Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Strike Back Against the Off-Season

After five seasons of covering NHL and WHL hockey, there’s one thing I know for sure: I should never be left unsupervised in the off-season. Exhibit A: On the first official weekend of the WHL off-season, I promptly face-planted off a stair and spent the next 12 weeks on injured reserve. The diagnosis was one broken ankle, one ruptured tendon and one sprained ankle. Don’t be jealous now. It also left me with way too much free time to catch up on TV shows I missed during the season. Like one of my personal favorites about to begin its final season tonight: Strike Back (Cinemax, 10 pm).  Naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the two lead characters -- Damien Scott and Michael Stonebridge -- were dropped into the middle of a hockey game instead of a secret military mission. Something tells me they’d come in pretty handy.

And you are? When we first meet Michael Stonebridge in Season One, he’s sent to track down Damien Scott, a dishonorably discharged Delta Force operative who is throwing an illegal fight for money and generally living the life of an outlaw. Michael Stonebridge is all finesse; a smart, strategic soldier who says please and thank you even when he’s interrogating terrorists. Damien Scott, on the other hand, is reckless, loud and unpredictable, and he doesn’t appear to give much of a rip about what he does or who he does it with. They’re like the Odd Couple on steroids. Flash forward four seasons, and they’re more like an old married couple, bickering away in the heat of battle. If they played hockey, they’d probably be a lot like Ryan Johansen and Brad Ross, who famously got into a fight at Winterhawks training camp when they were rookies. Shortly thereafter, Mike Johnston informed them that were going to play on a line together with the team’s hot new import player, Nino Niederreiter. They may have been an odd coupling, but they were also a thing of truly staggering beauty. In the time they played together for the Portland Winterhawks, Brad, Nino and Ryan collected 428 points, 200 goals, 228 assists, one US Division Title and one Western Conference title. Ryan and Nino were ultimately drafted fourth and fifth overall in the 2010 Entry Draft and they remain friends to this day.  Whether it’s the first episode of Strike Back or major junior hockey training camp, the universal truth is the same: the best relationships are often forged in the heat of battle and adversity. 

Diplomacy is overrated. One of my favorite Strike Back scenes happens in last year’s finale, when Scott orders a truck to “freakin’ pull over right now!” Stonebridge tells him to say please, he thinks about it for a second and then tells the truck driver to “please freakin’ pull over!” which of course the driver doesn’t do. The same kind of quasi-diplomacy happens every night on the ice. A good old-fashioned hockey fight doesn’t always start out of nowhere. It’s preceded by at least 10 minutes of chirping, pushing, shoving and f-word laden threats of bodily harm. But when the time for talk is over and it’s reached “ya’ wanna go?” Scott and Stonebridge are your boys. Locked and loaded, fearless and thoroughly uninterested in hugging it out, together they’d make the perfect hockey enforcer.

Stay on mission. In every episode of Strike Back, the game plan goes sideways and the plot revolves around how Scott and Stonebridge are still going to accomplish the mission and get out alive. The ensuing storyline usually involves shooting, fighting, sweating, swearing, taking prisoners, stealing and/or wrecking a car and my personal favorite, dropping out of a helicopter to commandeer a train. When you interview hockey players after a particularly nasty loss, they will almost always tell you that “we got away from our game plan” and never really found their way back. Scott and Stonebridge, however, always find their way back. It’s rarely legal and it’s never exactly what they were ordered to do, but they get ‘er done. If I were the head coach of a hockey team with Section 20 at my disposal and my team was losing, I’d order Scott and Stonebridge to parachute into the middle of the game, grab a hockey stick and lay siege to the attacking zone. Mission accomplished. Game over.

Morals of the story: 1) Don’t leave Sam unchaperoned and/or unsupervised in the off-season. If you ever see me Tweet that I’m getting away from it all on a solo vacation to the boonies, send in Scott and Stonebridge to extract me before it leads to global disaster. That’s an order. 2) If you have cable, check out the final season of Strike Back. Actors Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester have taken seemingly stereotypical characters and turned them into something memorable, fun and always worth watching. 3) Spending three months on injured reserve gives you a new appreciation for a lot of things. Like greater respect and admiration for the real Damien Scotts and Michael Stonebridges who risk their own safety to keep us all safe from harm; the importance of being in good health and at full strength; or simpler matters like being able to walk down a flight of stairs to my seat at the rink. Never take a single moment of life for granted, because it can all be taken from you in an instant. Yes, I really learned all that from Strike Back. That’s my off-season story and I’m sticking to it. There. I said it. Now I feel better.

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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