Masked intentions

I spent a good ten years of my hockey career, or “career”, if you will, in Finnish minor leagues – a galaxy far, far away from the NHL – where games are played late at night, and the practices held even later at night, where it’s sometimes easier to get to an away game than a home game.

In the minors, the coach sometimes decides to make big league moves, such as shorten the bench in the third period, but most often he doesn’t because he can’t even if he wanted because he only has two lines to work with.

If the team has a coach, that is.

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Back in the USSR

Wife’s sister, my sister-in-law, has a vivid imagination, and a great sense of empathy, both character eemraits that make her a caring and a popular person. What it also does is create false memories, because when she hears a good story – and she loves a good story – she gets so into it that when she tells the story later on to somebody else, she may tell it in first-person, thinking that whatever happened, had happened to her.

Of course, it doesn’t happen with every story, and with everyone, it’s often when Wife, her sister, tells her something that their experiences get intertwined. It’s sort of like meeting a celebrity on the street, and saying good morning to her, because you think it’s another one of your friends, when it is, in fact, one of the Friends.

I was there.

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Unbreakable

When Saku Koivu, 39, announced his retirement from hockey on Wednesday, with a statement from the NHLPA, it truly marked the end of an era.

He’s the boy wonder of the late 1980s and early 1990s who turned into Team Finland’s leader and captain of the early 21st century, only to take a step back in the last few years of his career into the role of an elderly statesman.

Back in 1995.

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Oh yes, Oulu

OULU, Finland – Sometimes the stars are aligned just perfectly, and the great stories we all love in sports get the fairy tale ending we yearn for. That’s what happened in Oulu when Game Seven of the Finnish final went into overtime.

That’s the dream kids dream, and depending on where they live on this planet, it’s their local team that scores the winning goal. These days even kids in Finland, Sweden, and Germany may dream about getting the Stanley Cup clinching goal for a team in Southern Florida, but for most kids, the first heroes are always the ones that are the closest.

The Magic Man, and the other Magic Man

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The diaries of a loser

And so it was over. I sat in the armchair, and watched the Swedes pile up into a huge blue and yellow … painful lump of yuck!

I knew all the stories of the Swedes’ golden generation, how Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson “never got to win anything together in a big tournament.”

I’ve always like Mats Sundin, and I was probably the only person in the stands during the World Championships final in 1997 to cheer for the Swedes over Canada. (Canada won). I think Peter Forsberg is an amazing player, and I even said before the tournament that Henrik Lundqvist is the goalie that can lead Sweden to Olympic gold.

I knew that. And, in a way, I wanted their stories to get the fairytale ending.

Sundin and Forsberg

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Goalie hot house in cold Finland

Ask a Finn about the “recent rise of great Finnish goaltenders” and he or she will be baffled.

The younger generation doesn’t understand the question because for them, Finland’s always produced great NHLers, such as Miikka Kiprusoff, Kari Lehtonen, Niklas Backström, Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask. Older fans think back to previous generations – Urpo Ylönen, Jarmo Myllys*, Kari Takko**, Markus Mattsson***, Jorma Valtonen, Hannu Kamppuri – and wonder what the fuss is about.

He shoots … he scores?

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Tarasenko

Here’s another excerpt from “This is Russia”, Bernd Brückler’s KHL memoir I co-authored. This is from the chapter in which he talks about the characters he played with and against in the KHL: Vladimir Tarasenko, an Olympian in about a month: “Vladimir may be the best player I’ve ever played with,” says Brucks.

Just like Misha in Nizhny, Vladimir “Vova” Tarasenko is a homegrown star in Novosibirsk, and just like in Misha’s case, Vladimir’s father Andrei had been a national team player.

Vladimir grew up in Novosibirsk, and at 16 he played in the Superleague. Of course, “Vova” learned the game from his dad, who had been a great forward. Andrei was also our coach — he was the head coach first, but then switched places with former Toronto Maple Leafs player Dmitri Yushkevich and became assistant coach.

The St. Louis Blues had drafted Vlamidir in the first round in 2010, but he had stayed in the KHL for another year because Andrei thought it was best for Vladimir’s development. Vladimir wanted to stay so that he could play for his dad, the new head coach of Sibir.

Tarasenko.

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