Pesäpallo helps Finnish hockey goalies

Last season, 92 goaltenders played in the NHL. Eleven of them (12 percent) were from Finland. That was up from nine in the previous season and tied the record from 2009.

Over the years, 30 Finnish goalies have played 4,411 regular-season games in the NHL. But only five of them played in the league before 1999.

So why has Finland — with a population of 5.5 million, one-sixth that of Canada — been producing so many world-class goalies in recent years?

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Hjalmarsson hooked on winning

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Six years ago, almost to the day, the tiny village of Russnäs (population 90) in Sweden was bustling. Right at the intersection off the main road that leads to the big road that takes you to the highway, under the sign that welcomes visitors to the village, there was a big photo of Niklas Hjalmarsson in his Chicago Blackhawks jersey, with a message to the young man.

“Congratulations, Stanley Cup champion” it said in Swedish. Next to it, there was a tin-foil replica of the Cup.

The then-23-year-old defenseman had spent most of his two previous seasons in the AHL but had taken a permanent spot in the Blackhawks’ lineup that season. He addressed the villagers (and thousands of other fans) next to the playground where he had played as a kid, standing next to bales of hay and the Stanley Cup, his voice hoarse from a fun night with his family and friends.

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School of hockey

Dear class of 2016,

Let me start by saying that it’s a great honor for me to be the one that sends you off to the big, wild world with these few words of wisdom. Sure, it would have been even a bigger honor to get invited to a school to deliver them in person, but hey, it’s 2010, who does anything in person anymore? In fact, send me your phone number and I’ll text the words of wisdom to you. There’s only five of them, six tops. Maybe seven.

But, alas, you’re there and I’m here and we need to get this done.

Good luck, be careful out there

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Tappara fails no more

TAMPERE – For three years in a row, Tappara players had to stand on the ice and watch the other team celebrate. Not in 2016. This time, they were the ones parading with the Canada Bowl wearing brand new championship caps, hugging each other, having just beaten Helsinki IFK 2-1 in Game 6 of the Finnish Liiga final.

All three goals were scored in the first period, within 7 minutes and 37 seconds. Juuso Puustinen gave HIFK the lead at 3:21, Patrik Laine, 18, tied the game with his tenth playoff goal four and a half minutes later, and Henrik Haapala redirected the game-winner with 9:02 remaining in the period. HIFK won the shots 20-7 in the last two periods and got the puck over the goal line in the end … only, it came a second too late.

Laine was named the winner of Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

Tappara 2016

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Frölunda’s mission accomplished

SKELLEFTEÅ, Sweden – Sometimes things do work out as planned. In 2013, Frolunda Gothenburg hired a new coach and gave him free reins to develop a new generation of champions. The mission was accomplished on Sunday, when Frölunda beat Skellefteå AIK 5-3 in Game 5 to win the final series of the SHL 4-1.

Artturi Lehkonen scored the game’s first goal just 1:46 into the first period, and then added his eleventh of the playoffs with 5:54 remaining in the period giving Frölunda a 3-0 lead. Nicklas Lasu scored for Frölunda halfway through the period. Skellefteå AIK, playing in its sixth straight final, made a comeback attempt in the second period, but Frölunda could close out the game and take its fourth win.

“We found a way to win, even if things didn’t always go like we wanted. But when it mattered, we came through,” said team captain Joel Lundqvist, who was the only remaining player from Frölunda’s previous championship team.

Joel Lundqvist, team captain on CMore. Continue reading

Happy camper

Twelve years ago, Wife and I shook hands in the little kitchen of our little apartment in downtown Helsinki, on a closed deal. She’d start up a Swedish-language site and a discussion forum for expecting and new parents, and I would start up a Finnish-language site and a discussion forum for … hockey fans.

Wife’s site was up and running a few weeks later, and it turned into a big success.

Meanwhile, I was still working at my day job, while trying to get my writer friends to contribute to my new magazine that was going to come out that fall, still six months away. I wrote several articles myself, translated the ones my buddies – and brother-in-law – had written in English and Swedish, traveled to Sweden to meet with the designer who donated his time for my cause, negotiated with the printers, and the distribution channels, while trying to be a father and a boyfriend.

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Groundhog day in Oulu

OULU – Sometimes you can’t get enough of a good thing. Last season, Finnish hockey fans got to enjoy an exciting final that went all the way to Game 7, and overtime, before Kärpät’s Juhamatti Aaltonen scored the game’s lone goal and won the game against Tappara Tampere.

So this year, they got some more of that candy.

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If you can make it there

“Hej på dig,” he said.

I chuckled.

While “hej på dig” [hey-poh day] is not an uncommon way to say hello in Swedish, it’s one that always cracks me up because “Hej på dig” was the name of my first Swedish book in seventh grade. I – and probably thousands of Finns of my generation – can still recite the entire first chapter of the book by heart, or at least the last line, in which a dog barks in Swedish: “Vov, vov”

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Hometown hero

SOLLENTUNA, Sweden – About 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off bus 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop, walked through the gate and down the stone stairs to the outdoor rink, to attend Edsbergs IF’s hockey school.

Even if he had given it any thought, maybe he would have seen himself come back to the rink as an adult, and maybe a child could even imagine an indoor rink where the old outdoor rink was, and a practice rink next to it, and a full-size bandy rink next to that one, but he most likely didn’t think he’d be back at “Vallen” to unveil an image of himself on the wall of fame of the new rink.

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