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.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Finland for the first time in 350 days and went up to the newly renovated Helsinki Olympic Stadium and its tower to see the sights.
The view is fantastic – the best in town – regardless of whether you look out south, toward downtown or east toward the swimming pool that was the venue for the 1952 Olympic water sports.
My favourite is the one to the north, toward my home away from home, the Helsinki rink. Built in 1966, the second indoor rink in the country, it’s never really even needed a name. Except “The Rink”.
School’s out and it’s time for me to give you some fatherly piece of advice, but as you know, I’m not much of a speaker. Besides, all the most profound things have already been said by others before me.
And those others were two American Bobs, namely Gale and Zemeckis, who wrote the screenplay for the best movie ever made: Back to the Future (Part I).
(Who said ¡Three Amigos!?)
It just so happens that the main character in the movie is a kid about your age, about to leave school, stuck in a period between the past and the future, something we call present. It also just so happens that I saw the movie for the first time when I was your age, about to graduate from high school, not knowing at all what I wanted to do.
Before the season, few people gave the Chicago Blackhawks any chance of making the playoffs. No, no, this was a team in a rebuild mode, especially when Jonathan Toewshad to step away due to illness.
And yet, the Hawks are currently fourth in the Central division, a couple of games over .500, and they’ve done it thanks to heroic performances by Patrick Kane and their Finnish rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen.
Lankinen, 25, may be a rookie, but his hockey journey is almost the perfect example of how to build a successful career, step by step.
Barry “Big Deal” Davis sat down at his table and gestured to the young lady in the caravan that was also the food truck that he wanted a cup of coffee. Davis had hardly had time to get properly settled in the white plastic chair when the waitress came out with a paper mug and set it on the table in front of Davis.
He liked to tell people that he had once been kind of a big deal – hence the official nickname – but when asked to elaborate on the topic, he clammed up, and changed the subject. That, naturally, as was his intention, only made people to want to know more. It also made them believe the story.
And that’s why that nickname stuck, instead of one of the many other names people called him behind his back.
And of course: Fat Elvis.
Diagonally across the street from Helsinki’s first indoor hockey rink parking lot, there’s a low, one-storey yellow stone building with a red roof. In the winter, it’s visible from the street, but in the summer, it sits in the shadow of the birches, elms, and maples that line street in front of it.
Behind the small building, there are several bigger and slightly Gothing-looking buildings – designed by Magnus Schjerfbeck, brother of painter Helene Schjerfbeck – and originally built in 1910 as Helsinki’s first epidemic hospital but by the 1970s, they were home to a children’s hospital. Aurora, it was called.
What the one-storey building was built for meant for, I don’t know, but I do know that when I spent about a month in the children’s hospital, a measles epidemic broke out and to spare me, the doctors put me in quarantine.
I was five years old.
I remember when I realized the world had truly gotten smaller. About ten years ago – maybe more, but I’ve learned that everything seems “ten years ago” these days even if it was 2 or 22 years ago – I was visiting my old small hometown in Finland and an old friend of mine told me that Deep Purple was going to play at the sports arena in town.
Deep Purple? In our town? Surely there must have been a booking error. Deep Purple was a legendary band we only read about on the pages of Metal Hammer (if somebody could find a copy of the magazine in one of the two kiosks that carried such magazines).
Back then, all I ever wanted to do was to travel to Canada. That’s when Terry moved in our house, pinned a huge Maple Leaf flag on his room’s wall and hung his maroon Fort Qu’Appelle Falcons baseball hat on the lamp.
Even if there was no Internet, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Pinterest, naturally, I had always k that the world was out there, somewhere. I watched Happy Days and Dallas, and the world came to me as foreign hockey players, first on TV, and then at a rink near me as Canadian import players – none of them more impressive to me than Mr. Frank Neal of Toronto, Ontario, Canada who played with a long stick and sported an impressive moustache, and Marcel Dionne of Drummondville, Quebec, Canada who – according to Dad who had read about him in the paper – had the strongest forearms in the world.