Hovet sweet Hovet

“The affable Helge Berglund claims there are more than a hundred thousand active players and about seven thousand hockey teams in Sweden. How fitting, he reflects, that the Johanneshov isstadion should be the scene of the world championship competition. “The stadium’s fame as the Mecca of ice hockey,” he continues in his own bouncy style, “is once more sustained.”
– Mordecai Richler on the 1963 hockey world championships in Dispatches from the Sporting Life

Call me crazy, call me weird – just call me – but whenever I travel to a new city, I like to go see the hockey arena there. I used to also buy a hockey hat from each city, but stopped doing that after my trip to Rouen, France when I walked a good five kilometers in rain mixed with snow to find the one store that carried hockey hats. So, these days, I buy the hats only if the store that I happen to go into – and I always go to one – has them.

The other arena. Globen.

But I still like to see the arena. Maybe it’s because most of my early travels only included the trip to the arena, a game, and then a trip home. Anyway, that’s why I’ve visited the Hudiksvall Sports Museum twice. It happens to be in the lobby of the local rink. Driving around Scandinavia ten years ago, I made sure I stopped to see the Oslo arena with the cool name: Spectrum. Every time we visit my Dad, I stop by the old rink.

In Vancouver, in 1996, I left the environmental technology trade fair one afternoon to trek across town to see the then-brand new GM Place but the highlight of that trip was my first – and last – visit to the good old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto a week earlier.

Walking up the stairs to our seats – I was there with Andrew, a Torontonian buddy of mine – the first thing I saw were the banners, the championship banners, the retired numbers. That view, and then seeing the rink, and the beauty of the building took my breath away. I may have giggled, it was such an exhilarating experience. It was also the first NHL game I saw in the stands, and I almost regretted I didn’t wear a suit and a tophat.

During the first intermission, Andrew and I walked down and took photos of each other sitting on the narrow wooden Leafs bench. That was as close to the NHL I’ve got. Being inside the arena was like sitting in on a hockey history lesson, with all the paintings of legends past on the walls. That was the arena that Borje Salming had played in all those years, that’s where he got the standing ovation during the 1976 Canada Cup.

The home of the Leafs, King Clancy, Conn Smythe, Roger Neilson, Harold Ballard, Salming, Inge Hammarström – Andrew’s favorite – Darryl Sittler – whom I’d met during my summer in Orillia, and then Mats Sundin, my favorite.

But it wasn’t the Maple Leaf Gardens I grew up thinking about.

It was Johanneshov.

Maybe it was the simple fact that Finland never won anything, or maybe I’m genetically faulty, and have some Swedishness in me, but I grew up liking a lot of Tre Kronor players.

When I had been bitten by the hockey bug, and when the game started to become an all-consuming passion of mine, I would sit at my desk and write pages and pages and pages of play-by-play commentary of hockey games. My imaginary games were called in the style of a famous Finnish radio guy, Raimo “Höyry” Häyrinen – nicknamed “Steam” because he could do a good thousand words a minute -, they were always the crucial games of the World Championships, and the games were always between the Soviets and Swedes, with Czechoslovakia posing a threat in a previous game – because I loved Ivan Hlinka, Milan Novy, Vladimir Martinec, and Frantisek Pospisil.

But, the big showdown was always between Kharlamov, Mikhailov, Petrov, Tretiak and Mats Waltin, Lars-Erik Sjöberg, Mats Näslund.

And nine times out of ten, the game was played in the Johanneshovs ice stadium. (And every once in a while, it was on the Soviets’ home ice, the Luzhniki arena in Moscow).

When the main arena in Helsinki was known simply as “arena” – Jäähalli in Finnish – the Johanneshov ice stadium sounded like a magical place, truly “the Mecca of ice hockey”, even though I understand why Richler would have had a hard time swallowing that. Johanneshov – or Hovet, “The Court” as it’s called – was also always the main arena of the World Championships, because it was the biggest arena in Sweden – and possibly, probably, bigger than anything we had in Finland.

And thus, by definition, cool.

In 1989, I was a third-year student in the Helsinki Business School, with too much time on my hands so when a buddy of mine – or five – found a cheap ferry trip to Stockholm, I jumped on the opportunity.

The ferry only stayed there for about seven hours, which was enough to walk through the Old Town, buy some CDs, and have lunch at the Hard Rock Café, another cool thing Helsinki didn’t have. And of course, it gave me the opportunity to get on the subway to Globen, that white dome outside the city, built for the 1989 World Championships.

Globen, The Globe, blew my mind. It was cooler than any arena I had ever seen. It was – like a friend of mine said later – like the Death Star in the Star Wars. It was so cool that I didn’t even know that while standing there, admiring the Globe, I had turned my back on Johanneshov, literally.

I didn’t know that the old 1960s hockey rink was right there, adjacent to the brand new multi-purpose arena, but no longer a major league arena since both Stockholm teams, AIK and Djurgården, had moved to Globen.

My first visit to Hovet wasn’t a hockey game. It was a Prince concert in the summer of 1999, but a couple of seasons ago, tired of not being able to fill the expensive Globen, Djurgården moved back to Hovet.

These days, it’s no longer the case that

reporters from Associated Press, United Press International, Canadian Press, and other news organizations, sit with pads on their knees and telephones clapped to their ears.

Instead, there’s just one long table in front of the commentator booths, and men and women sitting behind their laptops, updating their blogs and websites and Twitter feeds as they go. I was there this week. I climbed up to the press box, up those stairs, with each step so high that I have to run up or I might not be able make it.

In front of one of the chairs, a little left of the red line, there was a taped note indicating an assigned seat for one “Risto Pakarinen, IIHF”.

Me.

How does that make you feel?