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Fasth's road to the NHL
No wonder. AIK played in the second- and third-tier leagues for years and had just then, in 2010, earned promotion to the Swedish Elite League. Fasth, too, spent his career in the second- and third-tier leagues, and had just signed his first SEL contract at 27.
"He was a good goalie when he came to Stockholm, but he had only played about 40 games in the previous two seasons due to his knee injury, so I suppose other teams didn't want to take a chance with him," AIK goalie coach Stefan Persson told NHL.com. "We had another goalie who had also struggled with injuries, but our GM, Anders Gozzi, just said that we can't be so unlucky that both goalies get injured at the same time."
Now, a slight injury to Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller has given Fasth his chance in the NHL -- and he has taken full advantage. The 30-year-old rookie has won all six of his starts and is one of the surprise stories so far this season.
The path he has taken is a long one.
The knee injury Fasth suffered while playing soccer to warm up before a practice kept him sidelined for nine months in 2008-09, but it had also gave him the opportunity to build himself up. Together with his club's mental coach, Martin Blom, Fasth worked on his psychological and physical strength.
"The season was over [already in October], and everything was dark. So I called Martin and his first words were: 'Perfect! Now we can work on everything we've talked about,'" Fasth told Aftonbladet early in his first season with AIK.
So when Fasth returned to action with the Vaxjo Lakers in the second-tier Allsvenskan in the fall of 2009, he had made thousands of saves in his mind and had worked on getting stronger.
"There was no pressure, they had all the time in the world, so Martin had Viktor work with light weights and made sure the foundation was there," Persson said.
Fasth had been an accomplished goalie in his teens -- he played for his district team and got into the hockey high school in Lulea, about 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle -- but he also had been rejected by the Lulea club and had to play Swedish Division 2 instead. (That sounds better than it is, Division 2 is the fourth-highest division in the country.)
Fasth then moved back to Vanersborg, in the south of Sweden, 10 miles from Trollhattan, a city formerly famous for a Saab auto factory now referred to as "Trollywood" thanks to several hit movies coming out of its film production facility. He played Division 1 hockey there with the Tvastad Cobras, a merger between a Trollhattan club and a Vanersborg club.
Though that team finished last and went belly up, the top team in Division 1, Tingsryd, wanted Fasth. And after three seasons there, Vaxjo, came calling. Fasth took another step up, to the second-tier league in Sweden.
When he arrived in Stockholm in 2010, he knew what he wanted to do.
"He said he wanted to get tighter, play a little closer to the net," Persson said. "A lot of goalies can say that without knowing what it means, but Viktor knew exactly what he needed to do.
"When I saw his attention to details, I realized he'd go far. He's also a very modest person. He says he's never the best, but he just keeps working hard to see how good he can get. Maybe this is as good as he gets, maybe he can be even better."
Persson carries with him a laptop with more than 30GB of videos and clips of his goalies with training programs and playbooks for them. He pulls up a video that shows Fasth working post to post, and Europe's "Rock the Night" comes out of the speakers:
"I've gone through changes; I've gone through pain"
Persson's laptop wallpaper is of Fasth hitting the ice in an Anaheim Ducks sweater. The coach can go back and watch Fasth's every save from the past two years, or see his workout regime and practices.
Naturally, Persson is keeping an eye on his former protégé's play in the NHL.
"He was fantastic in the game against [the Colorado Avalanche], but he disappeared in the game against the [St. Louis Blues]. I had to send him a message, although I'm just happy to see him do well," Persson said.
"I'm surprised to see how well he handles the stick now. Maybe they've worked on that."
Persson and Fasth stopped worrying about save percentages and instead focused on wins and goals-against average because, as Persson said, "They don't lie."
"It's fun to see that his plan works even in the NHL," Persson said. "I think their goalie coach Pete Peeters had asked to play a little more aggressively in the NHL, and he had tried it in the camp, but it's also important for a goalie to stick to his style, because if he changes it too much, and it doesn't work, he may never get another chance.
"But he's so tough mentally. And because he has such high demands for himself, he also has high demands for others."
After his first season with AIK, which ended in a World Championship final with Sweden and a loss to Finland, Fasth caught the attention of some NHL teams. But he didn't want to sign because he was offered only a two-way contract and he had just become a father.
