Friday, June 25, 2010

I Think It's Safe to Say the Portland Winterhawks' Turnaround is Complete.

The distraction: The 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

YOU. GO. BOYS: I don't know diddly about numbers, but I can count to five. The fourth overall pick was Portland Winterhawk Ryan Johansen, who will go to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The fifth was Hawks winger Nino Niederreiter, who is bound for the New York Islanders. It also makes Nino, as expected, the highest drafted Swiss player in the history of the NHL. It also means the the Blue Jackets now have two Winterhawks in their system: 2010 Winterhawk MVP Chris Francis just signed a contract with the Springfield Falcons, the Blue Jackets' AHL Affiliate.

Flame on: The blog noted that Ryan's selection sent many a mock draft crashing in flames. That's what you get for picking the obvious choices, little experts. Live and learn.

And I certainly don't need to count to 14: When he was interviewed by the Oregonian on the eve of the draft, Nino declared that if he went higher than 14th, he'd be the happiest guy on earth. I think the only question now is what color Fiat does he want?

When in doubt, take the chance: In Feburary, on a whim, I went to the Booster Club pizza thingy, figuring I'd sit quietly in the back and maybe meet a few of the players casually. Ryan was one of them. Now, I also never win contests, prizes, raffles, etc. Ever. Not even the scratch-it lottery cards. Zip. But on this night, I almost picked one set of tickets, and in an instant said "no. This one looks better." No clue why I suddenly changed my mind, but I did. The winning number belonged to Ryan. He was so eager to meet a fan, he said "ask me anything." And he gushed the same as the rest of us about Nino. So I asked him anything: Why do hockey players love golf? It's outdoors and it's a way to get away and not think about hockey. Why would you ice the puck? Scoring opportunity. Does Troy drive Nino around in a Town Car, since Nino can't drive yet? No. Nino's getting his license tomorrow. I think I might have horrified him, though, when I regaled him with my tale of being at a Rangers game where it got heated between two guys and one of them pulled a knife. It all ended with New York's finest hauling them outta there, but note to self: don't tell teenage boys from little towns in Canada about your big city adventures. And I forgot my camera, so I really have no proof except Ryan's autograph. But still, from a split second came the chance of a lifetime.

And it's even more exciting when you think about this: A year ago, Ryan risked everything by giving up a lucrative college scholarship to Northeastern to come to our city with only a promise from Mike Johnston and no proof that it would pay off. And Nino took an even bigger chance: when he came here last fall, he didn't speak English, he couldn't drive and he hadn't finished high school.

Like I said: The biggest risk is not taking one at all. Sometimes the hardest choice you'll make in life turns out to be the right one. And the choice you make in an instant can change your life. Or at least score the autograph of the fourth round draft pick in the NHL 2010 Entry Draft.

And it's a little sad: As elated as Portland is, Ryan and Nino's high draft picks mean they go right into the NHL this fall. So, the shooting star that is the Ross-Johansen-Niederreiter line may indeed have been fleeting. But it was beautiful while it lasted. And as happy as I am for them, I do hope the NHL doesn't need them right away. Because these past 8 months weren't nearly long enough to enjoy it. We're not quite done enjoying the pleasure of their company, if you don't mind.

Go ahead, laugh: I will treasure my Nino bobblehead. You can laugh all you want to. It's value just tripled. Get your own, 'cause mine's not for sale. Not ever.
But wait, there's more: On tap tomorrow, four more Winterhawks are in the running for rounds 2 - 7. Possibly more, since word is scouts are also interested in Riley Boychuk and Taylor Peters. Get ready Portland, there's more to come.

Special shout out to the Aronsons: I am proud to say that among the readers of this blog are Portland Winterhawk Taylor Aronson's family. It is my pleasure and my honor to keep all y'all entertained. I have already laid down money with friends that Taylor will go higher than expected. I'm personally in for somewhere between 35 to 50. If I lose, I don't care. And if I win, the beer's on me the next time you blow through town.

Next up: Results of the NHL Draft, rounds 2 - 7.

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