Friday, January 26, 2007
Around the NHL in 90 days
One of the greatest privileges of blogging here on nhl.com is the feedback I get from you. You don’t always agree with me, and you don’t always seem to understand me, but somehow, we always seem to understand each other’s passion for the game.
It’s quite remarkable that people that are so different and come from different backgrounds and cultures, that cheer for different teams and players, and paint their faces in different colors, still unite in the understanding of the game.
And then of course, there are the emails that open up doors I didn’t even know existed. These stories of people doing things in, with and around the game just amaze me, and inspire me.
Like The Art of Ice Hockey blog that I mentioned earlier. Not in a million years did I think that you could write about hockey from an aesthetic point of view.
Last week, a former hockey prodigy gave out a poetry collection in Sweden. It’s called “Sudden Death.”
And today I got an email from Brad Baker: “I thought you might be interested in the NHL exploits of a mate of mine called Chris MacLean.”
Brad’s from Australia. Getting email from a hockey fan in Australia alone is pretty cool, but the story got even cooler when Brad went on:
“He is part way through a road trip around North America, stopping in each city that hosts an NHL team. That’s 30 cities, 30 games. So far he has watched four games and traveled more than 4,000 kilometers.”
And that’s 4,000 kilometers – by car (slightly over 2,485 miles).
A native Nova Scotian, Chris has lived in Australia for about seven years, and I guess he just couldn’t hold himself back anymore so he packed his bags and went on a road trip in early January.
Brad’s game count was a bit off, as Chris details his trip so far on his – what else? - blog like this: Games watched:
9,145 (5,683 miles)Total days traveled:
Dallas, Jan. 26th
His tour will end in Montreal on April 3 when the Canadiens welcome the Bruins.
As Chris puts it in his blog (http://pondhoppa.blogspot.com
): “When it’s all said and done, I’ll have watched 30 games in 91 days, traveled over 25,000 km and never want to get into a car again!”
I know a lot of people who would like to do the same thing, if not watching hockey – I know I can’t convince my wife to follow me on a trip like that – then with something else. And still, very few do it.
Let Chris be your inspiration as well, and keep an eye on that Australian Canadian hockey traveler in your city. Because, maybe next time it’s you.
Posted by Risto @ 2:08 p.m.
Wednesday, January 18, 2007
Seen Slap Shot lately?
Wherever two hockey fans meet, there is always hockey talk. And where there is hockey talk, there are differing opinions about a few things.
Like, who the greatest player ever is. Some say Wayne Gretzky, others try hopelessly to argue for Gordie Howe, or Bobby Orr, even Mario Lemieux. (The right answer is, of course, Gretzky.)
Or, which team is the greatest in NHL history? There are those who argue for the 1991 Detroit Red Wings, some others are all for 1976 Canadiens, and a group of Canadians even think the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs was the one. (Here, the correct answer is 1984 Edmonton Oilers.)
There are numerous categories to talk and think about when you meet a kindred spirit at a cold arena, or in a sports bar while you’re the only ones watching the hockey game on that one screen showing hockey when everyone else is watching football on all the other screens.
And so it goes, you give and take, you score some, you make some saves, and even when you throw in different names and teams, you’re both on the same team. The hockey team.
But there’s one category with usually only one nominee: The best hockey movie.
Ask anyone, and the answer to that is going to be “Slap Shot,” coupled with quotes from the 1977 movie. Like, “Old time hockey, like Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper, and Toe Blake,” or, “Icing ‘appen when the puck come down, bang, you know, before the other guys, nobody there, you know. My arm go comes out, then the game stop then start up.”
Except me. I don’t think it’s the best hockey movie ever. I can understand why people think it’s so great but for me, it just doesn’t do it. Slap Shot is probably very true to the times, and I’ve read the stories about the screenwriter, Nancy Dowd, traveling with the team to get everything right, but as far as the sport that I like and fell in love with? That just ain’t it.
I remember the outdoor advertising for Slap Shot at the bus stop across the street from our apartment, and hearing my parents talk about the movie, and the slight controversy about the language used in it.
I can’t remember the first time I saw the movie, but I remember the last one, a few years ago. What was funny to a teenager wasn’t that funny anymore. Ogie Ogilthorpe wasn’t that great a character, Paul Newman couldn’t really skate, and the Hanson brothers … Aaaaaaaaahdunno. Come on.
That’s why I’m going to go with Miracle. The story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team is truly amazing, and Kurt Russell is perfect as Herb Brooks. Then again, we go a way back. Back in 1979, when my parents wouldn’t let me see Slap Shot, my friend and I went to see “Elvis” instead. Kurt Russell was amazing as the King. Besides, I did play pinball with Phil Verchota, but not with Reggie Dunlop or “Dr. Hook.”
Sure, Slap Shot is a classic. Yes, it’s a fine movie (because Paul Newman certainly can act!), and it’s definitely one of the best hockey movies made, but let’s face it. What’s the competition? Youngblood, Miracle, Miracle on Ice (the 1981 made-for-TV version with Karl Malden), the Mighty Ducks… Mystery, Alaska? OK. They don’t exactly floor me.
Where are all the great hockey stories? That’s the mystery. I have the Best American Sports writing anthologies from the past five years on my bookshelf. That’s about a hundred great articles about sports, and off the top of my head, I can remember only one story about hockey and way too many about boxing.
And we all know that hockey is filled with amazing personalities, and drama.
