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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Goalie hot house in cold Finland

Ask a Finn about the “recent rise of great Finnish goaltenders” and he or she will be baffled.

The younger generation doesn’t understand the question because for them, Finland’s always produced great NHLers, such as Miikka Kiprusoff, Kari Lehtonen, Niklas Backström, Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask. Older fans think back to previous generations – Urpo Ylönen, Jarmo Myllys*, Kari Takko**, Markus Mattsson***, Jorma Valtonen, Hannu Kamppuri – and wonder what the fuss is about.

He shoots … he scores?

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Tarasenko

Here’s another excerpt from “This is Russia”, Bernd Brückler’s KHL memoir I co-authored. This is from the chapter in which he talks about the characters he played with and against in the KHL: Vladimir Tarasenko, an Olympian in about a month: “Vladimir may be the best player I’ve ever played with,” says Brucks.

Just like Misha in Nizhny, Vladimir “Vova” Tarasenko is a homegrown star in Novosibirsk, and just like in Misha’s case, Vladimir’s father Andrei had been a national team player.

Vladimir grew up in Novosibirsk, and at 16 he played in the Superleague. Of course, “Vova” learned the game from his dad, who had been a great forward. Andrei was also our coach — he was the head coach first, but then switched places with former Toronto Maple Leafs player Dmitri Yushkevich and became assistant coach.

The St. Louis Blues had drafted Vlamidir in the first round in 2010, but he had stayed in the KHL for another year because Andrei thought it was best for Vladimir’s development. Vladimir wanted to stay so that he could play for his dad, the new head coach of Sibir.

Tarasenko.

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This is Russia: Lokomotiv

Here’s an excerpt from This is Russia: Life in the KHL – Doctors, bazas and millions of air miles, Bernd Brückler’s memoir of his three seasons in the Kontinentalnaya Hokkeynaya Liga (KHL), founded and financed by Russian oligarchs.

In 2011, “Brucks” signed with Sibir Novosibirsk, and succeeded Team Sweden goaltender Stefan Liv as the team’s goaltender. A few months later, the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl perished in a plane crash as the team was on their way to their first regular season game of the season. Below is Brucks’s story from the inside.

This is Brucks in a Torpedo Nizny Novgorod sweater.

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A bunch of cool amateurs

These days when I’m bored and have nothing to do, I go on Facebook or read my Twitter feed – seems to me I’m bored way too much – but in another time when phones had cords and rotary dials, and the Love Boat was still roaming the seven seas, my options were to go outside and play hockey or stay at home and read a book.

Now, fortunately, Dad got bored even more than I did, and when he had nothing to do, we went for a drive.

“Wanna go for a drive?” he’d ask Mom and me, and if Mom said yes, we’d drive to friends, but if she didn’t, we almost always drove to a hockey rink. Maybe there was a game, maybe just a practice, or maybe we’d bump into some friends, and have a Coke and a donut at the cafeteria.

Or, maybe, if we were lucky, we’d see something better.

 salesmen, painters, students, pilot, doctor, cook

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