I can see the McDonald’s golden arches on a rooftop on the other side of the bay from my hotel room. I can also see the big white cathedral, the national museum, and the Hesperia park and the trees around it turning red and yellow. Down below, green trams are going up and down Mannerheimintie, the five and a half kilometers long main street that begins from Erottaja, the most expensive lot in the Finnish version of Monopoly, and turns into highway 3 in the north end.
The McDonald’s sign may have been there 17 years ago, I’m not sure, but I don’t think it was. Neither was the Helsinki Music Centre, or the glass cube which is home to Sanoma, a major Finnish media house.
Mostly, the view over Helsinki looks exactly like it did in 1994 when the NHL took brought Teemu Selänne’s Winnipeg Jets came to town to show how things were done in North America.
Selanne was 24, a babyfaced superstar, the star of milk commercials in Finland. The man with the big hair was in charge of the street hockey tournament that was played outside the Helsinki main rink, built in 1966, and I was the NHL’s “European liaision”, a man on the ground, doing things.
I also got my best friend, a chef, involved, and he got to help the guy with the big hair, so he was one of the referees in the street hockey tournament. He also helped me figure out how we were going to get the tournament logo painted onto the wall on the other side of the street form the rink, in a semi-legal way.
I had checked with the owner of the wall if we could whitewash it, and then paint the logo on the wall, and then paint over it again, but they refused. But the NHL was asking me to get the logo there, and since my middle name is “No Problem”, I had to get it done.
My friend, the chef, worked at a nice restaurant in downtown Helsinki, and one of the other chefs there, Tuure, was a student at the University of Art and Design so he was asked to help. We gave him a sticker with the tournament logo, and that night, he painted it on a big white sheet which we then hung on the wall the next day, after we had painted the wall white, to cover all the graffiti.
Life doesn’t seem to be linear. It’s circular, because here I am, back in the same hotel where I, 17 years ago, hoisted the Stanley Cup above my head for the first time – against the advice of the two Keepers of the Cup, Phil and Craig.
The tournament was over, and the NHL was leaving town. I had come to the hotel to see my new friends off, and to help out with packing, with my best friend, the street hockey referee, chef, and a partner-in-semicrime.
I knocked on the door, and Craig opened it.
“You wanna see the Cup,” he asked me.
“Oh, is it here,” I said, as if I didn’t know.
And there it was, waiting for me in a container. Craig took it up, and handed it to me to examine, a little too nervous to do anything but read all the names, and touch and smell the most famous trophy in hockey.
“Would you like to lift it up,” Craig asked me.
“I’d love to.”
“Go ahead, but don’t hoist it above your head,” he said.
“Really? I’ve already touched it, and I’m probably never going to win it anyway,” I said, referring to the old hockey legend.
“I wouldn’t do it,” said the Canadian.
“I mean, if you want to, go ahead, do whatever you want, but I wouldn’t. Just because that’s something you have to earn. Hoisting the Cup is reserved for the champions,” he added.
I lifted the Cup – and it was heavier than I thought – and I held it in my arms. And then something happened, because in the photo, you can see a smiling, young Risto, wearing the tournament T-shirt he had got just ten minutes earlier and a white baseball cap with the NHL logo on it, hoisting the Cup over his head.
And here is Teemu again, back in Helsinki, no longer a babyface, but a face of another franchise, the Anaheim Ducks that will play their game in the rink that didn’t exist when we were he the last time. The man with the big hair will be back tomorrow, without the big hair, and as a high-ranking NHL executive.
My best friend is no longer a chef, hasn’t been for years, and Tuure no longer designs posters, but is, instead, a big Finnish pop star.
Even the Jets are back in Winnipeg, even if it’s not same Jets as before.
In 1994, I was told to go wear a suit on the day of the first game of the tournament. I didn’t own one, so I ran to Stockmann’s department store and bought one. Because there was no time, the pants had to stay a little long, as I ran back to the rink in the pouring rain, to the guy who stood in the tunnel, and – upon getting the signal in the walkie-talkie that I carried proudly – told the Jets it was time to go play a game.
On this trip, I have two suits with me, but I realized I’m going to have to buy a new shirt so I will run to Stockmann’s for that. It’s still there. And, as it happens, it is raining today.
It’s all coming back to me.