Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Tickets, Please

After a blockbuster finish to Round 2 of the WHL Playoffs, the final four teams have punched their tickets to the Eastern and Western Conference finals. In Brandon, the Calgary Hitmen will face the Brandon Wheat Kings. Here in the Western Conference, we are gearing up for a second consecutive showdown between the Portland Winterhawks and the Kelowna Rockets.  It makes the second round look like mere child’s play compared to what’s on tap for the coming week.

Tick tock:  It took the Hitmen a double overtime in Game 5 to eliminate the Medicine Hat Tigers from the playoffs. Here in the Rose City, the Portland Winterhawks also had their hands full with a late-game surge from the Everett Silvertips. Game 3 was very nearly a shutout for Goalie Adin Hill as of the six minute mark of the third period, at which point the Winterhawks held a 5-0 lead over the Silvertips. That’s when the dudes next to me thought it would be a good time to declare how awesome it would be if the Hawks got the you-know-what that self-respecting hockey fans NEVER say out loud. And with that, one of the most legendary superstitions in hockey came true: the Everett Silvertips promptly scored three goals in under two minutes. It wasn’t enough to overcome the 5-0 gap and the Winterhawks took a 2-1 lead over the Silvertips heading into Friday’s game. It took the Winterhawks only one overtime on Friday to increase the series lead to 3-1, pushing Everett to the brink.  On Sunday, the Winterhawks eliminated them from the playoffs and advanced to their fifth straight Western Conference final.

Over the Hill: Despite the above mentioned party poopers, Adin’s performance in Round 2 was still strong enough for the WHL to nominate him for the Vaughn Goaltender of the week. He recorded three wins last week, posting a 1.94 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Extra warm and fuzzy kitten bonus points for giving his signed game stick to the little boy who presented him with the first star of the night in Game 4. 

Welcome to the future: Hello Detroit, meet Dominic Turgeon, the hardest working man in the WHL Playoffs. Known best as a defensive forward, Dominic is also pretty handy with a wrap-around curl and scoring the right goal and just the right time. Like the 5th goal in Thursday’s game that put more distance between the Hawks and the Silvertips and put the temporary comeback out of reach. Off the ice, Dominic recently won the team's annual Sportsmanship & Ability Award for the second year in a row. As we say on Twitter, #keeper. 

Rocket fuel: Leon Draisaitl was the name on everyone’s lips when he was acquired at the trade deadline and he has been truth in advertising. But for my money, the real secret weapon on Kelowna's roster is Josh Morrissey. He’s been injured lately, but he appears to be back with a capital B: on Monday, Morrissey was name the WHL Player of the Week for the week ending April 19th, 2015. On Friday, April 17, Morrissey recorded five points (2G, 3A) to lead the Rockets to a 7-3 victory in Game 5 and earn first star honors. The win clinched the series for the Rockets and allowed them to advance to the 2015 Western Conference Final, where they will face the Winterhawks for the second consecutive year. Last time the two teams met, the Winterhawks prevailed over the Rockets. But it’s important to remember that Mike Johnston was still the head coach of the team, Flyers prospect Taylor Leier was still Captain and many of the top-flight players who have since departed were still on the roster. It’s a whole new hockey game this year, where the Kelowna Rockets are widely considered to be the odds-on favorite for the Western Conference title. This is probably a good time to point out another universal truth about the Winterhawks: adversity is their middle name.

#allin:  This week, the Winterhawks head to Kelowna as the underdog; they just missed capturing the U.S. Division title, they don’t have home ice advantage and they will have to travel to play the Kelowna Rockets, who will be better rested and refreshed. A lot of people around these parts thought the Winterhawks wouldn’t make it this far, but they did. And they are in the record books. The Winterhawks' fifth straight appearance in the conference finals ties them for the second longest streak in the WHL history. What seemed impossible at the start of the season has become real. The #driveforfive is almost complete. Waiting at the other end of a long bus ride is a team that very few opponents have been able to stop this season. The odds are daunting and they are not necessarily in the Winterhawks' favor. But that's what makes these blissful days of calm before the storm so special: before the first puck drops, anything is possible. Shortly after the Winterhawks eliminated Everett, Texas Stars forward and former Winterhawk Taylor Peters Tweeted "We're Back. #EvilEmpire." The Evil Empire is how some opponents still refer to the team; it started in 2012, when the Winterhawks were sanctioned for a variety of player violations. People's hatred continued through the season, when the Winterhawks responded by making it all the way to the Memorial Cup final for the first time in 15 years. Taylor's declaration is pretty much what it feels like to be a Winterhawks fan right now. The coming week is about more than the trophy and more than hockey. It is the chance to believe in the impossible and have faith in something bigger than ourselves. Tthe Winterhawks have already achieved victory; they have given us hope. And if they want to keep the Western Conference trophy in Portland while they're at it, we're good with that too.   

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alwaysaurie's avatar

Thanks, Samatha.

Real worried by Kelowna.

I saw they started their playoffs with 3 consecutive SOs in their first 3 games on home ice (and also saw that they’ve only lost 1 game in the first 2 series), they look like the prohibitive favorite.

Kinda weird feeling, the Winterhawks being big underdogs, but as the year has wore on they just keep getting better and better… and I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

Stealing Game 1 would be nice.

Posted by alwaysaurie on 04/23/15 at 05:50 PM ET

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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