"He called me about an hour before the deadline and said it was time to recharge the batteries, because he was coming back to AIK," Persson said.
Last season, Fasth played more games, won more games and had a better save percentage than the season before. He had proved he was no flash in the pan, got a one-way contract from the Ducks, and left Stockholm.
"He's 30 now, and he's fought his way to the NHL just because he decided to work as hard as he could, and see how far that would get him," Persson said.
]]>NHLhttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=295Sat, 16 Feb 2013 10:48:06 +0100Another Hardy Åstrom story
Have you heard the one in which Cherry pulled his goalie in the final minutes of a game to try to get a goal with six skaters on the ice and when Åstrom, the backup, saw the starting goalie racing towards the bench he grabbed his equipment, hopped the boards and raced to the crease - the story goes - to make a goalie change on the fly.
And then there’s the Hardy that played in the first Canada Cup in 1976, represented Sweden in two World Championships, was one of the first European goaltenders in the NHL, and who played for Cherry in Colorado for a year.
Before Cherry was fired.
Astrom wasn’t amused by Don Cherry’s stories back in Colorado, and he’s not laughing now, either.
All in all, Åstrom played 83 games in the NHL, and his most memorable ones may have come right at the beginning of his NHL career. After the Canada Cup in 1976 where he played four games, and the World Championship in Vienna in 1977, he got an offer from the New York Rangers – his boyhood dream team.
“Playing in the NHL had always been my dream and by then, quite a few Swedes had already entered the league. Of course, there were only 16 teams so it wasn’t easy,” he says.
“The Rangers had always been my favorite team so when I got that offer, I jumped at it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play in the Madison Square Garden, wearing the Rangers sweater,” he adds.
And the dream came true, and he couldn’t have got a better start.
“I remember my first game with the Rangers. I was called up from New Haven, the farm team, in February to play against the Montreal Canadiens at the old Forum. That was in 1978, right at the middle of the Canadiens dynasty. At the other end stood Ken Dryden – and we beat them 6-3,” he says.
“I still have the puck from that game,” he adds.
After his home debut against the Chicago Blackhawks, a loss, and the fierce MSG crowd demanding the removal of the rookie, Åstrom’s bubble was burst.
“I wasn’t too cocky then,” he says, chuckling.
After a stint in New Haven, Åstrom was called back up again before the playoffs, and he was told to get ready for the second round when the Rangers would meet the Canadiens again.
They never did.
“And then the season was over. I didn’t think that I had got a real chance to show what I could do, so I decided to return home to Sweden.”
But first, he played in the World Championships again.
Oh, by the way, have you heard the one where Åstrom tried to remove himself form the game after four goals but Don Cherry sent him back in to finish the job he started? Yeah.
Not true, either.
“I’ve never left the net voluntarily. I tried to do it once in Sweden but then the coach sent me back. And having learned my lesson then, I wouldn’t leave the net even if I had let in 30 goals,” Åstrom says.
By 1979, the Rangers had traded Åstrom to Colorado Rockies.
“I was with the Rockies the whole first season, and played 49 games. Well, if Cherry thought I was so bad, why did he play me in all those games that season,” he asks.
Only Don Cherry knows. Maybe because – as Cherry likes to say – Åstrom couldn’t catch even a beach ball.
“Actually, I said that. We played against Minnesota and I was lousy. Minnesota was a tough arena for me, but that time I was really bad. So, after the game I told the reporters that I had been so bad that I wouldn’t have caught a beach ball. Cherry, as the colorful personality that he is, then made it look like he had said that,” Astrom says.
“He’s a real character, no doubt about that. He will definitely get a chapter if I ever write my memoirs,” he says, laughing.
There is one story that Åstrom likes to tell, too. About the time when Cherry stormed into the dressing room during the first intermission and gave Don Saleski a tirade.
“The problem was that he hadn’t played one shift in the game, and Lanny McDonald told that to Cherry. He slammed the door and left the room. Maybe Saleski wasn’t good enough during the warm-ups,” Åstrom says.
