Here are my championship stories from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.
Tappara’s historic title
HV71 Sweden’s number 1
Every journey to 1,000 games begins with, well, the first game.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Borje Salming became the first European to play 1,000 NHL games on Jan. 4, 1988, against the Vancouver Canucks. But when he made his NHL debut on Oct. 10, 1973, he wasn’t the first European-trained player, nor was he even the first Swedish defenseman in the League. Forward Ulf Sterner played four games for the New York Rangers in 1965 and defenseman Thommie Bergman made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 7, 1972.
There seems to be at least two Hardy Åstroms. There’s the clog-wearing Swedish chef who can’t catch a beach ball, introduced to the world and kept alive by Don Cherry who’s been using Hardy material for decades.
Have you heard the one about Hardy when Cherry he pulled his goalie in the final minutes of a game to try to get a goal with six skaters on the ice. Åstrom, the backup, saw the starting goalie racing towards the bench so he grabbed his equipment, hopped the boards and raced to the crease, the story goes, to make a goalie change on the fly.
“Funny,” says Åstrom, “but not true.”
And then there’s the Hardy that played in the first Canada Cup in 1976, represented Sweden in two World Championships, was one of the first European goaltenders in the NHL, and who played for Cherry in Colorado for a year.
Before Cherry was fired.
Buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue. They’re so special that people refer to them as “blue buses”, instead of using their line numbers. In Sollentuna, an affluent suburb a 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm only the 179 going to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red, including the 520.
mAbout 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and from the top of the hill, he could see the view over the 17th century mansion and the Baltic sea bay, a running track, and most importantly, the outdoor hockey rink.
It was his big brother who had got him into hockey to begin with, and the kid turned out to be so good that when he was seven, the instructors at the hockey school considered him too good to play with the other kids, and directed him to the youngest junior team in town. The others were two years older but he either didn’t notice it or didn’t care.
The track field got a bandy and skating rink next to it, and they built a new outdoor rink next to the old one. A new indoor arena was built but by then the fair-haired boy was already an international star and the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
His name was Mats Sundin.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Six years ago, almost to the day, the tiny village of Russnäs (population 90) in Sweden was bustling. Right at the intersection off the main road that leads to the big road that takes you to the highway, under the sign that welcomes visitors to the village, there was a big photo of Niklas Hjalmarsson in his Chicago Blackhawks jersey, with a message to the young man.
“Congratulations, Stanley Cup champion” it said in Swedish. Next to it, there was a tin-foil replica of the Cup.
The then-23-year-old defenseman had spent most of his two previous seasons in the AHL but had taken a permanent spot in the Blackhawks’ lineup that season. He addressed the villagers (and thousands of other fans) next to the playground where he had played as a kid, standing next to bales of hay and the Stanley Cup, his voice hoarse from a fun night with his family and friends.
Dear class of 2016,
Let me start by saying that it’s a great honor for me to be the one that sends you off to the big, wild world with these few words of wisdom. Sure, it would have been even a bigger honor to get invited to a school to deliver them in person, but hey, it’s 2010, who does anything in person anymore? In fact, send me your phone number and I’ll text the words of wisdom to you. There’s only five of them, six tops. Maybe seven.
But, alas, you’re there and I’m here and we need to get this done.
TAMPERE – For three years in a row, Tappara players had to stand on the ice and watch the other team celebrate. Not in 2016. This time, they were the ones parading with the Canada Bowl wearing brand new championship caps, hugging each other, having just beaten Helsinki IFK 2-1 in Game 6 of the Finnish Liiga final.
All three goals were scored in the first period, within 7 minutes and 37 seconds. Juuso Puustinen gave HIFK the lead at 3:21, Patrik Laine, 18, tied the game with his tenth playoff goal four and a half minutes later, and Henrik Haapala redirected the game-winner with 9:02 remaining in the period. HIFK won the shots 20-7 in the last two periods and got the puck over the goal line in the end … only, it came a second too late.
Laine was named the winner of Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP.
SKELLEFTEÅ, Sweden – Sometimes things do work out as planned. In 2013, Frolunda Gothenburg hired a new coach and gave him free reins to develop a new generation of champions. The mission was accomplished on Sunday, when Frölunda beat Skellefteå AIK 5-3 in Game 5 to win the final series of the SHL 4-1.
Artturi Lehkonen scored the game’s first goal just 1:46 into the first period, and then added his eleventh of the playoffs with 5:54 remaining in the period giving Frölunda a 3-0 lead. Nicklas Lasu scored for Frölunda halfway through the period. Skellefteå AIK, playing in its sixth straight final, made a comeback attempt in the second period, but Frölunda could close out the game and take its fourth win.
“We found a way to win, even if things didn’t always go like we wanted. But when it mattered, we came through,” said team captain Joel Lundqvist, who was the only remaining player from Frölunda’s previous championship team.
Twelve years ago, Wife and I shook hands in the little kitchen of our little apartment in downtown Helsinki, on a closed deal. She’d start up a Swedish-language site and a discussion forum for expecting and new parents, and I would start up a Finnish-language site and a discussion forum for … hockey fans.
Wife’s site was up and running a few weeks later, and it turned into a big success.
Meanwhile, I was still working at my day job, while trying to get my writer friends to contribute to my new magazine that was going to come out that fall, still six months away. I wrote several articles myself, translated the ones my buddies – and brother-in-law – had written in English and Swedish, traveled to Sweden to meet with the designer who donated his time for my cause, negotiated with the printers, and the distribution channels, while trying to be a father and a boyfriend.
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.