Friday, March 19, 2010

They Will Join Us or Die, Master

Ok, so I'm not really gonna' kill anyone, but: You really should join us if you can. Tomorrow, March 20, 7 pm, Rose Garden. It's the first time the Portland Wintherhawks are in the playoffs in four years. It's Saturday and the weather is phenomenal. Why would you want to be anywhere else?

And if you are going to be there: Repeat after me. Spokane Chiefs are T.O.A.S.T. With extra-crunchy peanut butter. Period. End of story.

As I warned, this is a full-on, WHL/Portland Winterhawks pre-playoff hype-o-rama: I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I have a pretty good idea and it involves cooking Spokane to a crisp. And I also know where we've been. It was only 7 months ago we met Seattle in the pre-season, in a nearly dead arena on a Saturday night. Here's the rewind, in case you missed it (aka top 10 great moments this season):

10. Going to the first pre-season game. And knowing something big was coming.

9. Trekking to Seattle on the Booster Club bus trip to Seattle to lay siege to the Thunderbirds from the rafters.

8. The victory over Tri-Cities on Feb. 10 that put us in the playoffs.

7. Being in the audience at the Rose Garden on Jan. 30 for a 10,000+ sellout against Seattle.

6. Meeting the future of the NHL in Ryan Johansen at the Booster Club pizzy thingy.

5. Ian Curtis backstopping us to a long-awaited victory over the Vancouver Giants on January 24.

4. Brett Ponich pounding Andy Blanke on Dec. 18, complete with a salute to us afterwards. Vintage Winterhawks for years to come. You can check it out on Just search Brett and Andy. You'll see what I mean.

3. Ian Curtis shutting out Seattle on New Year's Eve. I've been to Times Square, London and Montreal on New Year's Eve. But nothing rivals a good shutout and skating afterwards with the future of the NHL.

2. Spencer Bennett scoring the first goal to send bears flying at the 2009 Teddy Bear Toss. I forget who it was, maybe Ryan?, who hit one of the bears that got stuck in the netting and the announcer followed it with "correction, six-thousand, one-hundred twenty-ONE bears." I might be off a little on the number, but I'll never forget that little bear coming loose from the netting, and thinking about where it might end up when it got distributed to the community.

1. Chris Francis scoring the game tying goal against Seattle in a face-off at the Dash for Cash, with 2 seconds left, after Mike Johnston got the referee to put an extra second or so back on the clock. I think that will officially be the last time people leave a game thinking it's over AND lost. That was a hat trick for Chris and he also went on to score the game-winning goal in a shootout. Bonus moment: Nino Niederreiter pulling a Chris Francis of his own with the game-tying and game winning goals for Switzerland against Russia in the world juniors, the first time they had ever beaten Russia.

So, even if you aren't coming tomorrow: Know this...tomorrow night, a gaggle of 16 - 20 year old boys who gave up a normal adolescence (if there is such a thing), their hometown friends, their families and pretty much everything else will begin the path to the Memorial Cup. Backing them in the audience will be everyone from elementary school children in the Junior Hawks program, to families, to retired couples to the player's parents and 40-something bloggers who have faith that they will show us why.

As for me: I haven't been this excited about a sporting event since the night I saw the Rangers raise the banner for their 1994 Stanley Cup. And, I have prime Grade A seats about midway up above the player's benches. Maybe we don't have experience, and it will take more than wanting it or youthful exuberence to make it to the Memorial Cup. But we are here, right now, and we are in. And the most exciting part about tomorrow night? As good as it's going to be, the best is yet to come. Game on.

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