Thursday, December 21, 2006
The holiday season
Damn global warming. I was up visiting my dad the other day and thought that maybe we could go for a skate with him and my son. Like last year. Or, like every day during every holiday season between 1981 and 1986.
Naturally, without my son then, I was just a kid myself.
The place I had in mind is just an open space natural ice about 100 meters from our house. It’s a soccer field that gets flooded in the winter. The ice has never been good, and often I would just grab my stick and go shoot some pucks after school, but this year even that was difficult to do.
There was no ice.
Hockey has always been a big part of my holiday season. I got my first really good skates for Christmas circa 1976. It was a pair of CCM Marksmans. They were red and black, and I’ve been wearing CCMs ever since.
The two-week holiday from school was all hockey. First, I had to watch Team Finland play against the Swedes, and the Russians and Canadians in the legendary Izvestija Tournament in Moscow. Then I got hockey gear for Christmas, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s I was watching and playing in various junior tournaments in Finland.
When I was a kid, there was nothing better than to run around a rink with the shin pads and pants on, but without the shoulder pads and the rest. So that everybody saw immediately that you were a player. A real hockey player. One of those guys that all the other people came to watch.
Well, not all of them, just the relatives.
I still love to just hang around a rink all day, watching a game here, eating junky food, watching a game there, seeing a player that missed a penalty shot in the first game get a nice goal in the evening game, and meeting old friends.
I’d almost want to put on my equipment, minus the helmet, gloves, shoulder pads and skates, and just go sit on a wooden bench somewhere, and eat a hot dog. Maybe yell out some cheers for the players.
Even though my holiday tradition of skating and shooting some pucks on my home ice didn’t happen this year, there’s another one that most likely will.
For about five years now, I’ve played Christmas Eve hockey with my brother-in-law, at around noon. Each year, he says that we have to come earlier the next year because his old hockey buddies always show up at ten in the morning.
Those buddies now play in the Swedish Elite League. One of them, Oscar Steen, just came home from Moscow where he played with Team Sweden in the Izvestija Tournament -- now called Channel One Cup.
Happy holidays to everyone! May your shots be accurate and skates sharp. Here’s something to read. ‘The Art of Ice Hockey,’ a hockey blog written by a Finnish philosopher who currently works as a lecturer of theory of visual culture at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. http://www.the-art-of-ice-hockey.blogspot.com/
Posted by Risto @ 12:31 p.m.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
The end of the road
Must be tough being Jeremy Roenick these days. Entering the 2005-06 season, JR was averaging a point a game. Last season, and this, his point per game average is 0.32. Since the beginning of last season, Roenick has scored ten goals.
He’s currently tied for 391st in all-time NHL scoring.
And he’s 15 goals shy of the 500-goal mark.
Now, I have no idea what Roenick is thinking about, or how he sees his future career in hockey. I just know that according to the Arizona Republic, “Roenick, who spoke of back pain after Monday's game vs. San Jose, did not like (Wayne) Gretzky's decision to bench him and abruptly left General Motors Place upon hearing the news a few hours before the game.”
The competitive fire is still burning within Jeremy, and that he should be applauded for. That’s who he is. That’s who he’s always been, and that’s what makes him Jeremy Roenick.
We all have to retire one day. Gretzky retired. Brett Hull retired. Mark Messier retired. Even Gordie Howe did, eventually. And near the end, none of them were the players they were at their peaks. Of course not.
Now, they weren’t as brutal as Roenick is now (except for Hull who retired five games into the season last year), but even Gretzky wasn’t the Gretzky I grew up idolizing. He was just such a phenomenon that he still led the Rangers in scoring, but 70 points wasn’t Gretzky-like numbers.
It was two points less than Jeremy Roenick had that year.
Jeremy Roenick only has two 50-goal seasons in his career, did somebody expect 30 from him this season? Why? He hasn’t had 30 goals in five years.
There’s always a lot of talk about quitting while you’re ahead, and going out with a bang. We seem fixated with the fairytale endings, with the graybeards like Ray Bourque retiring under the Stanley Cup. You know: “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”
I think fading away is underrated. I think we should cut our heroes (and ourselves) some slack and let them get old and slower. When some young kid takes their spot on the roster, and they want to fight back but struggle and other young kids want to laugh at the old geezers, let them fight back, let them try, and let them shoot off their mouths like they always used to.
