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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
STOCKHOLM – Apparently there were a handful Swedes who had full confidence in their team before Sunday’s final. One of them was Carl Gustav XVI. The real king of Sweden.
“I was pretty calm,” His Majesty told the players when the newly-crowned world champions paid a visit at the Royal Palace in central Stockholm just 12 hours after they had beat Switzerland 5-1 in the final.
As the team presented the royal family with an autographed sweater, the players probably already heard the Poodles play their official tournament song – “En för alla för en”, or “one for all for one” – in the background because meanwhile, thousands and thousands of people gathered in Kungsträdgården, a recreational park that can be seen from the castle.
Kungsträdgården, “King’s garden” has in recent years become the new place for such events. Back in 2006, when Sweden won both the Olympic gold and the World Championship, the Olympic team had their parade end at Medborgarplatsen, a square on the south side of town, and the World Champions in Kungsträdgården.
Anaheim Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth had a lot of physical work to do to overcome a knee injury while playing in Sweden.
He also had some mental changes to make.
Fasth told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter he once threw his goalie stick 17 rows into the crowd. When his former AIK goalie coach Stefan Persson tells the story, he stops at row 7 — but you get the picture.
When goalie Viktor Fasth signed a two-year contract with Stockholm AIK in 2010, it was barely news in Sweden. The biggest morning paper, Dagens Nyheter, had a three-line blurb about it, and Aftonbladet, the biggest daily, pulled the general manager’s comments off AIK’s website.
No wonder. AIK played in the second- and third-tier leagues for years and had just then, in 2010, earned promotion to the Swedish Elite League. Fasth, too, spent his career in the second- and third-tier leagues, and had just signed his first SEL contract at 27.
Seemed like a good day to dust off this profile on Jarmo Kekäläinen, the Columbus Blue Jackets new GM, who at the time of the story was the St. Louis Blues’ assistant GM.
Click below for the story. Here’s a pdf version.