That win allowed us to finish in second place in our group behind Canada. The way this tournament was set up, the top four teams in each group (Helsinki Group and Stockholm Group) advance to the single elimination quarterfinal round.
Our second place standing matched us up with the third place Finland team for a rematch of our game earlier in the week in which we beat the Finns 5-0. As soon as the match-ups were determined, the Finns were focused on the rematch. As defending champions and also the host country, they were embarrassed in our first meeting and they were definitely feeling the heat from local fans and media. We knew they would be fired up for revenge.
The day and a half leading up to the Finland quarterfinal game was intense. We spent Wednesday with a short practice, continuing to work on the details of our game and the strategies that would be necessary to once again defeat them. Around town on Wednesday and Thursday, it was not Team Finland vs. Team USA, but rather the COUNTRY of Finland vs. Team USA.
Throughout our stay in Helsinki, the people had been incredible. They were welcoming, friendly, and proud to show off their great city. However, once it was determined that we would face their beloved Finnish team in the elimination round, they were not our friends any more. Everywhere we went, we heard the whispers and comments about how we were going to lose, how we didn't stand a chance against their team and that we had a "lucky" win earlier in the week. We were now the enemy and not the welcomed guests anymore. It made for a great sports environment and definitely increased the intensity heading into the game.
The locals are extremely passionate about their team and also this tournament. To the European countries, this is their Stanley Cup. - Tom Mulligan
The locals are extremely passionate about their team and also this tournament. To the European countries, this is their Stanley Cup.
In the first quarterfinal game on Thursday, Team Canada was upset by the Slovakian team. We watched it happen right in front of us and it was a reminder that anything can happen in a one-game elimination tournament. Even though we had beaten the Canadians in overtime in the preliminary round, this was their first regulation loss, and what a surprise it was.
Our staff arrived at the arena well in advance of the players to ensure everything would be ready to go before the team walked in. Ray put the finishing touches on all of the skate sharpening. Rob prepared the room, sticks, uniforms, and bench supplies. Christian tuned up the players, activating their bodies, and loosening their muscles. I prepared the medical room supplies, performed any treatments that were necessary, and taped any players that required it. We were ready to go.
As the players took the ice, it truly was Team USA vs. the entire country of Finland. The atmosphere and intensity in the building was equivalent to any Game 7 I had ever been a part of. It was a great game and unfortunately, we fell just short.
The team played their hearts out, and with a couple mistakes and a couple of unfortunate bounces, the Finns scored the winning goal with just about nine seconds on the clock. It was devastating. The bench was silent and not a sound was heard when we all returned to the locker room. This team believed they had what it took to win a medal in this tournament. It was a great group of guys and I will say for sure that the future of USA Hockey is very bright with these young stars, not to mention those that were unable to attend the tournament.
As soon as the game ended, the Team USA leaders were dealt the unenviable task of trying to make immediate travel arrangements for our entire traveling party to return to the states. According to IIHF rule, once a team is eliminated, they have to depart as soon as possible. The majority of our players were then booked on flights on Friday morning. It was a quick goodbye after the game and well wishes to everyone, except of course when they play the Bolts!!
Our staff remained in Helsinki on Friday to pack the locker room up and return all of the Team USA equipment and supplies for the next international tournament. We spent several hours cleaning the room and closing the door on another World Championship tournament for Team USA. It was an incredible experience all around for each of us and Ray, Rob, Christian, Nate, JT, and I are all very appreciative and proud that we were afforded the opportunity to represent the USA on the international stage.
We now look ahead to taking these experiences with us to continue to make us better as we strive to return the Lightning to Stanley Cup contenders.
May 14, 2012 - Team USA Blanks Finland
First off, I just wanted to wish a very Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, particularly my own mom Rita and my wife Kellie. I hope you all had an enjoyable and restful Mother's Day. I wouldn't be where I am today without the constant support and encouragement throughout my life that I have received from my mom, and also the daily sacrifices my wife makes now to ensure our children are well taken care of while I am constantly away traveling with the team. Thanks and Happy Mother's Day!!
Well, we just finished up a busy and successful weekend playing three games over the last four days, all of which were wins, culminating with a huge win over the host country of Finland on Sunday. The atmosphere in the arena was amazing with a building full of proud Finnish fans chanting to support their team. Fortunately for us, we played our best game of the tournament so far and came away with a 5-0 victory. That win guaranteed us a spot in the medal round, with a quarterfinal game on Thursday. Before then, we still have to take care of some business and play a very good Switzerland team on Tuesday to establish our standing following the preliminary round which will determine our opponent for Thursday's game. There is a strong chance we will meet back up with that Finnish team on Thursday and I'm sure they will be hungry for revenge.