And enjoy them while you can.
I had never seen Wayne Gretzky play in an NHL game live, and when I heard he was about to retire, I panicked. A New Yorker friend of mine had gotten me tickets to his last game in Madison Square Garden, and I spent a Friday afternoon at work, frantically looking for cheap flights from Stockholm to New York.
The only way to get to New York in time for the game and back to Stockholm in time for work was the Concord.
I stayed at home.
And I regret it. I’ll never see him play in an NHL game.
Jeremy Roenick may not have the Stanley Cup rings in his ears to make his hearing worse, but he’s got over a thousand NHL points, and he’s been an entertaining player for almost twenty years.
Let’s take this as a long goodbye to an old friend.
Posted by Risto @ 12:51 p.m.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Happened to scroll down the nhl.com home page – obviously to see if my blog was featured at the Blog Central spot, it wasn’t – when I saw the goalie stats, especially the goals-against average.
Maybe it’s the layout, maybe the fact that I have for two years now predicted that Vesa Toskala is going to rock the League, but for some reason, my eye caught his name on the list.
First, let me just go on record and say: TOLD YOU SO!
Second, and this isn’t really breaking news anymore: there are three Finnish goalies in the Top 5. There’s Toskala at #2, Niklas Backstrom at #3, and Miikka Kiprusoff at #4.
In the last year or two, there have been dozens and dozens of articles in hockey magazines all over the place about this phenomenon. Why are the Finnish goalies dominating the NHL now? And while some say it’s the goalie coaches in Finland, I don’t think it’s the whole story.
The coaches are surely excellent. I just think there’s something else that runs a little deeper than that.
Finnish goalies have always been great. As far as I can remember, goalie has always been the most important player on Team Finland. And even longer than that.
In 1967, Finland beat Czechoslovakia for the first time in the World Championships, and the hero of the game was goalie Urpo Ylonen. Finland won the game, 3-1. It was the first time Finland beat any of the “big nations.”
Three years later, in the 1970 World Championships, Ylonen won the best goalie award.
Since then, there have been other greats, such as Jorma Valtonen, Hannu Kamppuri, Kari Takko, Jarmo Myllys, Markus Mattsson and Markus Ketterer.
Valtonen was a member of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic team and if you remember, Team USA still needed to beat Finland to clinch the goal medal. Valtonen stopped 14 shots as the Finns were fighting for the country’s first Olympic medal.
That’s 14 shots in the first period, naturally.
These days, Valtonen would have had his agent talking with NHL GMs, but in 1980, the 34-year-old Valtonen returned to Europe. Mind you, he had been elected Best Goalkeeper in the 1972 World Championships already.
Markus Mattsson was the first Finnish goalie drafted to the NHL when the New York Islanders used their fifth-round pick on the left-handed Finn. After 92 games in the NHL (and 62 in the WHA), he was the pioneer for Finnish goalies. He is also the answer to this trivia question: “Who was the goalie for the Los Angeles Kings that stopped Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-record 51-game point-scoring streak on January 28, 1984.”
Markus Ketterer was elected Best Goalkeeper at the 1991 World Championships, and named to the World Championship All-Star Team in 1992.
And so on.
Finland has always had great goalies, and probably always will. Being goalie suits Finns well. Infamous for being quiet, stoic, and not very social, it’s like Finns were born goalies. (Ville Nieminen being the exception to the rule).
What better position for a Finn than goalie, where he can stand alone in front of the net, covered by a mask, and fight alone against the world? Yes, the pucks hurt, but so what? It only makes the Finns grit their teeth and say: Bring it on. Bring. It. On.
You say that goalies are a little crazy? Well, Finns are born a little crazy!
Oh. Jani Hurme, Miikka Kiprusoff, Antero Niittymaki, Fredrik Norrena have one thing in common, though. They’ve all been coached by Urpo Ylonen.
Maybe it’s the coaching after all.
Posted by Risto @ 11:06 a.m.