Purple pain

One late May evening eight years ago, Wife and I shook hands on a deal we had just made. She would launch a website for Swedish-speaking parents in Finland, and I, at my end, would try to make the world a better place by launching a hockey publication.

The next few months we sat in our kitchen, facing each other, but both typing away on his and her laptop, with the covers leaning on each other, like we were leaning on each other.

With a lot of help from my friends, Hockey was launched in late September. (Wife’s mammapappa.com was already up and running, and would become the top Swedish-language site for parents in Finland).

I had kept the magazine project something of a secret, because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off, so I thought that at least after the first issue I would have done something. It created something of a buzz in Finland, but what I learned was that the first people to call the publisher of a new magazine are freelancers looking for work.

And tipsters.

Most of the story ideas pitched to me were as straightforward as the ones I had planned for the next issue, but one call did get my full attention. The man on the other end of the line told me he had a real scoop. And that he wanted to see me. Because he had a scoop.

I considered him a credible source so one morning, I drove to his office to hear what he had to tell me. Before I got to sit down, he made me sign a piece of paper that said that I would never reveal his identity. The thought had just occurred to him so he grabbed a piece of paper from his printer, wrote the contract, which I then signed.

So, for all you know, he might be a she.

Then I sat down, and he started to talk. He didn’t have concrete evidence, except having talked to people involved in hockey at the time, but he was fairly confident that one Finnish team had dabbled in doping in the 1970s.

The team in question had peaked one season, said the source, in a way that was too good to be true. I sat there, nodding. I needed some proof, even a little bit – more than the fact that the team finished in the bottom of the standings regularly, but then not in the one season – but at the same, it wasn’t difficult to convince me that something like that had been going on.

Simply because one of the players on the team had been my coach in the 1980s.

We were 16, for better and worse. At 16, anything is still possible, and the dreams, well, they’re not as much dreams as they are life goals.

Our new coaches that season were both former players in the same club. We had watched them play in front of thousands of people in our hometown, and while they hadn’t been exactly first or second line players, they had still played where we all wanted to play.

One of them was famous for his bodychecking. He wasn’t a big man, not at all. In fact, he was the opposite, a short guy. But he was muscular, and, surprisingly for being such a short guy, he based his game on power. When he chased a defenceman into the corner, he would, without an exception, jump just before hitting him. And the crowd loved it.

The other guy was your prototypical slow center. Skilled, but, well, slow.

Together, they were determined to take our team to the next level. And the way to the top went through the old school. Or, if possible, no school. In short, they embodied the Slap Shot culture of hockey. Hard hitting, in and outside the rink, theirs was a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners attitude.

They weren’t all about toughness and grit, not at all. Their style was based on speed and skill, as well. But they were determined to make men out of boys. The road went through hard work – and the gym.

And so, one day, as we were about to leave for a break from the team’s off-season training, they handed us sheets of purple pills. A pack of ten pills, two columns, five in each one. That would cover the time we’d be training on our own.

I didn’t know what the pills were for. Maybe they were vitamin C. Or calcium. Or sugar. I just didn’t like the coaches’ philosophy on life, or hockey, and I so hated the coaches that I still don’t know what the pills were. The 16-year-old me did the only rational thing he knew.

I decided to do the exact opposite of what they wanted, and threw the purple pills into my desk drawer and left them there.

My source was confident. He showed me the league standings a few years before and after the year he was talking about. The team’s one great year. He said he knew a lot of players on the team. He looked me in the eye and told me that he knew it. He just knew.

Deep Throat cleared his throat, and said, “That’s it. I can’t tell you more, but I think it’s enough for you to go do some reporting of your own.”

Before I got back to my car, I had decided that the 1970s were simply too long ago.

As were the 1980s.

How does that make you feel?