Thursday, April 15, 2010

Our Coach Turned Back Into a Pumpkin Before Midnight, But It Was Still A Great Party

The game: Portland Winterhawks vs. Vancouver Giants (WHL Playoffs, Round 2, Game 6).

Why I'm still writing about it: Because the 2009 - 2010 season was the first, last and only year for THIS team. The turnaround team. The team that staged the biggest one-year turnaround in Winterhawks' franchise history. The fairy tale team we will always remember for showing us it is time to believe again. And whose story ended a little too early when we lost to Vancouver in Game 6 on home ice.

Why you should pay attention to the Winterhawks even if you're not interested in junior hockey: Because eight of our players (possibly more, if the Rangers have the good sense to snatch up Luke Walker) will potentially be entering the NHL over the next one to three years. Two to watch for next season: Winterhawks Captain Brett Ponich (St. Louis Blues) and Stefan Schneider (Vancouver Canucks). And one who is my personal bet for entering the NHL early: Ryan Johansen. Anaheim Ducks prospect Luca Sbisa is likely returning to the Ducks' AHL affiliate or possibly back to the NHL. And definitely look for Nino Niederreiter...if you are not already tuned in to his frequency or Ryan's, I suggest you do so. It's about to get very loud.

Note to self: Sign up for the pay-per-view program so I can watch the Tri-City Americans eat Vancouver for a snack in the Western Conference finals.

This is why I love the playoffs: Montreal just took Washington down in overtime in Game 1. LA and Vancouver are tied at 2 and it's also going to overtime. Pittsburgh lost to Ottawa in Game 1 by one point. Phoenix beat Detroit. It's anyone's game and it's a long way from over. I have a bet with my friend Mike about the first round winners. These are my choices: Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey, Buffalo (East), Chicago, Phoenix, LA, Colorado (West). I know I will lose, but I don't care. I vote with my heart and I stick to my story.

This is why I hate rules: Section 4, Playing Rules. Rule 440, Face-offs.

Could somebody at least use some logic writing these things? 440.b. All face-offs shall be conducted exclusively:

1. At the nine face-off spots or,
2. On two imaginary lines parallel to the side boards and extending from one netural zone face-off spot to the other neutral zone face-off spot.

Excuse me, isn't the definition of exclusive one and only? Not nine and two. This is why I needed a math tutor all through high school.

But wait, I think I might finally get the icing rule: 440.e. Face-offs shall be conducted at the end zone spots of the attacking team:

1. When the puck is iced by the attacking team.
2. After an intential off-side by the attacking team.

If I'm right, these two moves are penalized because basically, they are cop-outs when you want to buy time, change players or avoid playing defense. Lame. Not as lame as diving/embellishment. But definitely lame with a small l.

Morals of the story:

The game: The playoffs seem like a long, slow process when they start, but they aren't. For the teams who are eliminated, they are gone in an instant. For those lucky enough to make a deeper playoff run, you still get to June and wonder what just happened. Like life, it's over far too soon and it's never long enough.

Life: My personal hockey season started with a road trip to Everett for an NHL pre-season game between Tampa Bay and Phoenix. At the time, Wayne Gretzky was still the Coyotes' coach and nobody had really taken notice of Steven Stamkos. The Portland Winterhawks had narrowly survived leaving the city altogether. I'd never heard of Nino. I hadn't met Ryan. I hadn't started this blog.

But here we are in April. I learned all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook, just like I always wanted to. The Winterhawks ended the season on home ice in Round 2 of the playoffs. In between, Nino exploded, Luca went to the Olympics, Ryan bypassed all his draft-eligible teammates to sit pretty at No. 10 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters and I spotted Anze Kopitar wandering around the Memorial Coliseum while he was in town to watch his brother Gasper.

But it just started and it went by way too fast. Ah like life hockey is. So here's the deal: Enjoy the party for as long as you never know when somebody might turn the coach back into a pumpkin.

Next up on 4/17: Section 4, Playing Rules. Rule 442, Procedure for Conducting Face-Offs.

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