Bolts forward JT Brown celebrates with Team USA
Even though it was a busy weekend with all of the games, it was also a great time for a lot of our players and staff members. Team USA has a program in place for each member to invite a guest over to join them at the tournament. Several people took advantage of this and were met here by family and friends. Most of the guests arrived just prior to our game on Friday and have spent the weekend trying to get adjusted to the time change. With Monday being another scheduled off day for our group, several of our players and staff and their guests have a day trip planned to Tallin, Estonia, which is a short 90-minute boat ride from Helsinki, where I hear it is just beautiful over there. Others are spending the day visiting the local zoo which is located on one of the small islands just outside the city and others will be enjoying a walk through the streets of Helsinki. Then it's back to business on Tuesday to keep pushing towards our goal of returning to the States with a medal.
One cool aspect of this tournament is that for the first time, Team USA has a staff made up primarily of members from one NHL team. In years' past, an Athletic Trainer, two Equipment managers, and a massage therapist are selected to work the tournament from different teams that did not qualify for the NHL playoffs. However, this year, we are fortunate to have Ray Thill, Rob Kennedy, Christian Rivas, and myself all selected from Tampa. It has been a great experience and truly has made the day to day operations that much smoother since we all know each other and have worked together for years. Everyone understands their role and it has been a seamless transition from Tampa to Helsinki. Both at the rink and away from the rink we enjoy each other's company and have used this experience to continue to grow as a staff.
I will check back in with at least one more journal entry later this week as we prepare for our quarterfinal game. I'll share with you some more of the Finnish customs and traditions that we have learned about and experienced during our visit. Until then, go USA!
MAY 9, 2012 - Team USA's Day Off
Coming off a disappointing loss on Monday night against a very hungry Slovakian team, we had a complete off day on Tuesday. It was a chance for everyone to get away from hockey for a day and spend some time together in Helsinki experiencing this part of the world. Sometimes it is more important to re-charge the batteries from a mental standpoint more so than from a physical one.
A stroll through the downtown Farmer's Market in Helsinki
The players had a planned group outing to a local spa where there were six different types of saunas, as well as mineral pools, and overall relaxation. Saunas here in Finland are a major part of their culture. There are just over five million people here and over two million saunas, approximately one per household. The Finnish view the sauna not as a luxury, but a necessity to refresh both physically and mentally. A common practice over here is to jump into the Baltic Sea to cool your body off when the sauna gets too hot, then back into the sauna. From all reports, the players had a great experience and were very appreciative of the opportunity to learn about and share this Finnish culture.
The members of our Tampa staff here, Ray, Rob, Christian, and I decided to head into downtown and take in some more of the local atmosphere. Tuesday was by far the nicest day we have had with temperatures reaching the mid 50s and not a cloud in the sky. In the downtown southeast harbor area there was a great farmers market which featured local fare and souvenirs and a street known as the Esplanade lined with shops and outdoor cafes. With this being their nicest day of the year so far, you can imagine the amount of locals just dying to spend some time outdoors. As we walked around the harbor, we came across an offer for a guided boat tour around the local islands. It was great opportunity for us to see some of the surrounding areas. There are over 300 little islands surrounding Helsinki, some a bit larger, such as the island which is home to their military training. Also, the local zoo is located on an island. It was a great trip around the area and once again we learned a tremendous amount about local culture.
Following our day of experiencing Helsinki in different ways, the entire group met up for a team dinner in downtown at a restaurant called Amarillo's. This restaurant holds a special place in the history of the Team USA hockey program as it was the location that the 2004 Men's under-20 team celebrated their Gold medal performance in the World Junior Championships. Hopefully some of that good karma rubs off on our group.
Wednesday was back to business for our team with an early morning practice. As I mentioned in an earlier journal entry, the practice ice facility here is located underground in what we call “The Cave”. It truly is a neat experience to be down there and hopefully a picture captures the feeling. The team had a great up-tempo practice and is ready to move forward from the loss to Slovakia. We have a tough stretch coming up with three games in four days against Belarus, Kazahkstan, and the host country of Finland so we will have to be sharp for all of them.
Following practice, we all had a bit more time in the afternoon to do as we chose. With no group outings planned, everyone was on their own and people spent their time doing various activities around town, walking through the local mall, exploring the city, running along the harbor, or just plain relaxing.
Thursday morning just prior to the team morning skate was the annual team picture. It is always special to be a part of that photo, representing the USA. On the walls surrounding our locker room hang the team photos from every Team USA World Championship squad. There's a lot of history in those photos and to know we'll always be a part of that history is rewarding.
