Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Postcard from hockey’s future

Greetings from the WHL, where the all NHL-draftee line of Nino Niederreiter-Ryan Johansen-Brad Ross pulled off a humdinger last night by leading the Portland Winterhawks to a 9 - 1 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds. Sure, you’ve heard of them and you’ve seen the little snippets on NHL.com about where they grew up, when they started playing hockey, what scouts think of them, blah, blah, blah. But there’s more to the NHL’s future than their stats, and it’s way more fun.

It’s never too early to get ready for hockey’s future: Well, ok, maybe it is what with the regular season still underway and playoffs and all. But still I felt compelled to get the ball rolling after what just happened here at the Rose Garden. Tonight the Portland Winterhawks pulled off yet another high scoring game, led by a hat trick from Brad Ross, who usually watches much of the game from the penalty box. In fact, several nights ago when he was inches from a clean getaway in the second period, he lost his self-control and paid for it with a 2 minute roughing penalty and a 10 minute misconduct. Which usually leads to somebody being handed their ass by the coaches, which usually leads to things like, ya’ know, getting your second hat trick of the season in less than a month. Gotta hand it to Brad, he doesn’t do anything half way. 

Forget the scouting reports and the stat sheets and the mock drafts. For now: Yes, my little archair GMs I know all that matters, but so do the things that aren’t on a scoresheet. Like these choice bits that’ I’ve gleaned from interviewing them this past season:

Nino Niederreiter: 18 years old, chosen 5th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2010 Entry Draft. He loves bowling so much he bought his own bowling shoes*, his nickname in the locker room is Euro and he is the proprietor of top of the line choice soundbites like “I shoot the puck, the puck go in!”  He is deadly serious about making the New York Islanders’ roster next year, so much so that when I told him New York City is the home of lights out disco bowling and he must try it, he told me “I don’t know, I’m going to be a little busy with hockey.”

Ryan Johansen: 18 years old, chosen 4th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2010 Entry Draft. Shares his birthday with Evgeni Malkin (July 31st). Saw his star and his fame rise when he played on Canada’s World Junior team this year. Save for that pesky little third period in the final, it was otherwise a stellar display of his talent. Oh, and just so you know, here in Portland you’d never know that happened. We regard the players like one of our own here, and we applauded his very shiny prize just like it was gold. Picture this: he once dressed up as a dinosaur for Halloween, and when he wasn’t doing that, according to this mother, he was always all about hockey, all the time. No video games, no toys, no other sports. Zip. Nada. Hockey. 24-7. He loves cliches, but when he puts them down he comes up with very lovely bits like” we didn’t play in the moment tonight.” Or he gets crafty when I ask him what just happened in a losing game with “you tell me, you watched it.” Very crafty. And very smart. No Edmonton, you can’t have him. Get your own.

Brad Ross: 18 years old, chosen 43rd overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2010 Entry Draft. Leads the team in penalty minutes and I’m pretty sure he’s well past his goal of getting 15 fighting majors this year. But underneath it all, according to his father (a retired RCMP officer), “he’s a teddy bear.” Indeed, in person Brad is one of the most polite, direct and honest people you’ll ever meet. And most of those fights are in defense of his teammates. He once dressed up as a pumpkin on Halloween and on game day he likes to take a 2.5 hour nap and play video games. When he stays out of the box and on the breakaways, he dazzles. It’s easy to see why Brian Burke made a move during the draft for the purpose of picking Brad. 

Sven Bartschi: 18 years old, the new Swiss addition to the Portland Winterhawks is a top prospect for the NHL 2011 Entry Draft. He is currently leading all WHL rookies in scoring and I don’t remember the last time he went a game without scoring. His favorite American food, according to roommate Craig Cunningham, is Subway breakfast sandwiches. He doesn’t own his own bowling shoes, preferring instead to go to the movies a lot.* He’s also psychic. He knew that linemate (and fellow prospect) Ty Rattie was going to score the teddy bear goal in our Teddy Bear Toss this year “because I could feel it. This is how it is with big moments like this.” So, he helped out. When the moment came, he told Ty “you have to score right now.” So Ty did as he was instructed. Not to be outdone, Sven likes to busy himself with little hobbies like scoring one-handed breakaway goals. His favorite mispronunciation of his last name is Bart-ski. Mine is Baw-chi. My favorite soundbite: When his parents were in town, he told his mother “tonight I’ll get some points for you.” One, two, three, all together now: Aaaaaawwwwwww.

Note to Winterhawks parents: If you found your way over here and you don’t see your son listed above, have no fear. I’ll get to the rest of them in coming months. This is just to give readers who’ve already heard of the above players a little snippet they may not have heard or seen elsewhere.

*Source: Portland Tribune, February, 2011.

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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