After one more trade, to Calgary, and another season in the minors, Åstrom decided to return to Sweden again, for good. He played another five years, won a Swedish championship with Sodertalje, and then hung up his Harrison mask for good.
“At first, with the Rangers, I had a Jacques Plante mask painted blue. The masks were obviously more simple back then, and I never really liked big motifs on them,” he says.
“In Colorado, I switched to a Harrison model, with a blue, yellow and red stripes, and the team logo painted on it. That one I still have,” he says.
Åstrom looks back at his career with fond memories.
“I got to experience a lot of the fun stuff: the first Canada Cup, Börje Salming’s long standing ovation in Toronto, the NHL, the Swedish championship. I made great friends, too. I never thought I was worse than the other goalies in the NHL. But maybe not better, either,” he says.
It’s been twenty years since Åstrom left North America, and he hasn’t been back since.
But the legend lives on.
It just sort of beach balled.
Published in The Hockey News goalie mask special in 2008.
]]>Legendshttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=294Fri, 28 Sep 2012 12:54:56 +0200IIHF.com: Elitserien opens doors to NHLers
STOCKHOLM – The Swedish Competition Authority gave today an interim decision on the Swedish Elitserien’s decision to not sign NHL players currently locked out, forcing the league to leave it to each club to decide whether they want to sign players or not.
“The league’s action can be likened to a cartel. The clubs' mutual decision to boycott certain players is not allowed according to the competition laws,” Per Karlsson, the SCA’s Head of Legal Department, said in a press release.
“Each club must be able to take independent decisions on their investments,” he added.
The Swedish second-tier league, HockeyAllsvenskan, made a similar decision a few days after Elitserien, but later changed it, after “the majority of the clubs wasn’t opposed to others signing NHLers.”
Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues, has already signed with his Västerås in the HockeyAllsvenskan, and Anze Kopitar has joined his brother Gasper in Mora in the same league.
The Swedish league’s CEO Jörgen Lindgren said the league will now have to analyze the SCA’s decision. The league could, if it chooses so, appeal the decision to the Swedish Market Court.
“We’ll study the decision, and then we’ll see what we’ll do,” he told Swedish Expressen.
The Swedish Competition Authority’s decision, while interim, is in force until the final decision will be announced, and the league faces a 20-million krona (€2.3 million) fine should it decide not to abide by the decision.
Some clubs are rumoured to sign NHLers almost immediately, while others are, at least for now, still willing to stay the course and not sign NHLers.
“It’s an unfortunate decision,” Curt Johansson, Luleå’s chairman, told the Swedish Radio.
“Not all clubs have NHLers they can sign, and then there’s the financial part of it. The European and Swedish economies aren’t doing well, and it’d be strange if we’d invest heavily when our partners have to pull back,” he added.
Alexander Steen has skated with MODO Örnsköldsvik all week, and the club already tried to appeal to the Elitserien to sign him to replace Samuel Påhlsson who tore his Achilles tendon in August. Also, it was Steen’s agent Kalle Bodén who took the case to the SCA.
HV71 is said to be interested in signing the Blackhawks’ defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Frölunda, in turn, has been in touch with Henrik Lundqvist, Erik Karlsson, and Loui Eriksson.
“That’s right, we’ve had discussions with them,” Frölunda CEO Anderz Larqvist told SVT Sport.
“My plan right now is to stay in NY for a few weeks to practice. If this drags on I might go home and see friends and family back in Sweden,” Henrik Lundqvist wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
While there have been no league decisions in Finland, only a few Finnish NHLers have decided to return to SM-liiga, at least for now, opposed to numerous signings in other countries such as Russia, Switzerland or the Czech Republic.
The Hurricanes’ Jussi Jokinen played his first game this week, and scored a goal, Jesse Joensuu will play for his hometown team Ässät Pori on Saturday, and Lennart Petrell has already also skated with his HIFK Helsinki.
“We’re not looking to add anybody else,” Ässät GM Mika Toivola told Finnish MTV3.
“Some of the NHLers want to wait and see. The deeper we get into the season, the more there will be demand. This is the first phase but if the lockout drags on, there will be a new market of players,” added JYP Jyväskylä CEO Kari Tyni.
