Above the Glass
by Samantha on 03/07/12 at 12:52 AM ET
With the WHL regular season nearing its end later this month and the NHL Entry Draft drawing ever closer, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at a few of the draft-eligible Portland Winterhawks who are on the verge of breaking out. One of my favorites is Taylor Leier, an 18-year-old left winger from Saskatoon who significantly increased the value of his draft stock this past weekend when he scored the game winning and empty net insurance goals in a game against the Tri-City Americans, with whom the Winterhawks are in a heated race for first place in the WHL’s U.S. Division. When he’s not busy improving his draft chances, Taylor is getting ready to play on Canada’s U-18 ball hockey team in the World Championships this June. Which is why now would also be a good time to tune into Taylor’s frequency; because it’s about to get very loud.
Like I said, he’s pretty good with saving the day: Last Friday, Taylor came in and saved the game with the game winning goal three minutes into the third period and sealed the deal with the empty net insurance marker when the Tri-City Americans pulled superstar goalie Ty Rimmer for the extra attacker. The win put the Winterhawks on top of the WHL standings. One of the cool things about the Portland Winterhawks is that when they show the focus, discipline and talent to be top line players, rookies here are rewarded with ice time and accordingly, the chance to be an impact player for the team. Like, ya’ know, in huge playoff-style games against division rivals.
He thinks outside the icebox: In the off season, Taylor spends time with his family at their cottage and competing in ball hockey, the latter of which is going to take him to the World Championships in the Czech Republic this June, By which time I would predict he will have proven to be a a suprise pick at the 2012 Entry Draft. After not appearing on the early Central Scouting rankings, Taylor has slowly and steadily played his way onto the midterm rankings, where he is currently ranked 117th among North American Skaters. He picked up speed in February, when he had a little five game scoring streak going, which was broken only by one game and restarted again in two huge games against Kamloops and the aforementioned Tri-Cities showdown. If he keeps going at his current pace, I’d look for Taylor’s name a little higher up on the list when the final rankings are released.
He is what he bowls: Once a month during the regular season, the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club hosts an event in which fans can bowl with and meet the players. If Taylor’s appearance at one of these events was any indication, then he’s clearly got natural scoring and leadership abilities. Normally it’s fans who do the asking about the players, but he started our conversation with “so, where do y’all live?” He lives out towards the Beaverton area, which might explain why he got slightly lost en route to Grand Central Bowl—which is on the other side of the Willamette River—with four of the other players in his car. But he does know how to get to the opponent’s net. His scoring is on the upswing and if his bowling technique is any sign, the Winterhawks’ future is in good hands: almost all of his shots with our team were strikes.
He’s not afraid to drop the mitts: I always find it ironic and hilarious that some of the nicest, quietest players on the Winterhawks roster are also the ones who have no compunction whatsoever about dropping the mitts and chirping away. Taylor is among them. He’s very quiet, thoughtful, polite and direct in person, but I would not want to run into him in a dark alley, because he’s all business in a fight too. If you drop the mitts on Taylor or challenge him to a scrap, you better come ready, because he’s not the least bit afraid to get into it.
He’s pretty handy with a soundbite: One thing you can tell about Taylor right away is that he thinks before he speaks and he cares about how he answers your questions. Like when I posed a fan’s question to him about “with a long season, how do you manage to stay focused from game to game?” And he answered “I have the mentality that hockey is the most important thing in my life and being successful at it is what I want more than anything.” It’s not Shakespeare to be sure, and we all know from living life that saying such things is easier said than done. But the cool thing about Taylor is that you can tell that he didn’t just say it. He meant it and he lives it, as evidence by the fact that even in the off season he’s playing some form of hockey.
Tune in, because it might get loud: From the handful of times that I’ve talked to Taylor, I can tell you that he’s very soft spoken, a little bit quirky, unfailingly polite, direct and very conscientious in thinking about his answers and giving you something memorable. Plus, his big hobby is ball hockey, not golf; which means double bonus points in my book for the boy from Saskatoon. In short, behind the great player (and bowler) is a great kid. I believe the Twitter hashtag for Taylor would be #gem. If you haven’t already done so, make note and stay tuned; because this one’s worth watching.
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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