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Wild already well-acclimated to Finland

by Dan Rosen
HELSINKI -- Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu called the experience of playing in Tampere on Monday different and a lot of fun, but he didn't feel any more pressure just because the arena was packed with fellow Finns, all of whom had their eyes focused on him, Niklas Backstrom and Antti Miettinen, hoping for a good show.

"Yeah, well, as a player you know that if you are going to try to put on a show it's not going to be a show at all," Koivu said Tuesday while laughing as he sat at the podium inside Hartwall Arena's press conference room.

Backstrom also told that he hasn't felt bothered by the burden of attention since arriving in his home city on Friday.

"It's different because a lot of people here are going to see you, but they've seen you play here for a lot of years," the goalie said. "It's part of the game and your job to have the pressure, but I don't feel it."

Whether they're being truthful or just saying the politically correct thing, Wild coach Todd Richards firmly believes Monday's game against Tampere, a 5-1 Wild win, will allow the team's Finnish contingent to relax Thursday night when the regular season opens against Carolina with the first game of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere.

"Maybe they don't feel any pressure, but it's important that they're here and they've already played one game in front of their family and friends," Richards said. "There still will be pressure and nerves come Thursday because it's the first game of the season, but hopefully they'll be able to get over that more quickly."

The Wild as a whole have been able to get over any nerves they may have had coming to Europe, into foreign territory that undoubtedly throws off their routine. Tuesday was their fifth day on the ground here and they've already done the sauna thing and the bus tour thing. They've been able to unpack their bags and make their hotel feel like home. They've skated at Hartwall Arena three times and had an off-ice workout in the building on Tuesday.

In contrast, the Hurricanes arrived late Monday night from St. Petersburg and didn't settle into their hotel until after 1 a.m. Tuesday. They were on the Hartwall Arena ice for the first time Tuesday afternoon. They still had to pack in the sauna thing and hopefully a city tour before the first game day of the 2010-11 regular season.

"Obviously you know you're not at home, but the food has been great and we have really been taken care of by the people here," Richards said. "The people at the rink have been great, supportive, helpful. Our experience here has been tremendous."

The Finnish players on the Wild have also done their fair share of media already, whereas Carolina's group of Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen were just getting started Tuesday.

Richards said just by watching Koivu, Miettinen and especially Backstrom, he can tell how comfortable they are.

"This is the most I've seen Nik Backstrom talk in my life. I think it's just a comfort level of speaking in his native tongue," Richards said. "They seem excited. They seem happy. They basically come over to our country and adapt to our style and lifestyle, and this is a chance for everyone to come over here and see how they live and the things that are important in their country. I think it's great."

Koivu is proud that his teammates have expressed an appreciation for Helsinki.

"All of the guys really like it here so far, so it has been a great experience," Koivu said. "They were kind of nervous about where we're going and how it's going to be, but it's all been positive. Everything around it, at the rink, the hotel, the food, the guys have been very happy. Everything has been first class."

All that has helped take the pressure off the Finns.

"For sure (the fans here) are focusing on their own countrymen, but it's a great thing to be here, a great thing for the Finnish people to show how crazy they are about hockey," Backstrom said. "It's a great thing for Helsinki to show how great a city this is."

The Wild already know this. The 'Canes have only two days to figure it out before the grind begins.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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