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Above the Glass

To be lucky or to be good, that is the question

Last weekend, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot let one ripper of a shot fly into the Kelowna Rockets’ net, giving the Portland Winterhawks a 1-0 win and Cam Lanigan his first WHL career shutout. But it’s important to note that the game winning goal happened late in the third period, after two periods of missed opportunities had flown by; which may be why Derrick responded to my declaration of “that was the best goal ever” with “it was the luckiest goal ever.” He had a point; the luck that guided that perfect shot into the net disappeared the next night when the Rockets won 4-3 in the final 59 seconds of the game. Which got me to thinking; in hockey, is it better to be lucky or good?

“We had gone to some trouble to construct a court with deceptive slopes and shallow hollows to baffle visitors, and had roughened the playing surface so that our luck would have a sporting chance against superior skill.” Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence

You can take it with you. Being good is portable, as long as you remember to take discipline, focus, and a solid work ethic with you. Sven Bartschi is the best example of this; he is known just as well around these parts for his unreal work ethic as he is for being such a special player. And he works twice as hard in the wake of losing games; nothing stops him. Case in point; on game nights that follow a losing game, if you see him off stick handling the puck to death in warm ups like no one else is around, get ready for a hat trick or something like it. It never fails. Sven has been very lucky and very good in his career – he had a good junior team that developed him the right way and he didn’t sustain so many injuries that he’s limping into the minor leagues on half of his full potential. But alas, not everyone has both in their favor. Which brings me to this:

Luck is a cruel mistress. It doesn’t always come as a package deal with talent. In junior, you see many a good player drafted by good teams who start out at 15 or 16 with a boatload of potential that is never fully realized. Injuries, trades, teams that don’t develop a player and plain old bad luck can stifle many a young player’s career. One of my personal favorite goalies to pass through Portland was Ian Curtis. Ian was drafted 23rd overall in the 2005 Bantam Draft by the Swift Current Broncos, only four spots after future Calder winner Tyler Myers and way before Jordan Eberle, who was drafted 126th overall by the Regina Pats. Ian was the first goalie picked in that draft, so you’d think he was the next big thing, right? If not for bad luck, he probably would have been. But instead, Ian got traded from one team to another and had pretty much given up on hockey when Mike Johnston and the Portland Winterhawks came calling. He would achieve many great moments while here: being CHL Goalie of the Week multiple times, a New Year’s Eve shutout and backstopping the Hawks to a long overdue victory against mortal enemies the Tri-City Americans. But Ian’s hockey career ended early in the 2010 – 2011 season when he was waived by the Winterhawks. Opting for life and school instead of hockey, I hear tell he’s doing well and making the most of his WHL scholarship  at the University of Northern British Columbia. Ian Curtis was a good goalie and highly loved player here in Portland who just had bad luck in his junior hockey career.  And I truly hope life is kinder to him than hockey was. Which is also why I believe this, about life and hockey:

Bad luck happens to good players. Last night, Ty Rattie finally scored his first goal of the season. Signed by the St. Louis Blues, the former roommate and linemate of Sven Bartschi rarely plays a game without scoring. We have simply come to expect Rat Tricks from him on a regular basis. But luck was not with him in the first few games of the season and even Ty had clearly had enough of that: last weekend, he got so audibly frustrated with a missed scoring chance you could hear him yell the f word loud and clear up in the stands. It’s certainly not the first time a hockey player has done so, but it’s the first time I’ve ever heard it yelled that loudly and that forcefully by that particular player. Alas his goal last night wasn’t lucky enough for the Hawks to win the game; they fell to the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-2.  The good news is that Ty’s brief scoring slump is probably over. But his slow start to the season is proof of something players have told me time and again:

“It’s better to be lucky than good." That one came from Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect Mac Carruth, a very good goalie who replied to a question about a highlight-reel sliding save he made a while back. It’s the same with Derrick’s winner.  Or just peruse Twitter, where WHL Player of the Week Nic Petan congratulated his brother on a hat trick in his first college game, adding the hashtag #givemebacksomeoftheluck. They are just a few of the Winterhawks’ best players, and they all firmly believe in luck over their own considerable talent.  That brings me to the moral of the story: 

To be lucky or to be good, that is the question. Most great things happen on the ice because good and good fortune collide at the perfect moment. But alas, in hockey and life, it’s rare that they do. In the end, if I had to choose, I’d choose luck; without it, good doesn’t do much good at all.  Besides, who am I to argue with the NHL’s future? If it works for them, it works for me.

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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