“We’d like to see the NHL games under way as usual. This also an opportunity, stars will make the league better and make it more interesting. On the other hand, the clubs will have to find new backers to sign NHLers,” Tyni added.]]>Elitserienhttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=293Fri, 21 Sep 2012 19:40:43 +0200IIHF.com: Helsinki derby out of control
HELSINKI – Ten days ago, in a Helsinki derby between HIFK and Jokerit, in the last seconds of Jokerit’s power play, Jokerit’s Semir Ben-Amor checked HIFK’s Ville Peltonen from behind, and when Peltonen was scrambling to get up, launched into an attack, hitting Peltonen several times. Peltonen suffered a concussion.
It was the second game of a back-to-back pre-season series that was filled with fights between these two teams. Just two minutes into the first period, HIFK’s Ilari Melart attacked Jokerit’s Jarkko Ruutu. Five minutes later, Ben-Amor jumped Peltonen, and several other fights broke out simultaneously.
Before the first period was over, there had been a few other fights, and HIFK’s Melart, Mikko Jokela, Juuso Salmi and coach Pasi Sormunen had been sent to the dressing room. Jokerit had lost Ben-Amor, Jani Rita, Ossi Väänänen and coach Tomi Lämsä.
In the second period, they were joined by HIFK’s Siim Liivik and Jokerit’s Ruutu.
The management of the European Trophy, a pre-season competition, handed Ben-Amor a five-game suspension, while Melart received a two-game suspension and Rita, Ruutu, Jokela, Liivik, and Salmi a one-game suspension, but the attack on Peltonen stirred up emotions in Finland.
The police announced it would investigate Ben-Amor’s act as an assault on Peltonen and a few days later, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association and the league announced that the SM-liiga’s disciplinary committee would also take a look at the game, since the teams in question were SM-liiga teams.
“The problem was that we didn’t really know whose responsibility this was, it being a pre-season game, but we’ll learn from that,” SM-liiga CEO Jukka-Pekka Vuorinen said to YLE on Tuesday.
“Our concerns were raised after last season’s Pelicans vs. HIFK game [in which the two teams collected 439 penalty minutes for fighting] so before this season, we gave the disciplinarian a bigger mandate, and we introduced stiffer suspensions for all matters that involve players safety,” said Vuorinen.
Meanwhile, a national debate on hockey violence was raging in the media. Whose decision was it to attack Peltonen? Did Ben-Amor act on his own, or did the coaches send him to do it? But also, is fighting a part of the game and do people understand or even care about the “code”?
“I’ve tried to tell people who don’t follow hockey closely that this is simply a game where emotions run high,” Vuorinen said on Tuesday.
“We make mistakes, just like people everywhere, but to start handing out long suspensions to get rid of fighting... we don’t want to totally change the game,” he added.
Nine hours before the disciplinary committee announced its decision, Iltasanomat, a Finnish evening paper, published on its website a video showing what took place on the Jokerit bench seconds before Ben-Amor hit Peltonen. The paper said it had used an audio specialist to filter out what was said on the bench, and deducted that Jokerit had pulled a player, Aleksi Mustonen, back to the bench, and sent Ben-Amor out instead when they saw that Peltonen hit the ice.
Somebody also yelled, according to the paper’s audio specialist, instructions to “kill” Peltonen.
On Tuesday, the league announced that Ben-Amor was suspended for 18 games. Juuso Salmi (HIFK) was suspended for 12 games, Melart (HIFK) six games, Liivik (HIFK) six games. Jokerit’s Jarkko Ruutu was suspended for four games, and his teammate Väänänen for one game. The SM-liiga has a 60-game regular season.
Jokerit was fined €40,000, HIFK €25,000. The coaches, Pasi Sormunen of HIFK as well as Tomi Lämsä and Tomek Valtonen of Jokerit, got an eight-game suspension.
“As a whole, these are the toughest suspensions in league history,” said Vuorinen.
“A player is always responsible for his actions. If we get more evidence on the coaches’ roles, the league can always get back to it,” he added.
Jokerit GM Jarmo Kekäläinen said his organization will have to take a long look in the mirror and learn from this.
