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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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.


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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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First Euro NHL GM

COLUMBUS – Eight months ago, history was truly made in the NHL. Only, it wasn’t a scoring record, or a new champion, but instead, an off-ice move in which the Columbus Blue Jackets made Jarmo Kekäläinen the first European GM in the league’s history.

At the time, Kekäläinen was in the third year of his five-year contract as the GM of Jokerit Helsinki in the Finnish league, back on home turf after over a decade of traveling around Europe scouting for the Ottawa Senators and the St. Louis Blues.

“My dream has always been to become a GM in the NHL, and I never gave up that dream when I moved back to Finland to become the GM of Jokerit,” Kekäläinen told IIHF.com.

Kekäläinen in Stockholm in 2006. Photo: Susanne Kronholm.

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Rask feeling right at home in Boston

Eight years ago, a young Finnish goalie name Tuukka Rask was excited because he had just been drafted into the NHL by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was only 18 years old, but his career plan was right on schedule. He had won the Finnish junior championship, recording six shutouts in 10 playoff games, and he had played in the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Today, Rask is the Boston Bruins’ starting goaltender. His name is on the Stanley Cup as a member of the Bruins’ championship team in 2011, and he might well have won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP had the Bruins beaten the Chicago Blackhawks in the Final in June.

And eight years from now? Rask hopes he’s still wearing a Bruins sweater. Right after the Stanley Cup Final he said he wanted to play in Boston “forever,” and in July he got his wish, “forever” with an asterisk, as he signed an eight-year, $56 million contract.

Tuukka in 2003.

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Tarasov’s life lessons

When I heard – or most likely read – somebody talk about the “five-hole” for the first time, I had no idea what it meant. I knew it was a hockey term, and I did know it was the goalie’s weak spot, but since the five-hole isn’t called “five-hole” in Finnish, I had to figure it out on my own.

And to me, the goalie’s weak spot number five was not between his legs, but instead, next to the post on the [left-catching] goalie’s glove side.

Not top shelf, and not under the glove, either, either, but next to the post, just stroking it on the way in. Top shelf was number 4, a low shot to the glove-side number 6. I had those numbers memorized, because I had seen a photo in a book, and the caption under it said that “scientific research has revealed goaltenders’ weak spots.” It even says, “hard shots to spot number five are difficult to stop even if the goalie has a quick glove hand.”

1, 2, 3...

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The flipside of ‘Miracle’

In 1977, after Boris Kulagin coached the Soviet Union to a World Championship silver medal for the second year in a row, he was relieved of his duties as the bench boss, and a new boss was called in. Viktor Tikhonov, a Moscow native, and a former Moscow Dynamo defenseman, rode back into his home town to take over the Red Army team, and the national team, which was practically the same thing.

By then, Kharlamov was 29, and one of the veteran players on the team. He was a two-time Olympic champion, and a six-time World Champion, and a national hero. None of that mattered to Tikhonov, already famous for his discipline and tough love towards his players.

Or, at least, tough something.

Jim Craig and Valeri

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