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.
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”.
When the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks in the 2009 Western Conference Semifinal, Mats Sundin sat on the bench and hummed along “Chelsea Dagger,” the Hawks’ goal song.
Maybe it was the sudden shock of his realizing that not only was the Canucks’ playoff run over, so was his career.
Or maybe “Chelsea Dagger” is simply a hell of a catchy song.
“Music is such a big part of hockey games that music has been played at games even during the pandemic when there have been no fans in the stands,” says Kaj Ahlsved, a Finnish researcher who wrote his PhD thesis at Åbo Akademi’s musicology department on music in sports events. Hockey was one of the sports he studied.
“You can’t think of a hockey game without music,” he told Hockey Wanderlüst over Zoom.
Last week, in the Maple Leafs game against the Oilers, William Nylander carried the puck into the offensive zone. At the hash marks, he made a quick turn to shake Ryan Nugent-Hopkins off his back, and passed the puck to Jake Muzzin who fired a shot from the point. Nylander followed the play and tied the game with a slap shot from the slot.
It’s a move Nylander does often. He makes a quick turn to win time for himself.
“Turns and winning time” was also the topic of Joachim Ahlgren Bloom’s recent presentation at Global Skills Showcase, organized by the NHL Coaches Association’s partner Coaches’ Site. They went looking for the best skill development coaches in the game and of the original 250 nominees, twenty were invited to make a presentation.
Ahlgren Bloom, 47, was the only skills development coach from Sweden to get the invitation.
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.
LAHTI, Finland –– Some fans probably rubbed their eyes when they came to a Lahti Pelicans game in January and saw that some of their favourite players had special numbers on their sweaters.
Top scorer Ryan Lasch’s usual “19” had become 2019 and goaltender Jasper Patrikainen’s “70” had a “%” after it.
Both symbolized the Pelicans and their hometown Lahti’s environmental goals. Lahti s the European Green Capital 2021 and in line with that, the Pelicans aim to become the world’s first carbon-neutral hockey team by the end of 2021.
Lasch’s 2019 is a reference to when Lahti stopped using coal, while 70 percent on Patrikainen’s sweater refers to the decrease in gashouse emissions since 1990. Other numbers were, for example, “8%” and “650 GWh.”
In Hovin, an Oslo, Norway neighborhood, there’s a small pond that freezes in the winter, which makes it perfect for kids who want to skate. It sits inside a pocket of red brick houses, a stone’s throw from Valle Hovin, a speed skating arena, and Vallhall, an indoor soccer arena.
You can see the pond from the houses on the hill, and if you’re lucky, some kids will be playing. And just like kids everywhere, half their game takes place on the ice, the other half in their heads. Nobody’s ever just himself, because everybody’s pretending to be someone famous.
When Mats Zuccarello, the New York Rangers forward playing in his fifth season in the National Hockey League, was younger, his heroes were Peter Forsberg, the Swedish Hockey Hall of Famer, and his Colorado Avalanche teammates, Canadians Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy. Posters of those three were plastered on the walls of his room.
On that same wall, now his brother’s room, there’s a New York Rangers sweater number 36, with “Zuccarello” on the back.
How times have changed.