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Puckarinen Hits A Post

The kids in the Hall

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.

Six-time Olympian and World record holder in national team games, Raimo Helminen, will be inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame before his home audience in Helsinki next May. The Finn will be joined by players Pavel Bure (RUS), Phil Housley (USA), Milan Novy (CZE), and Andy Murray (CAN) in Builder’s category.

And no, the one that’s younger than me is not Milan Novy. It’s Bure.

Milan Novy, though, was my favorite Czech player growing up. Back then, the World Championships were one of the few hockey events a hockey-crazed kid in Finland could see on TV, and about the only one featuring international stars. The Worlds – and books, if you can believe it - introduced me to the great Soviet players, like Kharlamov, Petrov, Mikhailov, Tretiak, and Sweden’s Mats Waltin, Lars-Erik Sjöberg, Mats Näslund, among others.

The Czechoslovakia team was a popular one in my family. Even though we all admired and one of us just worshipped Kharlamov, it was nice to see the big old Soviet Union get their behinds handed to them every once in a while, and the Czechs seemed to be the only ones able to do it.

The Czechs and the Slovaks had Jiri Holecek and Vladimir Dzurilla, both goaltending legends. They had Ivan Hlinka, Vladimir Martinec, the Stastny brothers, Vincent Lukac, and they had Milan Novy, in his small Jofa helmet, going around and through the Soviet defense when Czechoslovakia won back-to-back World Championships.

The winter of 1977, on our street, I was Milan Novy.

Now, I’ve always considered Raimo Helminen a hockey genius, I said that even when Raimo Helminen’s international career seemed to be over in the early 1990s, and I have witnesses to back me up on that. They’re the same people who heard me say, “I told you so” for the next ten years when he won all those medals with Team Finland. But I never pretended to be Helminen. He was more of a role model than an idol.

Although, when I 30 years after my Novy days, bumped into Helminen after a Legends game in Quebec City, I was pretty thrilled. I had interviewed him fairly recently before that - he had retired from hockey just two months prior -  and he recognized my face. He was struggling to get his equipment bag from the locker room, and he was in hurry to a reception. Also, there was the matter of the stick. It just seemed to be in the way, and it was too difficult to ship back to Finland.

Helminen decided against taking the stick with him, and then he saw me.

He handed his wooden Koho to me.

“You want it?” he asked me.

“Oh, wow, yeah, sure,” I said. “Thanks.”

“Now that I’ve retired, who knows, it might be a collector’s item one day,” he said, and laughed.

And I laughed. Then I carefully carried the stick to my hotel, and a week later, took it back to Stockholm with me.

Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer. He wrote this in Joensuu, Finland, home of former Jet Markku Kyllönen. You can follow him on Twitter as Puckarinen.

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Comments

SYF's avatar

What a great brush with a Finnish hockey hero and he gives you his stick.  Very cool.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 12/19/11 at 11:03 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.