Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: We’re All On the Same Team

This weekend, the junior hockey world headlines were dominated by two very different but significant events: the unveiling of the Swift Current Broncos Memorial and the World Junior Championship. We also received an update that former WHL player Craig Cunningham's health has improved as he starts down the long road to recovery. It's all a good reminder that at the end of the day, we're all on same team. 

"What we keep in memory is ours...unchanged forever." December 30, 2016 marked the 30th anniversary of a bus crash that claimed the lives of four Swift Current Broncos players. I never had the privilege of meeting Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Brent Ruff or Chris Mantyka. When the crash happened, I barely knew who the Swift Current Broncos were. I had moved to Portland in 1985 and had only just recently become a Portland Winterhawks fan. The Broncos were just an opponent, like any other team. At 18, I was about the same age as those players. Among the breakout stars on that 1986 - 1987 team was Joe Sakic, who would go on to win the Player of the Year trophy twice. It was renamed the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy. The 2015 recipient of that award was former Portland Winterhawk Oliver Bjorkstrand.

A full 30 years has passed since the crash. Had they survived, the Four Broncos would be about my age today. If they had gone on to play in the NHL, they would be retired by now. Maybe a few would be Stanley Cup Champions by now. It would be impossible to forget them today. Here in the Dub and beyond, their memory is still alive and always will be. Local Swift Current resident Bill Lee pushed to have a memorial built at or near the crash site. After several attempts and several decades, he secured the necessary funding. On Friday, a permanent memorial was finally unveiled to the public. Those four players could have been Winterhawks. They could have been on my team. Every single time the Winterhawks board a bus for one of their long road trips into Canada, I stop whatever I'm doing and silently wish them safe travels to and from their destination. And I think of Kresse, Kruger, Ruff and Mantyka and the lives they never got to lead. The Four Broncos live in the memories of all fans and players across the WHL and beyond...always.  

In other news...Two months ago, the Ottawa Senators shut out the Edmonton Oilers in a 2-0 win that marked Craig Anderson's first start since taking a leave of absence to be with his wife, who had been diagnosed with cancer. The game was played in Edmonton, where Oilers fans responded by giving Anderson a standing ovation when he was announced as the first star of the game. More love and support followed on social media. If anyone ever asks me why I'm a hockey fan, I present to them Exhibit A...hockey fans are a family.  

Meanwhile in Montreal...Team USA defeated Team Switzerland in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championship. Russia defeated Denmark in a 4-0 shutout, setting up a showdown between the U.S. and Russia. The Winterhawks were represented in the quarterfinals by Caleb Jones and rising Danish star Joachim Blichfeld. Among the other WHL names on display are Seattle Thunderbirds forward Mathew Barzal, Kamloops Blazers goalie Connor Ingram, Everett Silvertips goalie Carter Hart, Tips defenseman Noah Juulsen and Kelowna Rockets center Dillon Dube. Up and coming talent that I'd look for next year include Winterhawks forward Cody Glass (Canada), Winterhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju (Finland) and Regina Pats center Sam Steel (Canada). 

#CunnyCan. Craig Cunningham had an impressive WHL career before he moved up to the NHL. He was a rookie in 2007 when the Vancouver Giants won the Memorial Cup. Craig helped lead the Vancouver Giants into the 2010 playoffs, during which he was named WHL Player of the Week twice. The second honor was awarded for three goals and three assists in the first two games of the second round, where the Giants ultimately eliminated the Portland Winterhawks in six games. I can still remember watching the Giants celebrate while our boys left the ice.  Another thing I remember: Craig not gloating the way some young players do. He was respectful to the Winterhawks' players and coaches right to the end of the handshake line. At the end of that season, Craig was nominated for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy, but he lost it to Eastern Conference nominee Jordan Eberle. 

On December 28, 2010, Craig was traded to the Portland Winterhawks in a headline-making trade that sent Spencer Bennett, Teal Burns and two top draft picks to the Giants. Three nights later, he scored a hat trick in the Winterhawks' annual New Year's Eve game. The goal of the trade was to bolster the Winterhawks' chances at a deep playoff run and possible championship. In the spring of 2011, the team won the first of what would become four consecutive WHL Western Conference titles. 2010 - 2011 was my first season blogging about the Winterhawks. I will tell you the same thing pretty much every player and fan knows about Craig: he's a natural leader, wise beyond his years and absolutely one of the best guys you will ever meet in this business. I consider it a great privilege to have met all the players who've passed through Portland, especially Craig. Even if he hadn't played here, my feelings would be the same. Hockey is a small world and like I said, at the end of the day, we're all on the same team. 

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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

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