Puckarinen Hits A Post
I’ve never been a card collector, because I don’t have the mental capacity, the patience, or the stamina for that, but I do own two hockey cards. They’re currently inside the same plastic frame, backs against each other, one of them looking out my office window, the other staring at the wall.
The players on the cards are Wayne Gretzky and Mats Sundin.
I remember driving past my Dad’s appliance store in the 1970s and seeing crowds of people gathered outside, watching the World Championship games on one of the sets Dad had left on for that purpose. It’s pretty cold in Finland in the spring, and back in the 1970s, the World Championship was played in early April. But what’s a couple of hours outside when you can spend it with your buddies or future-buddies watching hockey?
It used to be that Finnish kids grew up dreaming about playing for their country, and maybe winning medals at the World Championships and the Olympics. I still don’t know when it changed. Now we all know - and accept the fact - that winning the Stanley Cup is everybody’s dream.
On May 20, in some European capital*, people will be storming the streets, bathing in the city’s fountains, and dressing up statues with their national team hockey sweaters. They’ll be driving up and down the streets, honking their horns, with their flags sticking out of the car windows, waving in the wind. People will be singing national anthems in unison, and they will be screaming the names of their hockey heroes to nobody in particular.
That’s what winning the hockey World Championship does to people.
Last week, when I saw the YouTube video of Scott Hartnell making his then-famous now-forgotten - nothing personal, Scottie, that’s just the way things go these days - Hulk Hogan impersonation, I thought of a friend of mine who did the same thing 15 years ago.
Only, he wasn’t doing it in front of 15 000 people, or to a guy dressed up as Hulk Hogan. He did it in an ice cold hockey rink 50 kilometers west of Helsinki, Finland, in front of 200 people, and purely out of frustration and to get back at every single one of those 150 people in the stands.
“You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying in sweat.”
– “Lydia Grant”, dance instructor in “Fame”
Yes, I’m old enough to not only admit to remembering “Fame”, the 1980s hit TV series, but also having liked the show. Now, rushing home on Sunday afternoons so I could watch Danny and Bruno and Leroy, and of course Valerie, Coco and Lori work on their art, and get their lives straight, wasn’t something I told my teammates, but then again, since nobody talked about it, maybe I wasn’t the only fan of the show. All I know, “Fame” was never discussed in the locker room.
I’ve quoted “Lydia Grant’s” - played by Debbie Allen - words many times over the years, sometimes jokingly, but most often seriously, because it’s true. Fame does cost, and the price is sweat.
In September, at the Swedish Elitserien’s annual kick off event, most of the experts, including Elitserien coaches, predicted Djurgården to finish at the top of the standings, a couple of the coaches even going as far as predicting the Stockholm team to win the championship, and add to their already massive collection of titles.
Djurgården refers to itself as the team with the most Swedish championships, “Mesta mästare”, which is naturally true. Their 16 Swedish titles is four more than Brynäs has, and nine more than AIK, their local rival has won.
All three clubs are still playing hockey this season, which, it being spring in Stockholm is usually good news, but in Djurgården’s case, it’s not.
They’re actually almost the same age. Sure, Teemu’s four years older, but what’s four years when you’re 41 and 37? And yet, somehow Saku still seems like the kid, next to a veteran, even though they’re both veterans.
Last night the two veterans, two Finns united in Anaheim, both had their own historic night when Selänne - surely you knew Teemu was Selänne, and Saku was Koivu - scored his 22nd goal of the season, and 1399th point of his career, and grabbed the 19th place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list all to himself, leaving his idol and friend Jari Kurri behind him.
Pressure – pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure - that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
– Queen, “Under pressure”
Playoff race is on, and for many teams, that means that the pressure, too, is on. But going for a playoff spot and missing it, while sure a disappointing experience, is nothing compared to the pressure that a team trying to avoid relegation feels.
Even with the pressure, a missed playoff spot is just a missed opportunity to get to the throne. Life goes on.
A relegation form the top division, on the other hand, is the end, a complete dismissal from the court, a disaster on all levels.
That’s why Stockholm’s Djurgården (and its fans) are starting to feel the panic. Even the thought of playing for their spot in the Elitserien is frightening, even if there’s still a good chance that they will finish in the top 2 of the double round-robin against the best teams in the second division, and play in the Elitserien next season as well.
On May 7, 1995, Ville Peltonen, the son of a Finnish national team player Esa, had a big dream come true. Anyone who’s ever played road hockey has also dreamed about scoring that Stanley Cup winning goal, or becoming a new Paul Henderson (or his equivalent in your country) by scoring a big goal for the national team.
Some of us take it a step further, and dream of scoring a hat trick.
And for some, the dreams do come true, because that’s exactly what Peltonen, then 21, did. He scored a hat trick in the 1995 World Championship final, as Finland beat Sweden 4-1. What made his hat trick a once-in-a-lifetime moment was the fact that that had also been a million other people’s dream, and for a good portion of Finns, an impossible dream.
And that was the second Finnish Winter Classic. A real Helsinki derby, with the reds, IFK, taking on the whites, Jokerit, in front of 35 000 people in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. The home team, IFK, won the game in a shootout, 3-2. And you know there’s magic in the air when the nicest play of the game is Jarkko Ruutu’s forehand-backhand deke in the shootout.
Last year, the home team - then Jokerit - lost the game so IFK is now 2-0 in their outdoor games in the SM-liiga.
While the February 2011 derby was the first outdoor game in the Finnish league history, it wasn’t that long ago the Finnish top teams still battled for points while battling against snow and freezing cold. The league was founded in 1975, as an entity divorced from the federation.
Back then, the first indoor arena in the country was just ten years old. In the early 1970s, several of the rinks were converted into arenas, and surprisingly many are still - after renovations - home arenas to Finnish league teams.
When I was 17, many moons ago, I lived in a small Finnish town called Joensuu, in the eastern part of the country, about an hour from the Russian border. Except that it wasn’t the Russian border, it was the Soviet border, and it wasn’t such a big of a deal. There’s nothing on the other side of the border, anyway, just forest. There’s nothing else in about a hundred mile radius from the city.
There was no Internet, and therefore no YouTube, but there was rock’n’roll so my friends and I spent a lot of time sitting in each others’ rooms listening to tapes and records, and swapping tapes and records with each other.
And trying to learn those first few chords to Smoke on the Water.
(As it happens, still the only chords I know).
About Puckarinen Hits A Post
Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden.
That's right, he's deep behind the enemy lines. He's also a regular contributor to IIHF.com, NHL.com, The Hockey News, and several publications in Finland and Sweden. He's also covered four World Championships and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for the IIHF.
And since he foolishly hoisted the Stanley Cup in his twenties, he wakes up every morning knowing he will never be able to win it.