All about the kids

We all have dreams, and we’re told to follow them. We encourage children to work hard and to do everything they can to make their dreams come true.

Yet we also know that we all need some help along the way. Mats Zuccarello had help. Even Henrik Lundqvist had help. And to make sure they can, in turn, help others, they joined forces and put together Summer Classic, an outdoor charity game at Ullevaal, Norway’s national stadium.

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A legend of a man

Lauri Mononen, March 22, 1950 – August 5, 2018

One September morning in 1977, I was in a rush to read the sports pages of the Helsinki morning paper, even more than usual, because the Finnish SM-liiga had kicked off the night before. I turned to the back of the newspaper, and saw a headline about Lauri Mononen scoring a “Canadian hat trick”.

I had never heard of such a thing, but I learned that it was not just a regular hat trick, but a double one. Six goals.

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The 520 to the stars

All buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue so people talk about the blue buses as “blue buses”, instead of using their official line numbers. In Sollentuna, an suburb a mere 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm, only the 179 that goes southwest from the commuter train station to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red.

About 35 years ago, a ten-year-old, fair-haired boy got off a red bus number 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and had he taken a moment to take in the view instead of running down the stairs, he would’ve seen a 17th century mansion at the end of a Baltic sea bay, but his eyes were set on one thing only: the outdoor hockey rink.

The outdoor rink is gone now as is the other outdoor rink that was built next to the first one. Both are now indoor rinks, the first outdoor rink being now the “arena”, the second one a very cold practice rink.

On the red-brick walls of the arena there are two large ceramic images of local sports stars. In one of them, the one closest to the stairs that take you to the bus stop, there’s Kajsa Bergqvist, clearing 2.02 in women’s high jump at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

The other image, next to the entrance to the hockey rink, is a large photo of Mats Sundin in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, carrying the puck down the ice.

And from there, Mats has the best view over the bay, that view he may have missed when he took the bus from Viby to Sollentunavallen, the sports center.

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The Phantom and I

Twenty years ago, my phone rang and a nice American lady at the other end informed me that she had a job offer for me. I accepted it on the spot, obviously, having been through several rounds of interviews and a visit to the company’s offices in the Stockholm Old Town.

I hung up, and got back to work without telling anyone. In fact, I kept the secret for another week, waiting for my frustrating boss to say something idiotic so that I could just quit my job right there, in a Hollywood movie kind of way. (He didn’t, so I gave my notice that Friday).

But that evening, I drove to the local pizza place and while waiting for the pizza to be ready, I went to the video store next door, and rented a movie to celebrate my new job.

The pizza? Pizza Bolognese.

The movie? The Phantom.

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Door 14: More movies

If I had to choose another profession, if I couldn’t be a writer guy, I would want to be a ghostbuster. Even today, as the middle-aged man living in a Stockholm suburb that I am, a part of me is walking around keeping an eye out on sliming ghosts and when nobody can see, I do the Peter Venkman hop on the mike lane to the mall, and in my mind, I tell people to “back off, man, I’m a scientist” even though I’m really not.

“Ghostbuster”, the word itself, didn’t practically exist before 1984, when the movie about three buddies who set up shop to catch ghosts in New York. It opened in the US in June, but as always, us Finns had to wait a little longer to see it.

It had its Finnish premiere on Dec 14, 1984 – 33 years ago to the day.

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Door 12: Hockey

Tom Petty sang that “the waiting is the hardest part” but sometimes it may also be the sweetest part. Sometimes it’s exactly that time spent waiting that makes everything worthwhile.

It’s all those little things along the way that tell you that you’re going in the right direction even if you’re not there quite yet. And sometimes the things along the way are almost as nice as the big reward at the end of the road (and sometimes they get tangled up together so that it’s hard to say which is which anymore).

These days, you can catch a live broadcast of not only English football, the Super Bowl, and any NHL game you choose but the nichiest of niche sports anywhere in the world – and nothing means anything anymore.

Scarcity creates value.

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You can go home again

Children have their first idols close. The first ones are their parents and siblings, and then when the venture outside of the house, the cool (bigger) kids at school and sports teams, and naturally, for hockey playing kids in Europe, the players on their hometown teams and then the national team and NHL stars, although things have changed somewhat in the 21st century, with the access to NHL games having gotten better. Even then, often children idols are NHLers that come from the same country as them.

No wonder then that Anders Engqvist, a big, lanky kid who lived five minutes from the rink in a northern Stockholm suburb found an idol who also was a big, lanky kid from a northern Stockholm suburb. Also a right-hand shot, who had also started his career elsewhere but ended up in Djurgarden, one of the oldest hockey clubs in Sweden.

That they’re both right-hand shots and centers also made the comparison between them almost too easy to draw when Engqvist was coming up the ranks. That’s how a local scout described him to Djurgarden and maybe that’s why he had turned down a contract offer from AIK, the other big club in Stockholm.

Of course, by the time Engqvist made his men’s league debut with Spanga in Division 2 in 2003, Sundin had been the Toronto Maple Leafs captain for six years, and had won three World Championship titles with Team Sweden.

Four years after having signed with Djurgarden – or seven years ago – Engqvist led the team in playoff scoring with 13 points in 16 games as they went all the way to the final. They lost to HV71 in six games but five of the six games were decided in overtime. After the season Engqvist followed in Sundin’s footsteps, and left for the NHL when he signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

Since then, he’s played for five different teams in the NHL, the AHL, and the KHL, but now he’s back.

Home.

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