Finland in November is a dark place as it is, but in 1991, it was darker than ever. The housing bubble had burst, several banks went bankrupt, and the unemployment rate shot from 3.5 percent in 1990 to 12 percent by the end of 1992.
And there he was, a 22-year-old, baby-faced part-time kindergarten teacher who had scored an incredible 36 goals in 35 games in the Finnish second-tier league, to follow up on his 43 goals in 33 games in major junior the year before. His club, Jokerit, had been on the brink of bankruptcy for years and was demoted to the second-tier league. In his four years with the team, Jokerit not only got promoted back to the elite league, they won the Finnish championship in 1992.
He was the new guy in class, or maybe I was the new guy in his class, since our new, third-grade class, was a result of merging two second-grade classes, but I’d only known him for a few weeks when he told me he’d take up hockey.
“I’m going to join a team,” he said.
He’d join a real team, that is. Somehow he knew that the local club was looking for new players. Maybe he’d heard his brother say it, maybe some of the club’s reps had been at our school, but I just remember that one afternoon he told me he was going, and I like to think he asked me if I, too, wanted to go.
VALLENTUNA, Sweden – One of the most exciting things with joining a hockey team is getting the real hockey equipment. Or, at least a real hockey jersey, like all the girls in Vallentuna, a municipality 35 kilometres north of Stockholm, when the local SDE Hockey kicked off their Girls’ Hockey Day.
Maria Stolpe walked around the locker room with a big, blue Ikea bag full of practice sweaters. The girls attending the hockey school all got to pick one. There were two choices: a green jersey, or a pink one.
All six girls picked a pink one.
I saw this photo (below) on Twitter, and sent a link to a buddy who then reminded me of a blog entry I wrote about Shanahan six years ago for the nhl.com. So I went and dug it up. Here it is:
Shanahan The Man
As you’ve probably already seen, Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan was named the inaugural winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award this week.
Brendan Shanahan truly is a leader. He stands out from the crowd. He’s different. He’s smart, he’s a great athlete, he’s rich, he’s famous, he’s got it all. When he gives interviews, he actually answers the questions he’s asked. He looks the interviewer in the eye and delivers his thoughts in a careful manner. He’s tall, he’s dark and, yes, he’s handsome.
HELSINKI – Of all the skills that Mikael Granlund has, and of all the gifts he has, the ability to be in the moment, to live in the now, may just be his biggest, and the most important one.
That’s why he was able to hone his stickhandling skills for hours on end as a kid. That’s what’s helped him keep his feet on the ground during the media frenzy around him the last few years, and that’s why it’s easy to believe him when he says that he hasn’t thought about playing in front of his home fans at the World Championship in May.
After all, Mikael Granlund says that when he’s in the zone, he doesn’t even remember his last shift, and doesn’t hear what the crowd’s yelling, or what the other players are saying to him on the ice.
Last week, when I saw the YouTube video of Scott Hartnell making his then-famous now-forgotten – nothing personal, Scottie, that’s just the way things go these days – Hulk Hogan impersonation, I thought of a friend of mine who did the same thing 20 years ago.
Only, he wasn’t doing it in front of 15 000 people, or to a guy dressed up as Hulk Hogan. He did it in an ice cold hockey rink 50 kilometers west of Helsinki, Finland, in front of 200 people, and purely out of frustration and to get back at every single one of those 150 people in the stands.
“You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying in sweat.”
– “Lydia Grant”, dance instructor in “Fame”
Yes, I’m old enough to not only admit to remembering “Fame”, the 1980s hit TV series, but also having liked the show. Now, rushing home on Sunday afternoons so I could watch Danny and Bruno and Leroy, and of course Valerie, Coco and Lori work on their art, and get their lives straight, wasn’t something I told my teammates, but then again, since nobody talked about it, maybe I wasn’t the only fan of the show. All I know, “Fame” was never discussed in the locker room.
I’ve quoted “Lydia Grant’s” – played by Debbie Allen – words many times over the years, sometimes jokingly, but most often seriously, because it’s true. Fame does cost, and the price is sweat.
HELSINKI – The stars were almost perfectly aligned on Monday night when the Anaheim Ducks played against the Colorado Avalanche. Teemu Selanne scored his 22nd goal of the season, with a wrist shot from the faceoff circle like so many times before, passing fellow countryman and childhood idol Jari Kurri on the NHL’s all-time scoring list to become the highest-scoring Finn in the history of the NHL.
The game was also Saku Koivu’s 1000th regular season game in the NHL, the 274th player in the league history to reach that point.
Between the two of them, Koivu and Selanne have been a big part of the finest moments of Finnish hockey history, both individually, and together. Koivu was an integral part of the historic 1995 World Championship team, Selanne broke records in the NHL, and together they’ve won 1998 Olympic bronze, 1999 World Championship silver, 2004 World Cup silver, 2006 Olympic silver, 2008 World Championship bronze, and 2010 Olympic bronze.
Pressure – pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure – that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
– Queen, “Under pressure”
The playoff race is on, and for many teams, that means that the pressure, too, is on. But going for a playoff spot and missing it, while sure a disappointing experience, is nothing compared to the pressure that a team trying to avoid relegation feels.
Even with the pressure, a missed playoff spot is just a missed opportunity to get to the throne. Life goes on.
A relegation from the top division, on the other hand, is the end, a complete dismissal from the court, a disaster on all levels.
Every year, stars are born. Many of them against some long odds.
A few years ago, a 24-year-old goaltender named Jonas Gustavsson broke the Elitserien shutout record in his first full season, having played mostly in Swedish second and third divisions before then. He finished the season with a bronze medal around his neck as he returned from the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Berne, Switzerland, and then signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent.
He wasn’t the first great goaltender to emerge from out of nowhere, and he likely won’t be the last. Just last Sunday, after the final game of the Oddset Hockey Games between Finland and Sweden in Stockholm, the teams stood on the blueline waiting for the best players of both teams to get their prizes at center ice. As it happened, both stars chosen were goaltenders.