It’s funny how some small things from the past stick to mind when, especially in retrospect, there’s nothing really truly special about that particular moment. For me, one of those moments came in a road hockey game in the backyard of our apartment building in Helsinki.
I didn’t usually take the sticks I used in real games to road hockey games, because I wanted to save them, but that one Koho had the perfect blade for me, and it made my wrist shots better than ever. And I thought I’d need my best shot in the game that awaited.
Well, it wasn’t really a game, it was just me and one friend, my best friend, taking turns shooting, and being in goal. Armed with just hockey goalie’s gloves, but no shin pads, the best bet would have been to shoot low, but who wants to shoot low when you can go topshelf?
Especially with a good stick.
I took a few shots, and my buddy made as many saves. I took wrist shots, and backhanders, and I shot them left and I shot them right, and I scored a couple of goals. Well, four to be exact. We always switched after five goals, and sometimes I’d just shoot at the goalie so I could stay out of the net a little longer. But not that time.
My friend had been in the net a little too long. Not that I wanted to be a goalie, but he had simply made to many saves for my liking. Now I wanted to score.
Besides, our imaginary game was on the line, the game was tied 2-2, and the clock was ticking.
My friend made a nice glove save, and then threw the ball back at me, straight from the glove. As it rolled towards me, I took a few steps towards it, and then took a slapshot.
My slapshots were never anything special, but it was still a little harder than my wrist shots, especially with that white Koho 214. I raised my stick, and just as the blade hit the ball, I yelled, “Ilkka Kaarna!”
Ilkka Kaarna was a forward with the Helsinki Jokerit, one of my favorite teams at the time, and obviously a new favorite player of mine. Partly just because he played with the Kapanen brothers, my idols, and partly because I think he had had some dealings with Dad.
As I said “Ilkka”, I heard a snap, and I felt that there was something strange about my slap shot. And when I finished yelling “Kaarna”, I saw my friend duck in front of the net, so he wouldn’t get hit by a flying object coming his way. And then I saw the blade of my white Koho hit the brown garage door behind him.
The ball was rolling on the ground, a few meters in front of me, and my buddy was now lying in the snow, laughing hysterically.
“Ilkka Kaarna!” was all he could say. Or scream. “Ilkka Kaarna!”
I just stood there, dumbfounded and heartbroken, holding onto one half of my best stick. I picked up the blade but quickly concluded that the stick couldn’t be fixed. I looked at my buddy, still on the ground in front of the goal posts, still laughing.
I ran up to our apartment to get a new stick, and just as I turned the corner, I yelled:
That became our “Geronimo” yell. Every time one of us was winding up for a big shot, or trying to do something daring, we both would yell “Ilkka Kaarna!” and laugh.
Ilkka Kaarna, the man, is currently a GM of a Finnish league club, so every once in a while, like today, I see his name in the news.
And when I do, sometimes, I yell out his name.