Puckarinen Hits A Post
Last week in Sweden, some 600 000 people stayed up or got up in the middle of the night to watch the World Juniors final between Sweden and Russia on TV. The average was 530 000 and by the time Mika Zibanejad beat Andrei Makarov in the Russian net, 600 000 people had tuned in.
And the way the game ended, it was obviously worth losing some sleep.
After the game, Sweden’s Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall said that Zibanejad had told him before the game that he’d “finish this game off.’’ A bold prediction coming from a player who had scored just three goals in the tournament, against Latvia and Slovakia – but he backed it up.
“I [repeated it to Boyce-Rotevall] before the overtime too so it was good to get that goal,’’ Zibanejad said. “You have to decide if you want to win this. In the morning, it was a joke, but obviously it’s not a joke anymore.”
No, it’s no joke. And every time we repeat it, it becomes a little more of a truth until it becomes a true legend.
A part of hockey’s lure has to be in the equipment. There’s something magical in the ritual of putting on all that gear that looks nothing like anything in the real world.
When I was four years old, following my father to hockey games in Helsinki, I was fascinated by goalies who, to me, looked like freaks of nature. I mean, where did these people live? I had never seen such creatures - with their wide legs, their chubby upper bodies, and their big, blocky hands - out on the streets.
Then one time, I asked my father about it and was surprised to hear that the players wore equipment only on the ice.
On December 26, the Swedish Television (SVT) will broadcast their brand new, hour-long Peter Forsberg documentary. Last Saturday, they let it slip to the general public that Peter Forsberg admitted Team’s Sweden’s tanking a game to get a better opponent in the quarterfinals.
Not that it was a big surprise. All the signs were there. The Swedes rested their starting goaltender - who didn’t even dress for the game - , they were outshot by almost 20 shots, and the intensity just wasn’t there. But, who could blame them, they had already secured their spot in the playoff stage of the tournament, and a loss gave them an easier opponent, while also pitting its strongest competitors against each other.
But what I don’t understand is how Peter Forsberg could know that Tre Kronor tanked the game, when he didn’t even play in the tournament?
Oh, oh, he wasn’t talking about the 2011 World Championship in which Sweden conveniently lost to Canada 3-2?
Fighting’s been a hot topic in many hockey markets recently. The KHL has had its share of it with the Vityaz team creating havoc on and off the ice, and not for the first time - and dare I predict - not for the last. The Wikipedia tells me that Vityaz “is a Russian term for a valiant warrior or knight [and] usually given to a man who owns a horse and proves himself in battle”. Now the KHL is looking to take the horses away from some of the Vityaz players, making them take a walk from the league.
In the Finnish SM-liiga, Helsinki IFK and Lahti Pelicans broke the league record in penalty minutes in a game when fights broke out in three separate occasions within eight seconds (of time on the game clock), including 16 players. The league disciplinary committee handed out suspensions to 14 players and both head coaches, Petri Matikainen (HIFK) and Kai Suikkanen (Pelicans).
Between the actual incident and the suspensions, the hockey fight debate was already in full swing.
One of the signs of getting older is the fact that you’re heroes are getting inducted into Halls of Fame. Hall of Fame - all of them - used to be a history lesson for me. Inductees were heroes of the past, way past, and their induction to the Hall made me go back and really see who they were, and what their era had been like.
(I hope kids still do it).
But suddenly, the present Hall of Famers aren’t old ghosts anymore. The players going in today, are players I grew up watching, and following.
The International Ice Hockey Federation announced today its class of 2012. Not only are all the players my big favorites, one of them is even younger than me.
Sidney Crosby’s return to NHL action last night was one of those larger-than-life moments, especially with the way he capped his comeback with a four-point performance. It was one of those games that forced European TV networks to quickly change the schedule, and pick up the Penguins-Islanders games instead of whatever else they had had in mind. (Sorry about that all you local Finnish/Swedish boys).
It may not be a true “where-were-you-when” moment, but it was a memorable event. There are only so many truly unforgettable moments anyway, and what makes those few truly great is the fact that they are just that: moments.
Paul Henderson’s goal. Crosby’s Olympic game-winner. Kovalchuk’s wrist shot at the Worlds in Quebec. Tommy Salo’s goof up at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
In six months, Sweden and Finland will co-host the 2012 World Championships. Hartwall Areena in Helsinki is the main venue, and therefore the host for the final rounds of the tournament, while the Globe Arena in Sweden will host the group that Sweden plays its preliminary round games - as well as the quarterfinals.
In 2013, the roles will be reversed, and Stockholm will be the main venue, and Helsinki the other one.
This way, both Finland and Sweden will get to play most of the next World Championships on home ice – which is nice.
This Sunday is Father’s Day in Sweden and Finland, and a good way to celebrate that is to take your father to a hockey game. And since it’s Father’s Day, it must also be time for the first international break in the European leagues. Fans can put their club replica sweaters away for a week, and focus on supporting their national teams. In Helsinki, Finland, there’s the first Euro Hockey Tour tournament for Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the Czech Republic while Germany hosts Slovakia, Switzerland and the US in the Deutschland Cup in Munich.
The national team games have different vibes, of course, especially the ones with the host team playing because the crowd is fully behind one of the teams. This weekend, all Finns will wave the blue and white flag of Finland. And there will be lots of them.
The Euro Hockey Tour, the four tournament series of the four big hockey nations, gives their coaches a chance to try out new players, and work with the system because for the European teams, these tournaments function as preparation for the World Championships. None of the teams will ever get all their best NHL players to the Worlds. Finland, for example, won the World Championship in Bratislava with 20 players of their 22+3 players coming from the European leagues. Sweden, the team Finland beat in the final, had 16 players from European leagues.
This is apparently what happened: HV71’s Daniel Rahimi and Färjestad’s Czech defenseman Martin Sevc got into an bit of a scrap which ended with Sevc using a racial slur. The linesman heard it, and Sevc was thrown out of the game.
Växjö’s coach Janne Karlsson was upset with a goal that Linköping scored on overtime and he flipped the finger. His defense was that he wasn’t sending any messages to the referee, but to Andreas Jämtin, a Linköping player who Karlsson said had disrespected him.
When Skellefteås Fredrik Styrman visited his former team, Luleå, for the first time, the local fans welcomed him by chanting “Styrman will be taken out of the ice on a stretcher”.
And that’s just last week. Apparently, Sweden’s not all IKEA meatballs and Pippi Longstocking.
Funny how money changes things, and makes people dream. Five years ago, I didn’t see many Swedish or Finnish players proclaiming their eternal desire to play in Russia in the media. Today, that is the dream. For players who don’t make it to the NHL, that is.
The latest to get his dream fulfilled is Linus Videll, who leaves Solna (Stockholm) AIK immediately, to play for Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk in the KHL.
“I’ve always wanted to get to the KHL so I am extremely grateful to AIK for giving me this chance,” said Videll who has collected 12 points in 14 games this season.
He’s eighth in the league in scoring, and second on the team that’s 9th in the standings, a point out of the playoffs. But for a club strapped for money, with declining attendances, saying “nyet” becomes increasingly difficult. Especially when the player in question has an out clause to leave for the KHL next season, and especially when the club in question also faces increased costs due to the police’s new plan to invoice them for security services during games.
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.