A doggy-dog world

“My sister Carey had trouble with her husband, who, after a few years, refused to talk directly to her and instead would talk through his Labrador, saying things like ‘Tell her to bring the bloody paper over here.’”
Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner

As soon as I woke up, I knew it was going to be one of those days. It was best to put off, whatever it I was putting off, to as late in the day as possible. So I went back to sleep. I hid my head behind the curtain and dozed off.

Master Oliver woke up about fifteen minutes later even though, it may as well have been two hours, I don’t know. I’m not great with times. Let’s just say it was a short enough time for me to feel like I had just fallen asleep but also long enough for me to have dreamt a juicy dream.

You know the ones in which you chase a squirrel through a maze and just when you’re about to catch it, you wake up? I suppose we all have those.

I shook myself awake, from head to tail, and walked around the bed to Master Oliver’s side.

I made my eyes as big as possible. Those puppy eyes always made his heart melt.

Call it a preemptive strike.

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It was twenty years ago today

I don’t remember my twentieth birthday, and that’s not me trying to be funny and imply I had a wild birthday party. I most probably didn’t have a party at all. 

It was a Tuesday, so I probably took the subway to the university, had a few classes before taking the subway back to my tiny apartment. In the afternoon, I’d guess I drove my Nissan Sunny to hockey practice and home, and then watched the Invisible Man on Sky Channel – and waited for Monsters of Rock to begin at 1am. 

A good day, in other words. 

Risto at 20.

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The blog’s alive


Welcome back. And welcome back to me, too. Here I am again, the keyboard warrior, the kitchen table columnist, the – dare I say it? – blogger. 

It’s not my first rodeo, and it’s not my first blog, either. In fact, this year marks the 20th anniversary of my blogging, which also coincides with Son’s 20th birthday. My first blog was called “Name That Baby” and it chronicled our expecting life, and the life of Wife and me as new parents. 

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You can take the boy out of Finland

“Are you Finnish?” the man asked me, wasting no time with niceties.

Now, he asked the question with a smile on his face, but his tattooed knuckles told me I’d better answer him, and answer him truthfully.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“I could tell. Finnish genes are strong,” he said and raised his finger to indicate he was about to take a pause in the conversation.

We both did a set of bicep curls.

“I don’t know what it is, but there’s something very Finnish about you. My ex-wife was Finnish so I can tell,” he went on and wiped some sweat off his brow.

I did, too.

“Yeah, well, I don’t really know what it is, but sure, I’ve seen an image of the genetic map of Europe and we’re way out here when the rest of Europe is here,” I said, pointing holes in the air.

“Where in Finland are you from?” he asked me then.

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A polyglot on languages

Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia is someone who’s rarely lost for words, for the simple reason that he is a polyglot, someone who speaks a great number of languages.

Born in Lima, Peru, Rojas Berscia has traveled the world and has made languages his profession and his life. He’s studied linguistics and literature in Peru, Germany and the Netherlands. He’s taught Chinese in Peru and he completed his doctorate in the Netherlands before leaving Europe to study indigenous languages – Kukatja and Yidiny – in the Western Australia outback.

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Last weekend, one of Daughter’s hockey teams played their last game of the season at our local rink. We played twice against the same team – and when I say “we” I’m trying to draw your attention to the fact that I’m the assistant coach – and since it was the season finale, we had even got a little news item on the club’s website. 

You get it. It was a special event. 

In fact, it was so special that even the man I had earlier only seen at local soccer games and the men’s hockey team’s games – working the door, hanging out with the officials, cheering on the boys – was there on both days. He hung out in the locker room corridor, fist-bumped the head coach, and took in the action.

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Even Hockey Can’t Offer Escape

It’s difficult to focus on hockey when missiles are flying in Europe, not unimaginably far from where I’m sitting and typing this. And yet, all I want to do is think of hockey, hoping that the game will, once again, offer me refuge from the grim realities outside the rink.

Then again, all through my lifetime, hockey has been at the center of political attention, a venue for proxy fights and battles, from the 1969 World Championship, relocated from Czechoslovakia to Sweden due to the Soviet invasion of the original host country – and then the Czechs and Slovaks beating the the Soviets twice in the tournament – to the 1972 Summit Series to the Canada Cups to the 1980 Olympics and the Miracle on Ice all the way to the IIHF relocating the 2021 Worlds from Belarus.

There’s no escape.

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Jalonen, Finland check one more box

Finns love a lot of things – sauna, for example – but right at the top of the list there’s hockey, and then there’s sticking it to the man and sometimes the stars are aligned in a way that brings their two loves together. The Beijing Olympics men’s final was one such event when the Finnish Lions downed ROC 2-1, claiming the nation’s first Olympic gold medal in ice hockey.

With Finland currently a giant of the game, it’s hard to imagine a time when the men’s team didn’t make the final of big tournaments in regular intervals.

About 45 per cent of the population are too young – born in 1983 or later – to remember the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary where Finland beat the Soviets, 2-1. Back then, the win was enough to give Finns the silver medals, behind the Soviet Union but ahead of Sweden (and sticking it to the Swedes is also on the list of things Finns love).

And about a third of the current population either wasn’t born or they hadn’t turned five in 1995, when Finland won their first World Championship, in Sweden.

There’s at least a generation of Finns who never felt the truly bitter sting of disappointment.

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History will be made

When Dre Barone takes the ice next Wednesday in Laval, it may be a small step for him but it’s a leap for hockey culture. Barone will be the first openly gay male official in an AHL game.

In fact, he’s the only openly gay male hockey participant in a pro league. For now anyway.

For Barone, Wednesday’s game between the Laval Rocket and the Manitoba Moose marks both a comeback and a step up. After hundreds of games in the ECHL and the Southern Professional Hockey League, he feels he’s now ready for the American Hockey League.

“The ECHL is still a one-ref league, the highest pro level league not to have gone to the two-ref system. Fitness is not a problem and since I live in Canada, I’ve been able to find places to skate. I was also at the NHL Officiating Combine in August so I feel prepared,” Barone says.

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End of an Era

Back in March 1965, Urho Kekkonen, the President of Finland, officially declared the hockey world championships opened from a brand new presidential box in the brand new Hakametsä arena in Tampere.

Finland had been up as host of the 1963 Worlds but with no indoor rink in the country, and no government commitment for one either, the Finns agreed to back Sweden’s bid. There were more-than-vague plans to build an arena in Helsinki, and a delegation from Tampere had visited the 1962 Worlds in Colorado Springs on an expedition.

In the end, Tampere beat Helsinki by a year, and hence, Kekkonen made the 200-kilometre trip from Helsinki to open the tournament and watch the opening game, which alone tells a 21st century reader how the world has changed.

It was Czechoslovakia v East Germany.

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