When I was 17, many moons ago, I lived in a small Finnish town called Joensuu, in the eastern part of the country, about an hour from the Russian border. Except that it wasn’t the Russian border, it was the Soviet border, and it wasn’t such a big of a deal. There’s nothing on the other side of the border, anyway, just forest. There’s nothing else in about a hundred mile radius from the city.
There was no Internet, and therefore no YouTube, but there was rock’n’roll so my friends and I spent a lot of time sitting in each others’ rooms listening to tapes and records, and swapping tapes and records with each other.
And trying to learn those first few chords to Smoke on the Water.
(As it happens, still the only chords I know).
We read about Deep Purple in Metal Hammer, and we thought that Don’t Stop Believin’ was a. the greatest rock song ever and b. only Steve Perry should be allowed to sing it. And that’s as close to Deep Purple and Journey as we even imagined we’d get. Ever.
We were sure that even if, by some strange cosmic coincidence, a band of their stature would come to Finland they would never, ever come to that town of 45 000 people. And when I say “never”, I mean not ever.
And they never did. We kept listening to the records and Metal Hammer, then upgraded to CDs and most of us moved out of the town to pursue our dreams and careers. Only during holidays and college breaks, as if in a Thin Lizzy song, the boys were back in town.
Five years ago, it was announced that Deep Purple was going to have two shows in Finland. One in Helsinki, and one in Joensuu. Opening act: Thin Lizzy.
But it was too late, and in a way, the fact that they were finally going to play in Joensuu was the final proof of Deep Purple being past their best before date.
When I heard that Oulu Kärpät had signed Jozef Stumpel to a contract that covers the remainder of the season, I thought of Deep Purple. Now, Stumpel is only 39 − 40 in the summer – and he did play in the Olympics just two years ago, and he did still score a few points in the KHL this season but I’m sure the Finnish league was fairly low on his list.
The KHL has changed the European hockey landscape, nudging the Swedish and Finnish leagues dow a few pegs. Four seasons ago, when the KHL was launched, there were six Finnish players, and nine Swedes, in the league. The year after, 15 Finnish players. Last season, there were 16 Finns, and this year, there are 31 Finnish players and eleven coaches – and 18 Swedish players – working in the KHL.
Oh, and 73 Czechs and 43 Slovak players. In other words, over 150 European players are now playing in the KHL, a league that’s looking to expand to Switzerland in 2014-15.
Seven years ago, in 2004-05, there were 42 Finns playing in the Swedish Elitserien. This season, 19.
The Swedish league has lost its spot as the leagues of choice, and in turn, the Finnish league teams have a little harder time attracting players as well. It will be difficult to get the next Tim Thomas or Brian Rafalski to Sweden or Finland. At least on their way to the top.
If that opens up spots for Swedish and Finnish kids, it may be a blessing in disguise. But that may also be the reason for the extreme parity in Sweden.
The 11th-place team, currently Linköping, is only six points from the fifth place team, HV71. That’s only two wins. Only three wins separate the team that’s going to have to qualify for its Elitserien spot for next year form the team that will have home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
Maybe there’s parity because there’s mediocrity.
In 2010, Deep Purple was scheduled to play another gig in Joensuu, Finland.
They cancelled due to poor ticket sales.