The Canes are finally in Helsinki, the site of their first two regular-season games against the Minnesota Wild.
Things are much more relaxed in Finland thus far. Since we weren’t in St. Petersburg for very long, it was one stop after another until after the game against SKA. Finland is a very different place – it’s much more modern and definitely sunnier.
Click here for a photo gallery from the first day in Helsinki
Since we arrived at approximately 1 a.m. local time on Tuesday, we haven’t seen much of the city except for the drive from our hotel to the Hartwall Areena for the Hurricanes’ first practice. The arena is slightly larger than the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg – the capacity is listed at 13,349 for hockey – and is a much newer facility, having opened for the 1997 World Championship.
Hartwall Arena is hope to the Jokerit club team, which Tuomo Ruutu played for prior to his coming to North America. It seems obvious now, but I was surprised to learn that Jokerit translates to “The Jokers” in English. It wasn’t until I saw the logo hanging from the rafters that I made that connection – I had always assumed that it was named for a specific area or suburb of Helsinki, as is often the case in European soccer.
The team wears that logo on their jerseys, which I thought seemed strange for a sport like hockey, but maybe it’s just me.
“I never thought it was weird,” said Ruutu, shrugging his shoulders.
While Ruutu is one of three Finns on the Hurricanes’ roster, he’s the only local boy. Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen hail from the far north of the country. Ruutu lives only a few minutes away from the arena.
“It’s weird being here with the team,” said Ruutu. “I never imagined I would be playing NHL hockey here.”
The Finnish media had several representatives on hand to interview the players, culminating in a more formal press conference after practice. They even had questions for coach Paul Maurice about Finnish prospects in the organization but not currently with the team, such as Oskar Osala.
One recurring topic centered on Jokinen’s ability to top last season’s 30-goal campaign.
“I think he’s capable of scoring 40, but he’s also capable of having a great season and only scoring 20 because of all the other things he does for us,” said Maurice.
The coach also had praise for Pitkanen’s ability to log huge minutes and Ruutu’s physical presence, which often sets the tone for the entire team.
“When he’s out hitting guys, everyone else picks up on that and does it too,” said Maurice of Ruutu. “Whenever we lose him to injury, we really suffer.”
The Wild have been in Helsinki since before the Hurricanes even departed for St. Petersburg. They also played an exhibition against a European club team, but made the approximately two-hour bus ride to Tampere rather than set up in a different country, winning 5-1 against what I’ve heard was a very young team. Minnesota cancelled their Tuesday practice, but should be on the ice at Hartwall tomorrow.
Although the Canes made it through the SKA game relatively unscathed given the circumtances, a notable exception could be defenseman Joe Corvo, who left the game in the second period and left Tuesday’s practice after the first few minutes due to a lower-body injury.
Maurice said that Corvo would likely be available to play on Thursday, but the drastic change in routine is enough to cast a little doubt. We’ll keep an eye on him tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Drayson Bowman practiced fully on Tuesday and should still be available for the first Minnesota game. That would probably keep Jiri Tlusty out of the lineup, as the Czech forward received the usual post-practice bag skate for scratched players.
The Hurricanes’ coaching staff will also have to make decisions on their defensemen, as they will have to scratch one or two players, depending on Corvo’s health. They currently have eight with them, with Brett Carson and Bobby Sanguinetti usually making up the fourth pairing at recent practices.
“They’ve all made a case (to play),” said Maurice. “I hope we have to deal with this problem all year.”
I hope to have more sightseeing-type photos in my next update, which will likely come after practice tomorrow.