Recently, I’ve been tracking down former Team Finland players, collecting their stories of how they broke into the national team. Last night, at a game, I sat next to Petri Skriko who played his first national team games thirty years ago, in the spring of 1981. He was one of the last players to get cut from the Helsinki World Championships team in the 1982, so he set his sights on the 1984 Olympics instead.
“In December 1983, we played an exhibition game against Czechoslovakia in Finland, before leaving for the annual Izvestija Cup in Moscow,” Skriko said.
Finland won the game, but Frantisek Cernik, a Czech defenseman slashed Skriko across his hands. The team doctor examined Skriko’s arm, and didn’t think it was anything that should stop him from playing in the Izvestija Cup, let alone the Olympics that were still seven and a half weeks away.
Skriko hung in there, and got on the train with the team. The arm hurt all the way to Moscow, all eleven hours, but what’s a guy to do when there’s a game to be played?
The team doctor was an anesthesiologist, so he gave Skriko pain killers and an injection before the team’s first game in Moscow. The arm wasn’t really working, and he couldn’t shoot the puck, but he played.
“I got another injection before the first game, and another one after the warmups, but I just couldn’t play more than two periods, so I had to throw in the towel,” he said.
Skriko looked at me.
“The pain was excruciating,” he said, and then pulled up the sleeve on his right arm to reveal a 15-centimeter long scar.
“The wrist was broken off,” he said after a pause.
“I was told it was tendinitis,” he said.
Somehow, the doctor had missed the broken bones in Skriko’s wrist. He traveled back to Finland, and went straight to surgery in which the bones were put back together with a steel rod and some screws.
“I had been offered an NHL contract in 1982, but I stayed in Finland because I wanted to hold on to my amateur status so I could play in the Olympics,” he said.
Now the Olympics were seven weeks away, and Skriko had his arm in a cast. Two weeks later, though, he was back on the ice, thanks to the surgery, and a special arm protection his club team’s trainer had made out of an old shin pad. Skriko missed only four Finnish league games.
Team Finland played three exhibition games against the Soviet Union in January, and the head coach Alpo Suhonen, Skriko’s former coach in his club team, invited him to try out.
He made the team, and in the Olympics, he led Finland in scoring with six goals, ten points in six games, still wearing the special arm protection, the screws inside his arm.
“And I got Cernik in our game against Czechoslovakia, too,” he said.