Groundhog day in Oulu

OULU – Sometimes you can’t get enough of a good thing. Last season, Finnish hockey fans got to enjoy an exciting final that went all the way to Game 7, and overtime, before Kärpät’s Juhamatti Aaltonen scored the game’s lone goal and won the game against Tappara Tampere.

So this year, they got some more of that candy.

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If you can make it there

“Hej på dig,” he said.

I chuckled.

While “hej på dig” [hey-poh day] is not an uncommon way to say hello in Swedish, it’s one that always cracks me up because “Hej på dig” was the name of my first Swedish book in seventh grade. I – and probably thousands of Finns of my generation – can still recite the entire first chapter of the book by heart, or at least the last line, in which a dog barks in Swedish: “Vov, vov”

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Hometown hero

SOLLENTUNA, Sweden – About 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off bus 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop, walked through the gate and down the stone stairs to the outdoor rink, to attend Edsbergs IF’s hockey school.

Even if he had given it any thought, maybe he would have seen himself come back to the rink as an adult, and maybe a child could even imagine an indoor rink where the old outdoor rink was, and a practice rink next to it, and a full-size bandy rink next to that one, but he most likely didn’t think he’d be back at “Vallen” to unveil an image of himself on the wall of fame of the new rink.

Sudden + Daughter

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Masked intentions

I spent a good ten years of my hockey career, or “career”, if you will, in Finnish minor leagues – a galaxy far, far away from the NHL – where games are played late at night, and the practices held even later at night, where it’s sometimes easier to get to an away game than a home game.

In the minors, the coach sometimes decides to make big league moves, such as shorten the bench in the third period, but most often he doesn’t because he can’t even if he wanted because he only has two lines to work with.

If the team has a coach, that is.

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Back in the USSR

Wife’s sister, my sister-in-law, has a vivid imagination, and a great sense of empathy, both character eemraits that make her a caring and a popular person. What it also does is create false memories, because when she hears a good story – and she loves a good story – she gets so into it that when she tells the story later on to somebody else, she may tell it in first-person, thinking that whatever happened, had happened to her.

Of course, it doesn’t happen with every story, and with everyone, it’s often when Wife, her sister, tells her something that their experiences get intertwined. It’s sort of like meeting a celebrity on the street, and saying good morning to her, because you think it’s another one of your friends, when it is, in fact, one of the Friends.

I was there.

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Unbreakable

When Saku Koivu, 39, announced his retirement from hockey on Wednesday, with a statement from the NHLPA, it truly marked the end of an era.

He’s the boy wonder of the late 1980s and early 1990s who turned into Team Finland’s leader and captain of the early 21st century, only to take a step back in the last few years of his career into the role of an elderly statesman.

Back in 1995.

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Oh yes, Oulu

OULU, Finland – Sometimes the stars are aligned just perfectly, and the great stories we all love in sports get the fairy tale ending we yearn for. That’s what happened in Oulu when Game Seven of the Finnish final went into overtime.

That’s the dream kids dream, and depending on where they live on this planet, it’s their local team that scores the winning goal. These days even kids in Finland, Sweden, and Germany may dream about getting the Stanley Cup clinching goal for a team in Southern Florida, but for most kids, the first heroes are always the ones that are the closest.

The Magic Man, and the other Magic Man

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The diaries of a loser

And so it was over. I sat in the armchair, and watched the Swedes pile up into a huge blue and yellow … painful lump of yuck!

I knew all the stories of the Swedes’ golden generation, how Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson “never got to win anything together in a big tournament.”

I’ve always like Mats Sundin, and I was probably the only person in the stands during the World Championships final in 1997 to cheer for the Swedes over Canada. (Canada won). I think Peter Forsberg is an amazing player, and I even said before the tournament that Henrik Lundqvist is the goalie that can lead Sweden to Olympic gold.

I knew that. And, in a way, I wanted their stories to get the fairytale ending.

Sundin and Forsberg

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