Anyway, I just added “The Rocket” onto my local “Netflix” list, and I can’t wait to see it. I hope that Slap Shot gets dropped down a notch on my list.
Posted by Risto @ 10:53 a.m.
Monday, January 8, 2007
You are my destiny
I’ve told my friends just that past months. I quit hockey. I just don’t have the energy or the commitment anymore. Hockey just doesn’t seem to do it for me like it used to.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to get into the hockey business, get into the inside ring of things. I remember the actual moment that I set my sight on just that. My junior team had come home from a road trip on the West Coast of Finland in the middle of the night. I hadn’t played particularly well or much. I was just about to grab the door on my way into our arena to dump my hockey trunk there when a voice inside me said: “Time to move to the other side.”
That was twenty years ago.
Between that night and today, I have, among other things, been translating hockey magazines from Norwegian into Finnish, selling computer software to hockey coaches – “Hockey Manager,” developed by a former Finnish coach who was ten years ahead of the curve --, been Ivan Hlinka’s interpreter on his team’s Finnish tour, worked a summer at hockey pants manufacturer Tackla Canada in Orillia, Ontario, written a paper on how fans see their rivals’ sponsors, and worked for the NHL during the 1994 International Challenge event in Helsinki, Finland.
It was the day before my 26th birthday, I was sitting at home, thinking about the same thing I am thinking now: What is it that really draws me to hockey? I decided that I really wanted to get in, wherever it may be.
I sent a letter to every single NHL team – there were 26 at the time – and to the league offices in New York, Toronto and Montreal. The rest of December I waited for the mailman to deliver the news.
And he sure did. Most of the teams replied, and it was a thrill to come home and see an envelope with an NHL team logo waiting for me on the floor. Those five seconds before I opened it, and saw how the letter began, seemed long. In those five seconds, anything was possible, the dream was still alive, the doors were still open.
I got nice letters from Edmonton, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, well, you name it. I also got a very nice phone call from the NHL that got me involved with the Winnipeg Jets’ Helsinki visit in 1994.
In addition to the things I listed above, I have, since 1994, also painted a hospital wall white, and then hung a white sheet with the tournament logo a friend of a friend had painted on it on the wall (so that everything would be perfect when then-new commissioner Bettman came into town), done market research on European hockey cities for a European hockey league that never materialized, coached 12-year-olds for a couple of seasons, played semi-semi-competitive hockey in Finland and Sweden, traveled to numerous World Championships as a hockey tourist, translated a hockey magazine from Swedish into Finnish, helped an agent find contacts in Finland, almost got a job at the NHL, translated three books about the NHL, and nine youth hockey books.
In the past three years, I have given birth to and killed my own hockey magazine, and written for a bunch of hockey magazines and websites around the world.
I’ve covered the World Cup of Hockey, World Championships, and I’ve written way over a thousand blog entries about hockey on my own HockeyBlog – daily, through the summers - and another Finnish website I write for.
Maybe I’m just tired. Tired of lockouts, salary caps, coaches screaming at refs, tired of refs that are really bad, tired of obnoxious GMs and journalists who always know best, tired of not having a team to cheer for. Tired of reading dozens of hockey blogs every day, tired of keeping up with the third and fourth liners in teams I can hardly ever watch play.
On the other hand, as I write this, I think of the cold winter’s day in 2003 when I took the tram from outside my Helsinki apartment to the hotel where the Russian junior team stayed at, waited twenty minutes for the Russian team manager to come down and help me get in touch with Alexander Ovechkin, and then wait another twenty minutes for the two of them to reappear in the lobby for the interview.
It was in the same lobby I two years later interviewed Timo Jutila, the captain of the 1995 Team Finland that won the World Championship, for a book about the team. I drove around Finland for two months, meeting every single player and the coaches to tell their story.
That same winter, an old teammate of mine and I sat through a Scotty Bowman presentation at the Swedish Hockey Symposium in Stockholm, mesmerized. I interviewed him afterward while my friend took photos. They were all blurry but I wanted to use one in my magazine anyway because that’s what teammates do.
Looking back feels good. I just can’t think forward and feel the same pleasure.
And yet, I gravitate to hockey all the time. Last week I drove 300 miles to meet a Swedish coach for an interview, watched a game over the Internet, and two other games on TV. Today, my son and I wore Finnish national team sweaters, he the blue Tuomo Ruutu one, myself a white Arto Ruotanen one, and played some floor hockey. (That’d be the floor of my office).
Maybe it’s the January blues. The fact that the sun seems to have disappeared completely gets to me.
I am like Forrest Gump, only just not as successful. I am Michael Corleone fighting his destiny: “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”
And I can’t really quit hockey.
How could I when there’s the friend asking if I could help him find tickets to games. There’s the fact that I have about a hundred hats with different hockey club logos on them so I’m always wearing one. And there’s that other friend going out with a hockey player and her asking me if I know him.
But mostly, though, it’s about seeing Canadian kids jumping on top of each other, and the Russians just staring ahead after the gold medal game. It’s Teemu Selanne in his new, long hairstyle being celebrated in Anaheim, and then getting a couple of goals. It’s the Stars’ Patrik Stefan missing an empty net and the Oilers scoring seconds from that.
And it’s the crackling sound of the ice when you first step on it. The sound of the boards when you shoot the puck across the rink. It’s the game.
Hi, my name is Risto, and I’m hooked on hockey.
Posted by Risto @ 11:06 a.m.