It's back to playing the games today and hopefully you'll have a chance to check us out on NBC sports with back-to-back 9:15 a.m. games Thursday and Friday. I'll check back in over the next couple of days. Until then, Go USA!
MAY 7, 2012 - Game 2 vs. Canada
Following our win the night before against France, the team arrived at the arena on Saturday morning to prepare for our big game against Canada later that night. Coach Scott Gordon gave the players the option of getting on the ice for a short skate or just preparing off ice. A majority of the players hit the ice to get their legs loose and stay in the rhythm of playing.
Others spent their time preparing their sticks, stretching, getting a massage, or just doing some light work in the fitness center. After the skate, the team returned to the hotel and held their pre-game meeting before it was time to get a couple of hours of rest during their "pre-game nap". It has become customary in hockey for players to take this nap on a game day in the afternoon. Depending on the player, it could range from 30 minutes to two hours, whatever it takes for each particular player to feel their best once the puck drops at game time.
The game versus Canada on Saturday night was an intense affair. The USA and Canada have such a history in International play, that it always makes for a fun atmosphere. Canada has had a significant advantage over the years at all levels of International Hockey, with the USA only winning three out of the last 41 games head-to-head in the World Hockey Championships. It was a great game to be a part of, with the emotional swings back and forth throughout the contest, with neither team having more than a one goal lead at any point.
Tom Mulligan exlains how the IIHF mascot was inspired by Angry Birds.
The strangest part of the night was looking over at the Team Canada bench and seeing Coach Guy Boucher leading the opposition. We have become so accustomed to being a part of his staff here in Tampa, that it was awkward to have the opposite emotions of Coach after each goal was scored. How ironic that it appeared the Lightning's very own Nate Thompson would have the go-ahead goal when he scored to put us up 4-3 late in the third period. But Canada would not quit and tied the game with under two minutes to play to force overtime. Fortunately for our group, we had a power play to start overtime and were able to take advantage of it and get the winning goal. For now we have bragging rights over Teddy and Coach Boucher, but I have a feeling we may be seeing Team Canada again before this tournament is over.
For those of you that have been able to catch some of the action so far on NBC Sports, you may have seen the tournament mascot over here in Helsinki. The mascot is HockeyBird and was designed by Toni Kysenius of Rovio Entertainment. It is a spin-off of the popular character from the Angry Birds game. Many people may not know this, but the Angry Birds game was created here in Finland by a computer game developer called Rovio Mobile. Hockey Bird is a pretty cool mascot and the kids absolutely love it. The logo is everywhere around town and the stuffed animal souvenirs have been a huge hit. I know there will be a couple heading back to Tampa with me for my kids.
After the emotional overtime victory the night before versus Canada and with another big game coming up Monday against Slovakia, the coaching staff brought the players back in on Sunday morning for a short skate and to maintain their focus on what we still have to accomplish. As I mentioned in my last journal entry, in a short tournament like this, you cannot have any letdowns and the next game is always the most important of the tournament.
Following the practice, the players and staff had the rest of the day Sunday on their own. Most everyone spent the afternoon resting up after the back to back games, but dinner time saw many of us head into town to sample the local restaurants. Our crew, Team Leader Bob Webster, Doctor Yani Zinis, Equipment managers Ray Thill and Rob Kennedy, Massage Therapist Christian Rivas, and Athletic Trainers Stan Wong and I, ventured to a great little Italian restaurant called Tuscaninni. I had a craving for fish and decided to try something local, so I went with a fish called Bream.
It is a European freshwater fish and was outstanding, however I was little shocked when it was served in its entirety. In North America we are accustomed to our fish meals being served filleted and already de-boned. The way this was served, the joke at our table was that you could still see the hook in its mouth. Other than being a little more work than what we are used to, it was an excellent meal and did give us the opportunity to experience the local culture.
Today is another game day for us, with a tilt this evening against Slovakia. After a short skate this morning, the team is ready to take on Zdeno Chara and former Lightning player Kristian Kudroc. I ran into Kristian in the hallway here the other day, and he was happy to see some old familiar faces. He said he enjoyed his brief time in Tampa and continues to follow our team. He has been playing recently in the KHL in Russia. Our next three games - today, Thursday vs Kazakhstan, and Friday vs Belarus - will all be shown live on NBC Sports at 1:15pm EST, so if you have a chance to take a break at work, check us out. It is some entertaining hockey on the big ice surfaces over here in Europe.
