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Puckarinen Hits A Post

The Christmas miracle

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.

The next day, he made me a goalie mask out of cardboard and sprayed it black. That was the first of many goalie masks he made me. Until I started playing hockey for real, and wouldn’t ever play in goal.

The equipment is a personal thing. I wore the same elbow pads from 14 all the way through to men’s league, until I got my buddy’s old ones. They were way too stiff, like playing with a cast on my arm, but when they got broken in, and became mine, they were mine. I got them in 1993, and they’re the ones in my hockey bag in the basement.

It was the sweater tucked into the pants that made the Gretzky look complete. It was the pants that were two sizes too big and hung below his kneecaps that was the Bengt-Åke Gustafsson trademark.

I didn’t know I was going to become a hockey player when my parents and I drove to the Maximarket in Helsinki. We walked down to the sporting goods department, and looked around. My father, the hockey player, found the pair and asked me to try it on. Afterwards, I wore them around our apartment, bumping into things, just to show my parents how well they protected me.

Protection? Who was I kidding? Pants are truly special. If you’ve ever seen a player come out and strut around the arena wearing only his hockey pants, hanging low, you know what I’m talking about.

Even if they look like clowns, they still look like cool clowns.

A few weeks later, I got skates for Christmas. They were red and black CCM Marksmans. Back then, the blades still had that white plastic plug, the one that the referees sometimes made sure to check. My Dad told me they Marksmans were “real hockey skates”, not for beginners, that is.

I was so happy that I jumped up and down and hugged my best friend,  our German shephard Riku, and whispered the great news into his ear: “Riku, you know what? I got new skates.” He looked happy, too.

I squeezed him one more time, and then put on my pants and my new skates.

I was a real hockey player.

Happy holidays.

Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer. He wrote this entry in his blue hockey pants. You can follow him on Twitter as @puckarinen.

Filed in: | Puckarinen Hits A Post | Permalink
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SYF's avatar

Fantastic narrative, Risto.  Merry Christmas.

Posted by SYF from impossible and oddly communally possessive sluts on 12/24/11 at 09:42 PM ET

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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.

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