Opening Week

by Steve, October 5th, 2006

hockeyAh, the long wait is over, and hockey season is upon us in all its glory! Wacky Mommy and I went to the Winter Hawks’ home opener Saturday at the old Memorial Coliseum and got our first look at this year’s young team in action against a real opponent and all the pagentry of opening night. It was resplendant with pratfalls, real live veterans (it’s Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, doncha know), young children in their hockey gear, and the new president mumbling a few words in the dark at center ice before dropping the ceremonial puck. I’m what Scooter calls a “traditional hockey fan” who just wants to get the game going. I don’t give a rip about the smoke and stobe lights and rock music and platitudes about how the new owners are going to return the “Glass Palace” to its former glory.

But anyway, they really try to pump things up for the home opener, which means they introduce the whole team. The team mascot came out before hand and skated around the ice to pump up the crowd, while trying to avoid the rug they put out for the vets (oops, hit that and took a dive), the strobe lights they strung out on the ice in front of the tunnel (managed to miss those), and the cable for the on-ice camera (oops, hit that and nearly dragged the camera man and his gaffer to the ice). Then they introduced… wait for it… this year’s Portland! Junior Hawks mite team! Okay, the massive crowd of 5,400 (oops, forgot to run any ads for opening weekend) seemed a tad deflated as the little guys and gals stumbled out of the tunnel and formed two lines between which the big Hawks would soon come. But they were having a hard time standing on the ice in the dark, and they were tripping on the aforementioned strobe lights. For a moment, I thought the trusses with the spotlights might be dragged to the ice, but things managed to get straigtened out enough to finally(!) introduce the team. Every. Single. Player. One. By. One.

The Hawks have gone to a 7:30 start time this year, but by now we were looking at 7:45. Then managing partner and president Jack Donovan came out with his vet friends and delivered some underwhelming paltitudes and easy cheer lines about the guys who fought for our freedom. Somwhere in there, the visiting Kelowna (B.C.) rockets came out in the dark, carefully avoided tripping over the rug, and took up their spots on the blue line. After the cermonial puck drop, we were treated to squeals of feedback obscuring the first several bars of Oh Canada, then “That Song the Girl Sings at the Hockey Game”, a.k.a. the Star Spangled Banner (so called by my 7 y.o. daughter). At our house the song ends “…and the home of the brave. Drop the puck!” The puck didn’t actually drop until 7:50.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of the team. And I’m patiently awaiting all the big changes promised by Donovan and company (new replay screens and Coliseum improvements chief among them). But they’ve been talking really big, and were really pumping up expectations. What we saw was a Coliseum virtually unchanged from last season (including the leftover kegs of beer by some accounts), a disappointing turn-out, and an overblown, over-long opening ceremony.

But hey, wait a minute! There was a hockey game, too! And it turns out the Winter Hawks showed some serious spunk against fellow cellar dwellars Kelowna. The final score was an impressive sounding 5-2. Veteran Hawks forward Nick Hotson came up just short of a hat trick, and not for lack of trying. Hawks also got goals from rookie Euro import Viktor Sjodin, veteran d-man Max Gordichuk, and an empty netter to cap things off by newly aquired over-ager Rob Klinkhammer. Klinkhammer, traded from Seattle for a future draft pick, aquitted himself pretty well except for giving Kelowna 3 of their 6 power plays, one of which led to one of their two goals. Gordichuk is back from wrist surgery and looking great. Sjodin looks like a keeper, and Hotson was playing the way we need all our vets to play.

Sunday night, I watched the first of the Winter Hawks TV games. They’re broadcasting 30 of their 36 home games on local cable this year, at the expense of cutting all radio. That works for me (road games are still going to have free Web-cast audio), but it’s really pissed off a lot of old timers. Anyway, we were told they were pulling out all the stops, and they were going to be “NHL quality”. Now, Himself believes one should not set expectations too high, lest one set oneself up for failure. To put it charitably, Sunday’s TV game was not NHL quality. We should probably just leave it at that. Oh, and it’s not going to be NHL-quality. Sorry Scooter and Andy. You guys do a great job, but the team isn’t spending the kind of money they’d need to spend to get NHL-quality telecasts (nor should they). The game was another win for Portland against another weak team, this time a record 12-round shoot out win against the Kamloops (B.C.) Blazers. Portland got regulation-time goals from Gordichuk and Klinkhammer, and rookie Tristan King won the shoot out. The official attendance was (ahem) 3023. Combined attendance of the two opening weekend games would be a respectable opening night turnout. But the new owners have “other priorities” besides selling tickets, so we’re all just supposed to be patient.

Speaking of color-guy Andy Kemper, he’s got his After the Whistle blog back online, only this time it’s a real blog with comments and all. Welcome back Andy! I’m going to put a link to his blog on this site one of these days.

Whew. So that’s the rundown of the local Major Junior hockey team.

The NHL season opened last night, and we were treated with a rematch between the Carolina Hurricanes and the team they eliminated before going to the Stanley Cup Final last year, the Buffalo Sabres. I only caught highlights, mostly looking for contributions from former Winter Hawk and local boy Paul Gaustad. Not such a great night for Paul, whose main contribution was a power play to Carolina on a holding call (either the replay didn’t show it, or the refs made a bad call). His second penalty, a brutal hit from behind into the boards, was negated when Carolina’s Eric Cole retaliated with his fists. Then, in the third, he took a stick to the face. Like I said, not such a good night for Paulie. I’m sure he’ll come around. And, by the way, that, my friends, was an NHL-quality broadcast.