Thanks for following along. I'll check back in over the next couple of days. Tuesday is a complete off day for our USA squad, so several of us are planning on checking out some more of the local scenery and cultures. Hopefully I'll have some good stories to share.
MAY 3, 2012 - Game 1 vs. France
We made it to Helsinki on Wednesday and started to get settled in to the city that we will call home for the next two and a half weeks.
I will say this, the weather here is definitely not the same as May in Tampa, with highs hovering in the low to mid 40s. Upon arrival, the team checked in to our hotel, which will also be home to Team Canada, Team Switzerland and Team France. Sure enough, one of the first people I saw at the hotel was Teddy Purcell. Canada had also just arrived from their pre-tournament trip to Switzerland. It was good to catch up with Teddy for a few minutes and I wished him luck in the tournament, except of course when he plays us.
Team USA practicing in preparation for their exhibition matchup vs. Sweden.
After a team lunch, everyone headed to Hartwall Arena for a late afternoon practice. It is actually a very nice building, similar to many of our arenas in the NHL, but with a smaller seating capacity. When we got to the arena, we were greeted with a big smile from Assistant Equipment manager Rob Kennedy, who as I had imagined, had the locker room completely ready to go for the team. It was as if this locker room had been home to Team USA for years.
In another interesting twist, not only are we sharing the same hotel with Team Canada, but the two locker rooms are directly across the hall from each other. It should make for some interesting flow of traffic during our game on Saturday.
Due to arena maintenance putting the finishing touches on the main ice surface, we were scheduled to practice on their alternate ice surface, a rink underground dug out of the rock. In order to reach that rink, the team had to take an elevator down several floors underground into what looked like a cave. It was an awesome set up and definitely something to see, but wow was it cold down there.
Our schedule on Thursday allowed us some free time in the morning to do some sight-seeing around Helsinki. Ray, Christian, Rob, Stan and I took a walk for a couple of hours through downtown. It is a really nice city with some old buildings and impressive architecture, but most impressive was a large cathedral that took up several city blocks. We made our way to the southeastern side of the city and walked along the waterfront. It actually reminded me of some of the seaports near my hometown in New England. We only got to see a small portion of the area and we look forward to getting the chance to spend more time discovering the city.
Later in the day we had our final practice before the tournament starts. The team is anxious to get the games started and embark on our journey for a medal. Also prior to the tournament starting, what a great honor for the Lightning's very own Nate Thompson to be named an Alternate Captain of the team. Nate is not only thrilled to be able to represent the USA by pulling on the Team USA jersey and playing, but now he has the distinction of being one of the leaders on the team. A deserving recognition of the hard work he puts into each and every day on and off the ice.
For those that are interested, NBC Sports Network is covering all of our Team USA games live from here, with the exception of Saturday's game vs. Canada. You'll have to be patient that day and not research the result of our game, which will actually be played at noon EST. The game will be shown on tape delay in prime time at 7:30 Saturday night. It should be a good one.
For those of you that are early risers, I hope you had the chance to tune in to NBC Sports Network at 5:15 a.m. this morning to catch our game live vs. France. We started the tournament off strong with a 7-2 win, but the games will only get tougher from here. There is no time to enjoy the victory, because as soon as the game ended, the focus now shifts to tomorrow's match with Team Canada. Every game is important in a short tournament and the next game is always the most important.
Thanks again for following along with our journey. I will check back in with some more stories and insight into the behind the scenes action over here in the next couple of days. Until then, enjoy the games.
MAY 1, 2012 - Exhibition vs. Victor Hedman and Team Sweden
Yesterday was our first game day over here with an exhibition game versus Sweden in Gavle. Since it was an afternoon game, no one went to the arena in the morning which is a customary practice in hockey. Instead, fellow athletic trainer Stan Wong and I led a dynamic warm up outside at the hotel. It was a beautiful morning in Gavle with temps in the upper 40s and clean, crisp air.
Following the warm up, the players got a few more hours of rest before heading to the arena. In the meantime, our staff made our way there early to put the final preparations in place for game time. When Team Sweden arrived, Ray, Christian, and I had a chance to say hello to Victor Hedman and told him to take it easy on us.
Team USA practicing in preparation for their exhibition matchup vs. Sweden.
It was a great atmosphere in the soldout arena in Gavle with the fans showing a tremendous amount of respect for our USA team. They gave nice ovations to several of our players during the introductions whom they have only seen on TV while playing in the NHL.
Just prior to puck drop, the anthems of both countries were played. It is a special feeling to hear the US National Anthem knowing you are representing our great country in a foreign land.
