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Puckarinen Hits A Post

When you can’t go home again

NO PLACE LIKE HOME? Whether his plan was to stir the pot, or whether things just happened that way, Jarkko Ruutu found a way to make himself the talk of the town when he signed a three-year contract with Helsinki Jokerit last week.

Not only is it always big news when an NHL veteran returns home, but to sign with the archrival of his former Helsinki team, IFK, made it even bigger. After all, Ruutu had come up through IFK’s system, and won the Finnish title with the club in 1998, together with, for example, Tim Thomas, Brian Rafalski, Kimmo Timonen, and Olli Jokinen.

A lot of things have changed since then. Only two players on that 1998 team still play with IFK, and the then-GM Jarmo Kekalainen, former St. Louis Blues Assistant GM, and IFK’s then-coach Erkka Westerlund, are gone as well.

However, both are now with Jokerit and they know what they’re getting in Ruutu.

“We needed one more forward, and we couldn’t have found a better one,” said Westerlund, who also had Ruutu on his team in three World Championships, the 2004 World Cup, and the 2006 Olympics during his time as Team Finland coach.

KAPANEN’S COMEBACK. Last fall, Sami Kapanen was telling everybody how fantastic it was to wake up in the morning and not feel any pain. He said he enjoyed being the CEO of KalPa, the Finnish SM-liiga team, of which he owns the majority.

But not as much as he loves to play hockey. And with no pain, it’s even more fun.

So he’s back.

“Hockey is fun again. And this way, at last I can be in the rink and do something, instead of just having to be a helpless bystander,” Kapanen says.

He led the team in scoring in his last two seasons before retirement. In 2009, he collected 44 points in 55 games, and the year after 46 points in 49 games.

Kapanen signed a two-year contract with KalPa - or with his brother, Kimmo, the CEO.

That may just be long enough for the 38-year-old forward’s son, Kasperi, 15 – now in the Finnish under-16 national team – to climb up the ranks and join his father in the SM-liiga. After all, Sami made his SM-liiga debut as a 17-year-old.

“It’d be a dream come true. Dad’s always been my idol, and of course, grandpa’s been a big help,” Kasperi told a local paper recently, referring to Sami’s father, Hannu, an Olympian, and a Finnish champion with IFK.

SWEDEN MOURNS LIV. The Swedish Elitserien had their annual kickoff event last Tuesday. Coaches, players were there, bristling with optimism, with just some nine days before their regular season openers. The next day, life, the thing John Lennon called “what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, got in the way, and changed everything.

Everybody onboard the Yak-42 plane that was supposed to take the Yaroslavl KHL team to Minsk, Belarus for their regular season opener, also had plans.

Swedish goaltender Stefan Liv, 30, was one of them. Like everybody else’s, his plans involved people who weren’t on the plane. His family. Friends. Teammates.

Last season, Liv blogged about his life in Novosibirsk. His entries were funny, very funny, like when he wondered out loud why the elevator of the hotel his team was staying at had buttons all the way to the 10th floor when the building only had – or seemed to have – five floors. The main characters of his blog, though, were his HV71 buddies Johan Davidsson and David Petrasek whose photos - and photos of their “doppelgängers” - Liv posted on his blog with almost every entry, always accompanied with a goodhearted joke.

On January 29, he retired from blogging. “I don’t have the energy or motivation anymore, but let’s see if I can make a comeback later in life,” he wrote.

One of the big plans, though, was to return to his hometown, Jönköping, while his buddies Davidsson and Petrasek still played, too. Davidsson was Liv’s bestman in his July wedding, his HV71 backup Andreas Andersson was the other bestman, which says a lot about the man. He didn’t have enemies.

Together, they would win the hearts and minds of the people of Jönköping so that one day, Liv’s sweater would be raised to the rafters of the Kinnarps Arena, and his number 1 retired by the club.

Unfortunately, the day of the retirement of the number is here, but not like in Liv’s and Petrasek’s plans, in which they would also have won a fourth Swedish title together. And they would all be there to watch the sweater go up.

Instead, HV71 - and all other Elitserien teams - will open their regular season with a silent moment, wearing black armbands, to honor Liv’s memory.

Stefan Liv probably didn’t know how loved he already was in Jönköping, in Sweden, in Russia, and around the world.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON. The plane crash puts a major dent in another historical moment that would and should otherwise have been a pure celebration of hockey. Last April, Växjö Lakers won the qualification series between two Elitserien teams and four teams from the second-tier Hockeyallsvenskan, and earned promotion to Elitserien as the 22nd team in history to play at the highest level.

Tonight, the club will play its first-ever game in Elitserien.

And on Saturday, when they play their home opener, they enter the big leagues with style with Växjö native Per Tengstrand playing the organ. Tengstrad, based in New York, is a renowned concert pianist, and the winner of the 1997 Cleveland International Piano Competition. Or as he calls himself on his Google+ page: “Decent pianist, awful hockey player.”

“I go regularly to the New Jersey Devils’ home games and I think a good organist can really create a truly special atmosphere. When I was asked to do this, it was a no-brainer for a hockey crazy pianist,” he says on the club’s website.

Växjö Lakers will play Frölunda Indians on Tuesday, the rest of the teams will play their regular season openers on Thursday.

Risto Pakarinen wrote this entry in Stockholm’s Old Town, five subway stops from the Globe Arena. 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.