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Puckarinen Hits A Post

They used to be kings

“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.

The club didn’t make the playoffs, and is, instead, playing for its Elitserien spot in a qualification series with Timrå, the team that finished last in the Elitserien regular season, and four best teams from Allsvenskan, the division below Elitserien.

Before the puck was dropped, Djurgården was a shoo-in for the playoffs, even a candidate to win the whole thing. They started ok, but hovered in the middle of the standings spending most of December in seventh place. The last time they held onto a playoff berth was on January 17, and on January 30, two points out of the playoffs, they fired head coach Hardy Nilsson. By the end of the season, they had slipped to second last, seven points out of the playoffs, tied in points with Linköping, but with a (three goals) worse goal differential.

In Finland, a 16-time national champion is also fighting for its spot in the top division, but Ilves has been struggling for a long time. It hasn’t finished higher than sixth since it’s bronze medal season 2000-01, and since 1990, it’s only been in the top 6 six times, and that includes the three times it finished exactly sixth.

This is the second time in three years that Ilves has to play for its spot. In 2010, it beat Joensuu Jokipojat easily 4-1 in a best-of-seven series, and has already got a 1-0 lead in this year’s series against Vaasa Sport.

Djurgården’s downward spiral has been sudden. Two years ago, Djurgården played in the final, and last year they made the playoffs, and lost the Game 7 of their quarterfinal against Luleå on overtime.

“The young players haven’t managed to push the veterans to play even better,” says Håkan Södergren, a former Tre Kronor and Djurgården player to Aftonbladet.

One of those players is Mika Zibanejad, the Senators prospect. He scored 13 points in 26 games in the regular season, and now has one goal and three points in five relegation series games.

Playing for your life isn’t fun.

“There is no back door out. They have to perform, the have to win, they have everything to lose. That’s every team’s nightmare,” Södergren says.

Even AIK players are pulling for their rival because it’s the back and forth between the two clubs that makes hockey fun, and Stockholm a great hockey city.

Djurgården’s and Ilves’s dream is no longer to win the championship, and have a parade. There’s no fame to be had. Their dream is to avoid a nightmare. Djurgården is currently fourth in the qualification series, when only the two top teams earn an Elitserien spot for 2012-13. They need to fight with all the blood and sweat they can muster to win hockey games.

And if not?

There will be tears.

Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer. He wrote this in Stockholm’s Söder, home of Hammarby, the currently-extinct Stockholm hockey club with second most Swedish titles, 8, last one in 1951. You should follow him on Twitter where he tweets 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.