Above the Glass
by Samantha on 06/10/11 at 01:45 PM ET
With the Stanley Cup final turning into a bit of a Twilight Zone episode, you may be pleased to know there are other hockey-related things creating buzz out here in the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, we are in full pre-draft hype mode, complete with local parties set to take place at local bowling alleys (only fitting since one of our star players, Nino Niederreiter, owns his own pair of bowling shoes). Four of our top prospects have survived the combine, even coming out on top of some of the test results. In reviewing the combine results, I realized that the boys’ results not only say something about their draft chances, they say a whole lot about who the players are. And so, on this most rare of occasions, I understand why numbers matter.
‘Bite of the season: But first, no entry would be complete without a choice vintage soundbite from my very favorite Portland Winterhawk, Sven Bartschi. It appears he is quite good at chirping in English. Sort of. Apparently, during the playoff series with the Kelowna Rockets, he chirped at Rockets right wing Colton Sissons, and I quote, “you no good at this.” Now, I could pull Sven aside the next time I see him and explain to him that if he wants to lay down the smack talk, he needs to do so in proper English, but that wouldn’t be any fun. So, for Portland fans, I say we embrace Sven’s unique broken English charm and make a sign for the next time Kelowna comes to town: Kelowna Rockets, You No Good At This. That was a true vintage soundbite/chirp if there ever was one. I think it even beats Nino’s “I shoot the puck, the puck go in!”
The Fifth Beatle: You’ve heard of our “Top 4” prospects, but there is a fifth Winterhawk listed in Central Scouting’s draft rankings: Pearce Eviston. He joined the team on the last weekend of the regular season, but he made a splash from the minute he jumped in the major junior hockey pool. He scored in his first WHL game, on his first WHL shot. Make note and stay tuned, because something tells me I’ll be reporting on this one in the near future.
You are what you grip: Defenseman Joe Morrow was number one on the right hand grip test at the combine. Experts will tell you your handshake says a lot about you, and in Joe’s case it’s true. As a player and person, he’s a lot like his handshake: sturdy, reliable and fearless, but just a little bit reserved. He’s also a good kid from Alberta who fires very deadly shots from the point. When I asked him once what was said during an epic line brawl that was triggered by Kamloops Blazers goalie Jeff Bosch, he told me “some inapproriate things were said.” I don’t think we’ll ever need to say inappropriate things about Joe, because he’s just a good, solid kid. Just like his grip.
The combine said jump, they said how high: I’m not surprised to see Sven one spot behind Joe, at number 9 on the Musculoskeletal: 4 Jump (Mat) Mode: Power Factor. When he’s not busting out choice soundbites, he likes to do things like block opponents’ slapshots by leaping face first in front of them and jump straight into the air and across the ice to check a player. He also came out on top of the list for the VO2 Max Aerobic test and tied for 8th on the anaerobic fatigue tests. That figures. Sven is known for being the last player on the ice at practice and for constantly working on all the details of his game. In fact, assistant coach Travis Green once told the Portland Tribune that Sven’s work ethic is “second to none.” A talent for airborne feats and uber-fitness are just two of the many reasons I’m on board with Sven being the Winterhawks’ top draft pick this year. He may face some steep competition from Joe and linemate Ty Rattie, but I still think he’ll come out on top. Just like he did on those tests.
There must be something in Alberta’s air: The other top prospect who topped a few of the combine results lists is Sven’s linemate Ty Rattie, who spends his summers back on the family farm in Airdrie, Alberta. He’s exponentially increased his confidence with the puck throughout the season and as far as hockey fans in Portland are concerned, his middle name is Clutch. He is known best around these parts for coming up with key game winning goals in the Winterhawks’ last two playoff seasons. At the combine, he tied with Jonathan Racine for first on the dreaded Wingate Cycle Ergometer, which measures how hard a player can go in a 30-second shift. If you’ve ever seen Ty come off the bench and into the game, you know he comes out at full speed, almost like he’s sprinting on a track. Of course he was first on the dreaded test. But behind the clutch goals and powerhouse skater is a very humble person. He and Sven both went on a monster scoring streak early in the season. When I asked him point blank what it was like to be awesome, it took me three questions before he realized I was talking about him and not his teammates. And even then, he credited his linemates with helping him to be a better player. Talent means nothing if you don’t work hard to make the most of it and you don’t temper it with some discipline and humility. Ty is all of the above. Not because his coaches tell him to or because he read it in a book, but because it’s who he is. The Airdrie Echo reports that he stayed in Toronto this past week to meet with the Leafs. If that were to come to fruition on draft day, then may I suggest Leafs fans take a moment to rejoice. Because I assure you, something very wickedly good is coming your way.
Missing but worth noting: Defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon did not participate in fitness tests due to an injury, and for most of the season he quietly worked his way up to a successful season. But I would be remiss if I didn’t alert all y’all to keep an eye out for him. I’ve only met Tyler a handful of times this season, but I do know that he upped his game during playoffs, scoring Portland’s one and only goal in Game 5 of the WHL finals. It happened early and set a good tone—at least for a while—in what would turn out to be the Winterhawks’ last game of the season. Keep an eye out on draft day. Tyler isn’t quite as highly ranked as his teammates, but a team that misses the chance to draft him is missing out, period.
And so, the math adds up: I’m somewhat notorious for being more interested in things that can’t be measured by math, like a player’s character, fortitude, honesty, respectfulness and humility. But the combine results have shown me that sometimes they are one and the same. You can tell by someone’s handshake who they are and in the case of young men like the Portland Winterhawks, who they will be. You can see the results of their work ethic and their quiet, steady improvement over the season. And sometimes, they can even predict the NHL’s future. If your NHL team is smart enough to snatch up the boys who got their start in Portland, then it will be a very bright future indeed.
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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