Puckarinen Hits A Post
by Puckarinen on 10/17/11 at 11:16 AM ET
A couple of weeks ago, I found the local hockey club’s new magazine in our mailbox. Our Sollentuna Hockey is a tiny club, with a men’s team in the fourth highest division in Sweden, but it’s also one that is proud to have Mats Sundin as an alumnus. For the first issue they had even got an interview with the man himself.
That, naturally, pulled me in, and as I read the story at the breakfast table, I mumbled that I probably should go watch their games and support the local club. And that maybe Son would like to tag along.
“No, no, I’m not interested in such a violent sport,” said Son from across the table without looking up from his comic book.
“Oh, come on, hockey’s not violent. It’s great athletes doing wonderful things in high speed, using skates and sticks, it’s not easy. It’s the fastest game on earth,” I said.
“But they fight all the time,” he said.
I was stunned.
And to add insult to injury, Son made the “go to sleep” gesture that Arron Asham made after his fight.
I’m kidding. He didn’t do that. He has no idea who Asham is, and he’s definitely oblivious to the controversy that his gestures created.
But ask him about any Harry Potter spell, or who plays R2D2 in the movies, and he won’t hesitate a second. Leave him alone with a pile of Lego bricks for 5 minutes and you can be sure there’s a complete Pirates of the Caribbean movie set when you get back.
I’m the only one in our family of four to follow hockey, and while I may do it enough for all of us, it also means that when the family votes on the remote control usage rights, my lone vote doesn’t get me very far. It only gets me back into my little office upstairs, watching hockey, and reading about it online.
A week later, we walked to our local sports bar for burgers and soft drinks, and were seated under two TV sets with Swedish Elitserien hockey on them. Son graciously let me sit facing the screens while he turned his back on them, and opened his book. When the talking head analysts came on during the intermission, Son suddenly looked up and pointed at me with his forefinger.
“Hah! He said ‘aggressive’,” he said.
“Yes, he did, but he just meant that the penalty killers didn’t give any time or space to the power play unit. He just meant that they were on them all the time,” I replied.
But he was already back in Hogwarts, or maybe sailing the seven seas with Jack Sparrow. Capt’n Jack Sparrow.
He hasn’t read about the half a dozen concussions in the Swedish Elitserien in the last few weeks, he doesn’t know that Hannes Hyvönen just got a three-game suspension for a hit to the head, and even if he did, he’d pay more attention to the fact that he shares a first name with the player.
Somehow, though, my eight-year-old son - soon nine, he asked me to say - is under the impression that hockey is a violent sport. Once somebody is in that frame of mind, it’s hard to change.
Those of us who love the game, either love the fighting, too, or just happen to love the game so much that they can live with the fights. Next time somebody tells you that nobody ever leaves a hockey game when a fight breaks out, you can tell them that there is this Finnish guy in Stockholm who’s done it.
I don’t get the code, and I don’t understand the fascination with fighters. Whenever their supporters try to justify their roster spot, they bring up their goal production, as in, “he’s not just a fighter, he can also…” Well, why not have a better player in that slot then?
This season, the Swedish Elitserien’s main sponsors:
Svenska Spel, the state-owned betting and lottery company
Aftonbladet, Sweden’s biggest tabloid.
Onico, nicotine-free snuff.
Ramirent, “the leading general equipment rental company in the Nordic countries.”
The Swedish Television’s hockey broadcasts were sponsored by a bed company, a car alarm company, workwear company, and a construction company. Not the biggest companies in the country, I might add.
While those companies may reach exactly what they want, a male-dominated niche, hockey’s violent public image is limiting its growth.
All in all, the public image of hockey just happens to revolve around fighting. There’s Slapshot, “the greatest hockey movie ever”, with the lovable Hanson Bros. There’s Youngblood in which “[a] skilled young hockey prospect hoping to attract the attention of professional scouts is pressured to show that he can fight if challenged.” Even the Mighty Ducks’ nemesis was a team that physically abused them.
It’s nothing new, and not likely to change anytime soon. Not with Finnish papers cranking out headlines when Olli Määttä, 17, had a fight in his second game with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. Not when newspapers like to choose a fight photo to illustrate any game recap.
Last Saturday, Son and I went to the local video store to buy candy and while there, he also wanted to rent a movie. Maybe the last Harry Potter movie? Since we have a deal in place, according to which he can only see the Harry Potters which he has also read, I suggested another movie. Maybe the one with a hockey player on the cover.
“Tooth Fairy”. Interesting. I flipped it around and read the plot summary.
“Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson) is a minor league hockey player nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy”, for hitting opposing players so hard that he knocks out their teeth…”
I put the movie back on the shelf. After all, I need to pick my battles.
I mean, I have to be ready to score on my chances … if I get one.
Risto Pakarinen, a Finnish freelance writer, wrote this in Stockholm, Sweden, just a few blocks from where Lisbet Salander has her apartment in Stieg Larsson’s best-selling thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. You can follow him on Twitter as @puckarinen.
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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.