The game itself was a good way to start the trip, as Team USA earned a 3-2 win over Sweden. The team played great considering it was only the third time they had been on the ice together as a group. After the game, our Tampa staff, as well as Nate Thompson and JT Brown, had a few minutes to catch up with their Lightning teammate Victor Hedman before going our separate ways.
We have bragging rights for now, even if it was only an exhibition game. We won't see Victor again until the medal round possibly as the USA and Sweden are in two different brackets. We wish him luck in the tournament and hope to play them again.
Wednesday is another travel day for us as our group makes its final move to Helsinki for the World Championship tournament. Equipment manager Ray Thill and USA team leader Bob Webster departed the hotel at the early hour of 4:30 a.m. just as the sun was rising in Gavle to fly to Helsinki ahead of the team with all of the equipment and supplies. The rest of our traveling party departed after a team breakfast for the bus ride down to Stockholm and flight to Helsinki. Equipment manager Rob Kennedy has already arrived there and has started preparing our locker room for the Team USA arrival. It was a great stay in Sweden and I can’t say enough about how friendly and helpful the local people are here. It was a pleasure visiting.
Thanks for reading about our journey and I will check back in prior to our first tournament game on Friday against France.
APRIL 30, 2012 - Traveling with the team
It was a long day of travel for everyone on Saturday and Sunday, but I’m glad to say we finally made it over to the World Championships.
All of the players, coaches, and staff arrived on Saturday afternoon in Newark from various destinations in the United States. It was great to meet everyone before boarding our Lufthansa flight to Europe.
We first had a seven-hour flight to Frankfurt where the guys spent their time watching movies, reading, getting to know each other, telling stories, and attempting to get at least a couple of hours sleep. The beauty of the hockey world is almost everyone is connected somehow. Most of the players and staff have common connections to former teammates, staff, or friends in the game, and there's always a good story to share. Even though many of these faces are new to each other, there is definitely a bond between us all.
We arrived in Frankfurt at 7:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. Eastern Time), which was a shock to the system. After a two-hour layover, we continued our journey and flew to Stockholm. Everyone gathered their luggage, hockey equipment and team supplies included, and began the last leg of our trip, which included a 90-minute bus ride to a little town called Gavle, Sweden, where we will be spending the next three days leading up to our exhibition game against Sweden on May 1. We arrived at our hotel in Gavle at 2:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m. back home), which considering Ray, Christian, and I met at TIA at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, made for a full 24 hours of travel.
After grabbing a quick lunch, our staff headed over to the arena ahead of the players to set up the locker room. We only had about an hour and a half to completely transform 22 sets of hockey gear from 15 different teams into one USA team. Helmet stickers, team socks, pants and gloves had to be readied for the team's first practice, which was about to begin. Our medical area and equipment areas needed to be properly set up. As staff members, we strive to make sure each player feels at home when they step into the locker room.
The Team USA locker room ready to welcome players to practice.
It was a lot of work, so we needed everyone’s help. Massage therapist Christian Rivas, Team Doctor Yani Zinis, Athletic Trainer Stan Wong, and I joined the effort, but led by Equipment Manager Ray Thill, we completed the mission just as the players arrived. It would have been nice to have Assistant Equipment Manager Rob Kennedy with us, but he stayed behind in Newark with the important task of ensuring that all of the supplies we will need in Helsinki make it to their destination. Rob was traveling directly to Helsinki from Newark with those supplies and we look forward to joining back up with him on Wednesday.
Once at the rink, the team spent their first practice learning the systems that will be employed in the tournament from the coaching staff. With such a short timeframe and players coming from different backgrounds, it is crucial to cram as much info into these practices as possible. Many of the European teams have been skating together for months (minus their NHL players) to prepare for this tournament. Our medical staff spent our time reviewing the medical histories of our players and making sure we know as much about every one of them just as if they were our own players in the NHL.
After practice we had a nice team dinner where we became more accustomed to our surroundings and colleagues. Then, it was an EARLY bedtime for all after the long days of travel.
After a good night's sleep, it was back on the ice for another practice. It's an exciting time now with the anticipation of the tournament and the goal ahead of coming back to the States with the first medal for Team USA since 2004.
Tomorrow we play our only exhibition game here against Sweden. It will be great to see Victor Hedman, but at least for one game, he's the enemy.
May 1 in Sweden, as well as the rest of Europe, is International Workers Day, or the equivalent to our Labor Day back home. Since it is a national holiday, we play an afternoon game and the arena in Gavle is expected to be completely sold out. It should make for a great atmosphere for hockey.
I'll check back in after our game when we will then be preparing for our trip over to Helsinki and the start of the tournament.