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.
One fall morning, a Saturday of all days, the first box of magazines arrived at the Helsinki bus station.
It was also the morning of first snow, so I drove as fast as I could while driving as carefully as I could because our Volvo still had summer tires on. I got to the bus station safe and sound, piled up the boxes, and then ripped one open right there. It wasn’t like I hadn’t believed that I could put together a magazine, but at the same time, it hadn’t felt real until I held one in my hand. The snow covered the other boxes quickly, so I loaded the trunk with and drove back home, all giddy and excited.
Over the weekend, I stuffed dozens of envelopes with a copy of the magazine – which was called Hockey, by the way, a name my brother-in-law came up with – to be sent off to dozens of hockey writers in Finland on Monday. The magazine would hit the stands on Thursday, which gave me a couple of days to send a press release and try to drum up some media attention.
On Tuesday morning, I was out driving around town, delivering the envelopes and handing out copies of the magazine to journalists and hockey agents, when my phone rang. It was a reporter from a major newspaper so I pulled immediately over to give an interview. She was asking me all kinds of questions about the magazine and about the stories in it, and how I had put it together, and then she turned her attention to the little guy who had put it together, and asked me a couple of questions about my past and work history and hockey credentials.
Then she asked me something about what kind of hockey I like, and about my hockey philosophy.
And I said, “Well, I think you could say that I’m in Alpo Suhonen’s camp.”
Alpo Suhonen has been the enfant terrible of Finnish hockey for over four decades. He’s left-wing, he chose civil service instead of military service, both big no-nos in the conservative hockey world. He’s different, he’s outspoken, he’s directed theater, he likes jazz – but he was also the first European head coach in the NHL, he’s a Swiss champion, and he was the coach when Finland won its first hockey gold medal, in under-18 European championships in 1978. (I was in the stands eating sandwiches my buddy’s mom had made).
Saying that the man’s reputation precedes him is an understatement. I didn’t even know Alpo, and yet, to me his name alone represented a whole way of thinking about hockey.
Three months ago, I was sitting in Alpo’s garden in Finland, eating a nice pasta meal he had cooked for us. We had talked about coaching and hockey, and different cultures, and philosophy, and gardening, and jazz, and old time hockey players, and the economy, all this for a book we were working on.
It’s not Alpo’s memoir. That is going to be a fantastic book, one day. I mean, not many people can throw in, “that was when I was flipping burgers with Elvis” into a conversation. But now Alpo was talking about, really, about the way he sees coach’s purpose.
We had met at the hockey Worlds a few years ago and I had written a piece on him, titled “Alpo the Anarchist“,” then stayed in touch and the idea of a book came up.
And to me, it’s been an exhilarating project, and it was an adventure to follow his thought process. And the best part? He didn’t disappoint me. He was every bit as interesting and fascinating as I always thought him to be.
Five minutes ago, I sent the manuscript to the publisher.
Here I am, in Alpo’s camp.