“This shouldn’t happen. Sure there’s pressure but that shouldn’t be an excuse to go out and hurt people, or use language that some tapes show that we have used. We don’t approve that, as an organization,” he said, but added that both coaches will be back behind the bench after they’ve served their suspensions.
Jokerit also published a message from chairman Harry Harkimo on the club’s website, in which he denounced all acts of violence.
“Hockey is a game that embraces checking and toughness, but acts of violence are not a part of it,” he said.
An hour later, Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest daily, announced on Tuesday that they wouldn’t renew their sponsorship deal with Jokerit.
“We don’t want to sponsor something that’s in full conflict with our values and goals,” said editor-in-chief Mikael Pentikäinen.
The Finnish league has had its share of controversies in recent years, and many believe and hope that the most recent incident works as a wake-up call.
“We need to end this nonsense,” said the Finnish association’s chairman and IIHF Vice President Kalervo Kummola.
The SM-liiga kicks off on Thursday with four games. One of them is HIFK vs. Jokerit.
]]>SM-liigahttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=292Wed, 12 Sep 2012 16:37:49 +0200IIHF.com: Rock of Rögle
STOCKHOLM – For as long as hockey has been played, the role of the goalkeeper has been considered if not the most important one in the game, then, well, it’s always been considered key position. Managers want to find a good goalie, a good defenseman and a great center when they start building successful teams.
“Without the goaltender, you don't have diddly,” Art Berglund, former USA Hockey director, and an IIHF Hall of Famer has said.
In Finland, the old adage goes like this: “A goalie is half the team.” In North America, goalies are apparently even more important, because in the words of Gene Ubriaco (or, maybe Harry Neale), "Goaltending is 75 percent of your hockey team, unless you don't have it. Then it's 100 percent."
It’s especially obvious when it comes to teams like Rögle in Sweden that got promoted to Elitserien this year. For a newcomer, a team whose core is still built on players they had last year, a good goalie is crucial. A good goalie will help the team get the important points from the get-go.
Enter Martin Gerber.
Not only is Gerber a great goalie, he’s also a veteran presence in the locker room, and he knows what it’s like to play on a team that’s been promoted to a higher league. He’s been there, done that, a few times.
“I was in the same position with Langnau in Switzerland,” he told IIHF.com.
Gerber played two full seasons with Langnau before the team got promoted to the Swiss National League A in 1998. While the team managed to stay up, they also ended up playing for their spot in each of Gerber’s next three seasons with the team.
“We were really bad, we weren’t good even on paper. In Switzerland, everybody gets signed by April, and after that, it’s difficult to build a team for the new season,” he says.
“I even had the same experience, playing for a low-ranked team, in the NHL when I was with Anaheim,” he adds.
In 2002, Gerber did win the Swedish championship with Färjestad, a club he returned to in 2004, during the NHL lockout.
Since then, Gerber spent five years in the NHL, and one in the KHL, before returning to Sweden. Last season, he played for Växjö Lakers, another team that had just been promoted to Elitserien.
“Last year, I almost wasn’t going to do it, but then the team looked pretty good. I didn’t know many of the guys, but it seemed like a good challenge, especially when everybody said that we’d be a bad team. I knew the guys were good,” he says.
Gerber was right, and whoever said Växjö would struggle was wrong. Lakers finished ninth in the Elitserien standings, just two points out of the playoffs. Gerber posted the league’s fourth-best save percentage (92.81), and four shutouts in 42 games.
In the past, Gerber has stayed a free agent until July, waiting to see how the goalie market develops in the NHL and the KHL, but this year, he was an early bird.
“I’ve never made a decision that early, but Rögle really wanted me and pushed for it. They promised that they’d bring in more guys and since I like it in Sweden, I thought, why not be one of the first guys for a change. I usually go by gut feeling anyway and that’s worked so far,” he says with a smile.
Rögle management did keep their promise to Gerber, and they have added key players onto the team, like Finnish defenseman Lasse Kukkonen who left Magnitogorsk, forward Mathias Tjärnqvist from Djurgården that got relegated, and Gerber’s teammate from last year, Mike Iggulden from Växjö.
Even though Rögle’s 33-year-old coach Dan Tangnes says that the team will first make the playoffs, and “then anything is possible”, Rögle is expected to having to focus on fighting for its spot in Elitserien.
