Above the Glass
Saturday night in Seattle reached playoff-like levels, as the Portland Winterhawks had the chance to extend their already ridiculous winning streak to 22, tying the record for most consecutive wins in a single season (previously set by the Estevan Bruins in 1967-1968) and clinching the U.S. Division title. For fans in the Rose City, it held the promise of an epic, history-making night that would go down in the record books. The Seattle Thunderbirds and their goaltender, however, had other ideas. And just like that, on a sold out Saturday night, the glorious winning streak that began nearly two months ago came to an end with a 4-1 loss to the T-Birds. Enter Winterhawks Captain and Flyers prospect Taylor Leier, who Tweeted how proud he is of the team for racking up the second best winning streak in WHL history. Leave it to a natural-born leader like Taylor to remind us all of how much the team has accomplished and more importantly, where will they go from here? They missed tying the league record by a hair, but the Winterhawks far surpassed their own franchise record of 15 consecutive wins, a record held since the 1997-1998 Memorial Cup season. What can one take away from such a glorious run? For me it means admitting that after a lifetime of living by the motto “it’s how you play the game that matters” there might actually be some truth to the expression” winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
We are heading down the stretch toward playoffs in the WHL, with an average of 18 games to go in the regular season. The talent fueling the push to the playoffs was recently on display at the CHL Top Prospects Game and World Junior Tournament and they are showing no signs of relenting now that they are back. Some of the best young talent in the league, however, flies under the radar. Whether they are making headlines or quietly building their draft stock on the third line, it’s safe to say that the future of the NHL is secure.
Minnesota Wild prospect Mathew Dumba has been returned to the WHL, where he will join the Portland Winterhawks for the remainder of the season as the result of a trade with the Red Deer Rebels. The general consensus among industry experts is that this is the best place for him right now. Portland seconds that; with the loss of major talent this season that included Taylor Peters, Seth Jones, Captain Troy Rutkowski, Tyler Wotherspoon and goalie Mac Carruth, reinforcements are most welcome in the Rose City. We look forward to returning the favor by ensuring that Dumba’s stint in Portland will be time well spent.
I had noble ambitions for this holiday season, like exercise, sleep, eating from the four food groups and finally starting the first draft of my self-published novel. All of which would have happened, until I tuned into the annual holiday showing of all three Lord of the Rings movies on TNT (Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King) and the World Juniors on the NHL Network. And that is how I came to realize that Peter Jackson’s epics and hockey have a lot in common.
One of my holiday traditions is watching the 24-hour marathon of "A Christmas Story," a timeless classic that has stood the test of time since it was originally released in theaters 30 years ago. After 24 hours of eating, drinking and watching this nostalgic film based on author Jean Shepherd’s childhood, I’ve come to realize that its plot, characters and dialogue are a lot like hockey.
You’d think buying tickets to a Pearl Jam show would be a no-brainer for fans like me. That is, if you don’t also have a hockey game competing for your precious free time. In this case, the band rolls through town the same night the Portland Winterhawks are playing the Spokane Chiefs in an away game. Given that Pearl Jam doesn’t come to town every day, they won the war. But this momentary dilemma in my social calendar made me realize that this iconic band and hockey fans have a lot in common.
One week after it took place, I’m still recovering from a corporate retreat at a local hotel, where you’re supposed to team build, bond and set goals for the coming year. What you also end up doing is sitting on your ass for eight hours in a row, eating really bad food, multi-tasking all the work you’re missing and drinking mediocre coffee.* “Team norms” are also typically determined in these meetings. All of which got me to thinking how much better the corporate world would be if it embraced hockey’s team norms.
2014 draft prospect Chase De Leo is one of Portland’s rising superstars and the Winterhawks' resident ladies’ man. More impressive than his particular brand of charm is his particular brand of racking up points. The Portland Winterhawks just returned from a perfect five game road trip that propelled them into first place in the U.S. Division and Western Conference. Chase earned points in all five games, two of which were multi-goal games for him. This late Bantam Draft pick has turned out to be a great pick for the Winterhawks. If recent history is any indication, he’ll also turn out to be a valuable NHL draft pick in June.
In late September, the Tri-City Americans humiliated the Portland Winterhawks with a 6-2 defeat in Portland. Caused by an epic lapse in the Winterhawks' defense and their general lack of interest in showing up for the game, it was painful to watch right from the start. After the game, Columbus Blue Jackets' prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand told me "we can't lose like that." Honoring his word, four nights later he racked up four goals, one assist and the first star of the night in 10-4 rout of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Flash forward to the week of October 14, where the Winterhawks have redeemed that early loss with two wins against the Americans. On Wednesday, goalie Brendan Burke earned first star of the night in a 4-1 home win over the Ams. On Saturday night, the Winterhawks doubled down and kicked off a weeklong road trip with an 8-1 devastation of the Americans. It's safe to say the team has atoned for its early season sins. To the boys, it's two points and a celebratory dinner at Applebee's or if they are on the road, a movie on the bus. But for fans, the team's redemption is about so much more than just the game.
I felt guilty this week when I turned on the TV to watch the regular season hype on the NHL Network instead of the gory details of the government shutdown on CNN. How dare I get excited about hockey’s return when Americans have been so totally screwed by our own government? Couple that with the renewed discussion over fighting and it got me to thinking; why do I love a sport that can be downright ugly and why do I put hockey first above all else? After all, it’s just a game right?
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