The Hobbit (moves on)

In Hovin, an Oslo, Norway neighborhood, there’s a small pond that freezes in the winter, which makes it perfect for kids who want to skate. It sits inside a pocket of red brick houses, a stone’s throw from Valle Hovin, a speed skating arena, and Vallhall, an indoor soccer arena.

You can see the pond from the houses on the hill, and if you’re lucky, some kids will be playing. And just like kids everywhere, half their game takes place on the ice, the other half in their heads. Nobody’s ever just himself, because everybody’s pretending to be someone famous.

When Mats Zuccarello, the New York Rangers forward playing in his fifth season in the National Hockey League, was younger, his heroes were Peter Forsberg, the Swedish Hockey Hall of Famer, and his Colorado Avalanche teammates, Canadians Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy. Posters of those three were plastered on the walls of his room.

On that same wall, now his brother’s room, there’s a New York Rangers sweater number 36, with “Zuccarello” on the back.

How times have changed.

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Home game

Yesterday, as I was at a hockey store, getting some new skates for Daughter, it occurred to me that outside our house, there are two places where I’m fully comfortable and at ease. One of them is a car and the other a hockey rink. Any car and any hockey rink in the world.

One of my earliest memories involves a drive to a hockey rink in Helsinki. My Dad had a game and for some strange reason I got to tag along. In the mental image in my head, it’s the middle of the winter, there’s a lot of snow, we park our car far from the rink, I walk into a wood-paneled dressing room – and smell the stench of hockey gloves for the first time.

And, oddly enough, even the smell is a pleasant memory.

Naturally, I have no way of verifying any of that, except that it probably was the middle of the winter because back then, the hockey season was much shorter and that the gloves probably did stink because they always stank back then.

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Frölunda’s constant gardeners

About seven years ago, Mats Grauers, then newly-elected chairman of the Frölunda Indians, had to secure a loan of SEK 20 million from the City of Gothenburg to solve the hockey club’s cashflow problems. The team that had won the Swedish title five years earlier had taken a nosedive, and as always, turning things around took time.

Between 2010 and 2013, Frölunda accumulated losses totalling almost seven million euros, and on the ice, things weren’t much better. They missed the playoffs once and were ousted in the first round twice.

In 2016, Frölunda won the Swedish championship and the Champions Hockey League title and repeated the CHL feat in 2017. The secret? Building the team from ground up with a clear vision … and patience.

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Lauri Mononen – taistelija, taiteilija

“Tanssii kuin perhonen, pistää kuin ampiainen”.

Ensimmäisen kerran kuulin Muhammad Alin kuuluisan kuvauksen itsestään Hockey Sports Shop -urheiluliikkeessä Helsingin Oulunkylässä. Taivaskallion kupeessa ollut liike ei ollut ihan tavallinen urheilukauppa, sillä sen olivat perustaneet HIFK-pelaajat Lauri Mononen ja Reijo Laksola.

Syksyllä 1978 Ali oli kovan paikan edessä, sillä hän oli helmikuussa, heikosti harjoitelleena, hävinnyt raskaan sarjan MM-tittelinsä helpoksi vastustajaksi arvioidulle Leon Spinksille. Koko maailma odotti uusintaottelua ja Hockey Sports Shopissakin oli Ali v Spinks -matsin juliste.

Late matki Alin kevyttä askelta ja sanoi tanssivansa kuin perhonen.

“Ali voittaa,” Late ennusti, koska hän toivoi Alin voittoa.

Laten ennustus toteutui, ja Ali voitti Spinksin. Ali jäi eläkkeelle ainoana nyrkkeilijänä, joka oli voittanut raskaan sarjan tittelin kolmesti – mutta teki sitten paluun ja hävisi Larry Holmesille.

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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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Born to be a goalie

Denmark’s Frederik Andersen just waiting to be discovered

COLOGNE – The hat he’s wearing says it all. It’s a gray baseball hat, with “The Great Wall” in red letters printed on the side. That’s exactly what Frederik Andersen was on Saturday in Denmark’s opening game, when he led his nation to its first win over Finland.

In the nine previous games between the countries since 2000, Finland had outscored Denmark 51-8, but on Saturday, Andersen turned away 37 Finnish shots, or 97.30 percent of them.

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A boy on the bus

“At least 15 people are dead after a crash between a tractor-trailer and a bus carrying a Canadian junior hockey league team, a tragedy that struck at the heart of a tightknit city in rural Saskatchewan and immediately echoed through the hockey world and beyond.”

– Washington Post, April 8, 2018

The bus was always my safe place. Well, all cars were and still are. I wasn’t born in a car even though it sometimes feels like it. From the day I was born, I’ve spent so much time in cars, reading, sleeping, talking, eavesdropping, eating, counting other cars, and being bored that cars have become my second home. 

Early on, my hockey bus trips were mostly short and infrequent. Maybe we took a bus to a camp four hours away, once a season, maybe not even that.

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