“There’s a lot of pressure. It’s fun, but it’s really tough, too, because, as a newcomer, we can’t afford a bad day. We need all the points we can get,” says Gerber.
“The idea of being relegated is stressful. But even this year, we try to make the playoffs like all the other teams, and anything can happen there. It’s not going to be easy, though,” he adds.
When he first played on a newcomer team in Switzerland, Gerber was one of the young players on the team. Now he’s the 38-year-old veteran expected to lead the team.
“I try to lead by example, the way I prepare for games and practices. One or two players might learn something. I try to create a relaxed atmosphere, and spread some confidence in the dressing room. That’s what the young guys need, they need to know we can beat any team in the league,” he says.
“It’s a fun job. It’s not just about putting in the hours. We’re building something and hope that by the end of the day, it’s good. Rögle has a lot of potential, and there’s hope,” he adds.
Elitserien kicks off on Thursday. Rögle’s first chance to grab important points comes in their home game against Luleå.
Gerber is ready.
]]>Elitserienhttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=291Tue, 11 Sep 2012 10:04:00 +0200IIHF.com: An experienced rookie
KUOPIO, Finland – Every fall, in every league, there are different media polls of which of the coaches will get fired first. This season, KalPa Kuopio beat the media by canning their head coach, Tuomas Tuokkola, two weeks before the regular season opener.
Last season, Tuokkola, 32, led the Kuopio team to the top of the regular season standings, but in the playoffs, the team got ousted in the first round, despite having a 3-0 lead against the Espoo Blues. With the Game 7 on home ice, no less.
Maybe that sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of the management, and going 0-2-2 in their first four pre-season games didn’t help the situation. On Tuesday, KalPa CEO Kimmo Kapanen announced that Tuokkola had been dismissed, and on Wednesday, his successor was introduced to the media.
“The board felt that their expectations for the season weren’t in line with what they saw happening so the decision [to dismiss Tuokkola] was made,” Kapanen said.
What made the decision all the more interesting is the fact that one of the board members is the majority owner Sami Kapanen, also the team’s captain.
Kimmo Kapanen didn’t have to look far to find the new coach, though, because Jari Laukkanen, the new head coach, was already standing behind the bench, as Tuokkola’s assistant. While he was surprised with the news of Tuokkola getting fired, he was just as ready to step up.
“I spoke about it with Tuomas and when he said that the management might offer the job to me, he also said I should absolutely take it,” Laukkanen told IIHF.com.
So he did.
Laukkanen, a fairly unknown name to the general public, says he’s up to the task. Even though he’s a rookie as a head coach in the SM-liiga, at 45, his time has come. As a player, he was a member of the 1987 Finnish under-20 national team that made Finnish hockey history by winning the nation’s first World Junior Championship. He also won the Finnish junior league scoring title, but had a hard time cracking the lineup of his club HIFK Helsinki.
Hard work is what Laukkanen is all about. As a boy growing up in Finland, he was just as talented a distance runner as he was a hockey player, and when it was time to train, it was time to train. Rain or shine.
“I don’t think we’re made of sugar,” he’d quote his father.
Laukkanen took the long way to the top as a player, carefully chipping away until all obstacles were gone. When he couldn’t make the HIFK roster, he spent a year in the second-tier league, and tore it up, scoring 55 points in 44 games – and then signed with HIFK.
After a couple of years back in his hometown, he found a home in Kuopio where he went to the SM-liiga final with KalPa in 1991 (but lost to TPS Turku). After another five years in Helsinki, he ended up in Kärpät Oulu in the Finnish second-tier league, and in 2000, Laukkanen returned to SM-liiga as captain of Kärpät.
Just as he worked his way to the world junior team and to SM-liiga, he’s paid his dues in coaching, spending the last ten years working with Kärpät’s juniors. In 2010, in his fifth year as head coach of the Kärpät under-20 team, Laukkanen coached his team to the Finnish title, beating HIFK 3-1 in the best-of-five final series. Laukkanen was named the league’s Coach of the Year.
