Door 12: Hockey

Tom Petty sang that “the waiting is the hardest part” but sometimes it may also be the sweetest part. Sometimes it’s exactly that time spent waiting that makes everything worthwhile.

It’s all those little things along the way that tell you that you’re going in the right direction even if you’re not there quite yet. And sometimes the things along the way are almost as nice as the big reward at the end of the road (and sometimes they get tangled up together so that it’s hard to say which is which anymore).

These days, you can catch a live broadcast of not only English football, the Super Bowl, and any NHL game you choose but the nichiest of niche sports anywhere in the world – and nothing means anything anymore.

Scarcity creates value.

When all you have are 5pm broadcasts from around the British Isles every Saturday, those Saturdays in front of the TV watching teams like Aston Villa from cities you’ve barely heard of, like Birmingham, they become precious.

In the very early 1980s, the NHL was barely on the map in Finland. The highlight of the year were the World Championships on one of the two channels we had. Obviously, they were mostly interested in showing Finland’s games but Dad and I wanted to see everything.

I was especially interested in seeing the Soviets’ small forward, number 17, Valeri Kharlamov in action. Fortunately for us, the Soviets’ games were broadcast on the Estonian TV and on a good day, with clear skies, we could pick up their broadcast in our Helsinki apartment and, if we were really lucky, get the Finnish play-by-play from the radio.

But there was another chance for me to catch good hockey and see Kharlamov in action. That opportunity came every year about a week before Xmas – until 1981 when he died in a car accident – just before or around the school break and it was called the Izvestiya tournament. Originally started in 1967 in honour of the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, it was an annual four nations tournament most often between Finland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.

And most often, the three other teams had no say in who was going to win it. The hosts won it nineteen times between 1967 and 1990, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Finland may not have been close to winning the tournament, and neither were my favorite Swedish players, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to watch hockey.

It was exciting to have a hockey game on in the afternoon in the middle of the week, not to mention the screen graphics, the players’ names in Cyrillic letters on the screen, the funny tournament mascot – a snowman – and how every year, the Finnish announcer would tell us about the Russian Father Frost.

It was special. It was something to look forward to.

Then Sweden started their own tournament, and Finns theirs, and the Czechs theirs, and instead of one, or two tournaments, there were four. Izvestiya tournament changed its name a couple of times, there was more hockey on TV, and I guess, the magic also disappeared a little when hockey became my job.

Every year around this time, though, I watch the Izvestiya tournament – now called the Channel One Cup – and try to turn it into the start of the holiday season, so that I can also make the wait for Santa a little longer.

Because sometimes, the waiting is the best part.

This is the From The Desk of Risto Pakarinen 2017 advent calendar. Behind every door, you’ll find something related to the 1980s


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