I'll start this segment by talking a little bit about the dilemma all of us seem to be facing as we attempt to walk the tightrope teetering between vacation mode and hockey mode. I know on our team there are many players (including myself) who never have been to Europe before. For me, I was just as excited about coming over and starting an NHL season in Finland and Sweden as I was about seeing a new part of the world.
When taking a vacation, I have always liked the thought of really jumping into the culture and experiencing what the city has to offer. Eat the food, drink the drinks and spend some time with the local people so you don't waste time eating hamburgers and French fries halfway around the world! But this trip is a bit different. Here there is a balance we have to maintain, where we are encouraged to soak up as much as we can from our new surroundings, yet at the same time we have to prepare to compete at the highest level against world-class competitors.
SOG: 5 | +/-: -2
Yesterday was my first experience with international hockey (aside from the World U-17 Challenge), so I was very excited to see what the caliber of play would be. I have always had a lot of interest in the various elite leagues from across Europe because so many players I have grown up with or played against have made the transition to European hockey. I have always wondered how my style of play would fit in.
From speaking with some friends of mine, plus what I already knew about the Finnish Elite League, I was expecting Jokerit to be a hard-working, fast team with some very highly-skilled players. I feel my predictions were right on!
Every Finnish player I have ever known has possessed a similar combination of skill and work ethic, and most of those boys last night were no exception. From the drop of the puck they were playing a strong, disciplined system that clogged up the neutral zone and limited our ability to enter the offensive zone with speed. When we turned the puck over (which happened far too often), they were coming at us with three- and four-man attacks.
One of the challenges I found was reading players who knew each other very well. For us at NHL training camps, you play together on and off for about 2.5 weeks, most of which has been broken up with exhibition games where players are rotating in and out on different lines nightly. Many European training camps begin on Aug. 1, or in some cases slightly before!
These guys had been playing together for over two months, and at times it really showed. Being a penalty killer, I found myself spinning in circles trying to figure out where and what formations they were setting up, and by the time I had figured it out they would be making passes through and around me, making it tough to feel comfortable. Overall they were a very good team and it's no wonder they are ranked No. 1 in the SM-liiga right now.
During the game I believe we played well for short periods of time, then would get away from what made us successful and Jokerit would take advantage. Either way, I was glad we were able to walk away with a win and a great memory of what the Finnish Elite League is all about.
Lastly, I would like to comment on how great the fans have been here in Helsinki. The sold-out crowd last night created a great atmosphere that I had rarely played in front of before. It may not have been as rowdy as some, or as big as some, but I found that the knowledge of hockey was extremely high.
The fans applauded some little things that sometimes go unnoticed in an average game. They were there to appreciate a high level of play, and I believe they got just that. There was also a loud crew in town all the way from sunny Anaheim! It was nice to see so many people followed the team all the way here, and when I spoke with some of the fans earlier today, they seemed to enjoy last night's game as much as we enjoyed playing it. Thank you all for coming and we will see you again Friday night!
Now I'm off to grab some dinner with some of the fellas (most likely more pasta ... sigh). Thanks again for reading!