Just a year earlier, Laukkanen had told IIHF.com how much he enjoyed working with juniors, and that he wasn’t looking to coach in the SM-liiga. Maybe it was the gold medal that whetted his appetite for coaching in the pro leagues, because when he was asked to be Hannu Aravirta’s assistant in 2010 – after Kärpät had fired their head coach Mikko Haapakoski, Laukkanen’s former coaching partner in the juniors – he didn’t hesitate.
“Once I made the decision to open that door, obviously being a head coach in an SM-liiga team was something I wanted to do at some point,” he says.
“It was a good half season for me, to get back into the SM-liiga world and see what had changed since I played in the league. Also, working with an experienced coach like Aravirta was a great experience, and gave me a lot,” he adds.
His philosophy is fairly simple: There are no short cuts.
“The head coach is the face of everything, towards both the players and the media. The everyday coaching, planning it, running it, is the same everywhere, but obviously I’ll be the one who bears full responsibility now,” he says.
“It’s hard to break down the game to an atomic level, nobody does that. We have a system, and the players know what is expected of them, but the situations on the ice are fairly simple, and some players just solve them better than the others. It’s all about hard work,” he adds.
That’s his medicine for KalPa’s woes. Hard work.
And you know what helps the medicine go down?
A spoonful of sugar. On Thursday, KalPa beat JYP 5-2 in a pre-season game in Jyväskylä in their first game with Laukkanen behind the bench.]]>SM-liigahttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=290Fri, 31 Aug 2012 12:06:32 +0200Suddenly Sudden
The players on the cards are Wayne Gretzky and Mats Sundin.
One February night, six years ago, I stood between an old Swedish gentleman and an Asian looking teenager on the stairs of a bath house in Stockholm. It was freezing cold, and I had come there a couple of hours earlier, not knowing that I’d have to stand there through a two-hour show of Swedish pop hits, a couple of repetitions of the national anthem, and interviews with the women’s hockey team that won silver in Turin.
The thousands and thousands of people that had come to the square next to the bath house since I arrived where there to welcome home the men’s Olympic gold medal winners. The golden generation of Swedish hockey: Forsberg, Lidström, Axelsson, and Sundin. The ones that had first won so much in the early nineties, then lost a few times, had failed in their big revenge in the World Cup a couple of years earlier, but had now regained their magic.
I was there to see Mats Sundin.
The team wasn’t supposed to even be there, because with only five of the players playing in Sweden that season - the Jönsson brothers, Mika Hannula, Stefan Liv, and Ronnie Sundin - most players were in a hurry to get back to North America and play their next NHL game. The Olympic final was on a Sunday, and the NHL resumed play on Tuesday.
But the players wanted to go to Stockholm, get a hero’s welcome, and celebrate together which is why Sundin told the Swedish federation that they’d do exactly that. The federation arranged the celebration for the next day, and Sundin took care of the rest, including the celebration, and the charter plane for the NHLers to get back to North America in time.
“I didn’t pay anything. You’d have to ask Mats about it,” said goaltender Mikael Tellqvist afterwards.
Sundin picked up the tab. According to Swedish media reports, the chartered planes and the dinners, and everything cost him about 150 000 dollars.
Mats took care of that, like Mats took care of most everything on the ice. Some people are born leaders, and Sundin - um, Mats Sundin - is one of those people. He was 15 when his Stockholm team won TV-pucken, the Swedish tournament for district teams, dreamed up by Sven Tumba. A few years later he became the first European overall pick in the NHL draft and went from there.
I’m always baffled to hear North American hockey fans, writers, talk about Mats Sundin, and then end their sentence with a “but he hasn’t won anything”. The man is nothing if not a winner. Sure, he doesn’t have the Stanley Cup, but he did lead his team in scoring 12 of his 13 seasons with the Leafs.
Then again, I remember how he scored two goals in 23 seconds in the last minute of play against Finland at the 1991 World Championships. And how I was sitting on row 11 at the Globe Arena in Stockholm and watched him skate around the blue-and-white pylons called Kiprusoff and Takko before tapping the puck into an empty Finnish net in the 1996 World Cup. And how he carried Sweden from 5-1 to a 6-5 win over Finland at the 2003 World Championships.
