Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

“They’re like the regular season, only better”

The WHL is knee deep in the playoffs, where the Portland Winterhawks will commence a third straight run at the Western Conference Championship beginning April 19.  Elsewhere, it will be a Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Hitmen and the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Eastern Conference title. That headline is what I recently overheard a parent telling his child about how the playoffs are different from the regular season. With NHL playoff berths also being clinched, it got me to thinking; why are playoffs so much better than the regular season?

You go big or you go home.  What transpires between the Winterhawks and the Kamloops Blazers between April 19 and April 30 (the date of Game 7 if it’s needed) is still unwritten, but one thing is certain: only one team will prevail to face the Eastern Conference Champion for the WHL title. Last year,  the Winterhawks prevailed in a Game 7 quarterfinal win over the Kamloops Blazers after the latter roared back from a three game deficit to push the series to the brink. Both teams got to this year's finals by sweeping their opponents in the semifinals. Here in the Western sector of the Dub, things are about to get very interesting. The Winterhawks’ battle for a third straight Western Conference Championship reminds us that every day of our lives should really be lived the way playoffs are played; out loud, in your face and without regret.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” Star Wars fans will recognize this one; it’s as true of playoffs as it is of sci-fi movies. Last year, the Kamloops Blazers pulled a Yoda and lifted their downed spaceship out of a swamp when they denied the Winterhawks a sweep and pushed the series to Game 7. They believed in themselves and they capitalized on their last chance to stay in the series. That’s why both teams are dangerous; they both know they can survive. This year's equally matched contest begs the question; what will it take to win? It usually helps if you bring a few of these:

Everybody’s a hero. By now, even casual hockey fans have heard of the Winterhawks’ top line (Ty Rattie, Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic) and their feats of derring do. But there’s another line to watch and their names are Oliver Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo and Taylor Leier. Back in February, they led an 8-3 win over the Spokane Chiefs by doing this:

Oliver Bjorkstrand; 4 goals, one assist.
Taylor Leier; two goals, four assists.
Chase De Leo; five assists.

They scored a total of 16 points, and the game marked career highs for all three players. Two of Oliver's goals were scored on the power play in the second period, about five minutes apart. Taylor and Oliver both scored their 24th and 25th goals. It was the first six point night for a Winterhawk since Chad Wolkowski did it on December 1, 2002. It was the first time a player nabbed five assists since Todd Robinson did so on January 17, 1997. It was Oliver's second hat trick and the fourth four-goal game by a Winterhawk this season. In playoffs thus far, this line has combined for 35 points. For another glimpse of what they might do in the Western Conference Finals, look at what they did on November 11, in a 3-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers: Oliver Bjorkstrand, 2 goals. Taylor Leier, one goal. Chase De Leo, two assists, both on Oliver’s goals. Heroes are born every year during playoffs; this year, they hail from Canada (Taylor), California (Chase) and Denmark (Bjorkstrand). If I were Kamloops, this is the line I’d be very, very afraid of. 

You never forget what you learn. The playoffs only come once a year, but the lessons learned stay with us forever. What can we learn from the Winterhawks’ performances in the past four playoff seasons?

Ty Rattie’s middle name is clutch. Ty cemented his place in Winterhawks history when he scored the game winning goal against the Spokane Chiefs in OT to propel the team into the second round of the 2010 playoffs. Flash forward to Game 1 of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals, where Ty scored a natural hat trick in the third period. He score two of those goals on a power play while the Spokane Chiefs were serving time for one of the 17 infractions and 50 penalty minutes they racked up over the course of the game. Completing the hat trick also means that Ty Rattie is now the franchise leader in playoff points. It also made him the first Portland Winterhawk to score three goals in one period on home ice. Imagine what he’ll do when the St. Louis Blues put him to work earning that entry level contract he signed last summer.

Three games do not equal a sweep. It’s like life; just when things fall into place and everything seems to be going so well and nothing can go wrong, something comes along to balance it out and remind us that nothing is that easy.

Playoffs are like the regular season, only better. In fact, they’re better than a lot of things in life. Playoffs are like a Hockey New Year, an annual reminder that every day of our lives should be lived with the same honesty, beauty and intensity of playoff hockey. Here in Portland, the New Year starts on Friday. First up on the list of resolutions: Do our part to help the Winterhawks secure a third Western Conference title. Second: Live life every day with the same commitment, perseverance, faith and physical fitness that players bring to the playoffs, because anything less simply will not do.

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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