost get hit in the head by Nino’s gear bag as he walked by me. It’s probably the last time I’ll shake hands with Ryan and hear him say thank you. It’s definitely the last time Boston Bruins’ prospect Craig Cunningham gave me a great soundbite for my blog. And it’s the last time we watched this team. The Cinderella team who just missed wearing the glass slipper. This season was a lot like life: it wasn’t nearly long enough.

“The road starts here!”: That’s on the back of my 2010 Winterhawks’ training camp t-shirt. There was a common belief even then that if ever a team in recent years was going to have a chance to win the Memorial Cup, this was it. Back then, it was all possible and nobody knew where it would end. We started the season with 10 NHL draftees on the roster, and one more who was signed as a free agent. The season seemed so long then, and March seemed like it would never get here. Kind of like when I was the boys’ age (16 - 21) and I thought somehow magically I’d never get old and I’d live forever. 

It ended here: For the first time since 2001, the team won the U.S. Division and Western Conference titles and punched their ticket to the WHL finals. And then this happened: In the second period of the second game, the officials handed out 18 penalty minutes in a row to the Hawks, giving the Ice four power plays on which they scored five goals. The Hawks mounted a comeback to bring the goal deficit from 6-2 to 6-5, with a little help from 10,947 fans whose applause registered 107 decibels. Alas, the Ice nabbed an empty netter to rack up a final score of 7 - 5. Four nights later, the team staged another comeback when Ryan Johansen cut the goal deficit to 4-3 and 2011 draft prospect Ty Rattie scored the game tying goal with 17 seconds to go in the game; the Kootenay Ice, however came up with the game winnner in OT. Friday, the Kootenay ice were just plain good. And just like that, the Winterhawks’ season ended, in what seemed like all of five minutes after training camp opened.

They just got here. Where did it all go?: When Ryan blew into town, one of the first things he did was get into a fight with his future linemate Brad Ross at training camp. That was back in the 2009 - 2010 season before anyone knew who he was, and before I had ever met him. When the Winterhawks left the dressing room for the last time on Friday, Ryan and St. Louis Blues prospect and Winterhawks Captain Brett Ponich came out, shook my hand and said thank you for everything. I’m sure big things are coming to midwestern cities near you, but I have no explanation for how two seasons went past in what seemed like two days. My mom used to tell me that someday I’d understand the expression “it seemed like only yesterday.” And of course I laughed at her. I mean, what did she know? She was after all in her forties and had never been my age and therefore had no idea what she was talking about.

In case you see them, tell them Portland says hi: So our time with a gaggle of shooting stars is coming to an end far too soon, but for the NHL the privilege of watching our superstars is just beginning. The cool thing about being here these past two seasons is that we got to see them play all on one team, at the same time. There was nothing quite like the Ross-Johansen-Niederreiter line. They were a shooting star that soon will illuminate someone else’s rink. Talk is already underway out here about whether Ryan will stick with Columbus and it’s pretty much assumed Nino will stay with the Islanders for good this time. Underneath it all, I think most of it is really about one thing: we don’t want to part with our prize possessions for anything. But whether it’s this season or next, sooner or later Portland must part with what is precious to us. So if you live in New York or Columbus, take great care with our gifts to you. Hopefully, you will get the privilege of watching them for more seasons than we did. Appreciate every moment of it.

Morals of the story: As it often does, hockey inspired this little note to self about life: 

1) Enjoy the ride.Every minute of it. Sitting here now, I’d take a losing game in the Memorial Coliseum on a rainy Sunday over sitting here not watching live hockey at all (thank you NHL for scheduling the San Jose vs. Vancouver game at 5 pm Sunday). Good, bad or ugly, the ride that is life is too short. Not a minute should be taken for granted.

2) Keep the ranting/whining to a minimum. Letting the occasional life version of “refs you suck” rip is one thing, but being so angry that you can’t see good in anything is a good way to get old faster and miss out on the things in life that are good. Nobody’s life is easy or fair, but that’s all the more reason to appreciate the good times while they are rolling.

3) If what or who you love must leave you (provided they aren’t doing so because they cheated, lied or stole from you), wish them well if you can find it in yourself to do so. Like Ryan and Nino, the shooting stars in our lives only come once. And even if the time comes due when someone else wants them for their own, the time they were with us was still worth it.

 

 

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Comments

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Yes the Winterhawks are losing some talent but I would not be so quick to say the run is over. But Bartschi and Rattie are returning a year older and more experienced. The defense will me also much older and wiser especially Morrow and Wotherspoon.
Carruth will most likely return giving the Hawks a very good goalie and Hamilton is talented enough that someone will want to trade for him.
Toss in a Leipsic who played above and beyond in the playoffs as well as next year’s crop of rookies and I would not be at all surprised to see the PWH right back in the hunt for the WHL title

Posted by Jess on 05/16/11 at 05:08 PM ET

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Thanks for the insightful perspective.  I feel better already. It’s still sinking in out here that our season is over, so it’s good to be reminded that our future is full of just as many stars as this season was.

Posted by Samantha from Portland, Oregon on 05/16/11 at 06:22 PM ET

GZ Expat's avatar

After spending years in the hockey abyss of southern China, it was so good to come home last summer and purchase those season tickets in August.  After following the team from afar for years (and listening to the 98 Cup win on my ancient computer on a 14.4 dialup connection in China), getting excited at a new ownership change…and then coming back and experiencing this year was terrific.

Through games 1-4, I thought the Hawks certainly could have the series the other way around…but, about midway through game 5, I could see the inevitable coming…the Ice were choking the Hawks and the Hawks were playing right into their hands.  The Hawks got beat by a better team…no doubt.  But the Hawks were a terrific team too…

Can’t wait for the draft to see where Sven ends up (Columbus???) and then next August/September to get it all started again. 

The Winterhawks are BACK…and it feels good.

Posted by GZ Expat on 05/16/11 at 07:21 PM ET

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Welcome back. Game 5 was a heartbreaker, especially that late second period power play goal by Kootenay - total killer. But the boys exited gracefully, and I was proud of them for that.  Sven is one of my absolute favorite players on the current roster - totally genuine kid who will be an asset to whichever NHL team picks him in the draft.

Posted by Samantha from Portland, Oregon on 05/16/11 at 07:51 PM ET

torless's avatar

Was sad… Got to see games 1 & 5 at the Rose Garden. They competed for 10 minutes in game 5 and turned off the switch when the goal review made it 1-1. Only a couple of them were playing Finals hockey, Cunningham being one of them. Too many cute passes leading to turnovers, no hustle getting out of the zone when offsides, not enough physical play to drive to the net… Not what we have been seeing from them most of this season.

Good news is that we saw some good hockey from this team without the likes of Cunningham, Johansen and Niederreiter… They aren’t done by any means.

Posted by torless on 05/17/11 at 12:46 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