Just three years and 359 days before the parade in Stockholm, Sundin and the rest of Team Sweden had been called traitors by the Swedish tabloids, after their quarterfinal loss to Belarus. Maybe that’s why he now wanted to feel the love.
When Mats Sundin’s face appeared on the big screen, the crowd went crazy. Mats flashed his big trademark smile - the one we always saw after a goal - and right then, once again, he had the world, or at least Sweden, wrapped around his finger.
]]>NHLhttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=289Thu, 28 Jun 2012 17:31:59 +0200Vladimir Krutov (1960-2012)
Just a year earlier, the Finnish under-18 team had shocked the hockey world - well, at least in Finland and the Soviet Union - when they won the European Championship on home ice. My best friend’s father had managed to get tickets from a grocer store or a bank so I was there to see one Jari Pekka Kurri score the game winning goal on second overtime.
Two years later, I got tickets from a grocery store or a bank myself, and I made the same trek from a Helsinki suburb to that same main downtown rink, now to see the World Junior Championship, the under-20 tournament.
Finland played well, very well, and won silver medals in the tournament, but the real star of the tournament, and my new favorite player, was that Soviet number 9, the Krutov guy who had been the captain of the 1978 Soviet team, and had scored 13 points in five games. Like most of my favorite players - with Mats Sundin being the exception to the rule - Krutov was short, fast, and skilled.
He scored seven goals in five games in the 1980 tournament, added four assists, and won the scoring title, but he looked like he could have scored another seven goals and 11 points just as easily. He was explosive, creative, his moves on the ice unpredictable, and his vision almost supernatural.
But even then, even as a 19-tear-old kid, Krutov had the worried look on his face. There was something about his eyes that made him always look a little sad, so that even when he scored a goal and planted those famous Soviet-style kisses on to his teammates’ cheeks, the kinds that baffled a Finnish kid like me, the look on his face was mostly an expression of relief than happiness.
As if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Maybe he did.
Just a few months later, my Dad and I were following him - and Kurri - at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. While Krutov was on the losing side of the Miracle, Krutov, still a kid, scored 11 points in seven games, tied for lead on the Soviet team. Tied with Boris Mikhailov and Valeri Kharlamov, my biggest hero.
A year later, weeks after the car accident that killed Kharlamov, Krutov played in the 1981 Canada Cup final against Canada, against my newest favorite player, Wayne Gretzky. The Soviets crushed Canada, 8-1, and Krutov scored the goal that will forever be the symbol of the entire tournament for me.
He picked up the puck in the Soviet zone, off Gretzky’s blind pass into the slot, then skated through the neutral zone and faked a slap shot on Canada’s blueline. Guy Lafleur took a step to his right, and Krutov kept on skating towards the Canadian net, leaving Lafleur, Denis Potvin, and a backchecking Gretzky in his dust, before then beating Mike Liut with an accurate snap shot from the slot.
A Finnish broadcaster raved about the goal, in an understated Finnish way, admiring Krutov’s skills, before adding, “and kids, had Lafleur worn a helmet there, he wouldn’t have had to take that step away from the shooting lane.”
Krutov went on to have a fantastic career, as the first initial on the legendary KLM line, the others being Igor Larionov, who also played on the 1980 World Juniors team in Helsinki, and Sergei Makarov.
They all made it to the NHL, Krutov and Larionov going to Vancouver, Makarov to Calgary. Both Larionov and Makarov had reportedly had medical issues that the Canucks had had to attend to, like poor teeth, and problems with vision, but where Larionov had taken a step forward, Krutov had taken a step backwards.
Returning to Vancouver for his second year, he reported to the camp overweight and in poor shape, and didn’t seem to be willing to put in the effort to build himself another career in the NHL at the age of 30 and his career was practically over.
One day in September 1990, I was at a hockey rink in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, where the Vancouver Canucks held their training camp for the year.
Krutov was on the ice, trying hard, but he just didn’t have the legs that left the Gretzkys and the Lafleurs, and the Kurris and the Potvins in his dust anymore. He was trying, and he obviously knew what he should do on the ice, he just couldn’t get it done.
He looked worried.
]]>Legendshttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=288Mon, 11 Jun 2012 00:28:58 +0200Tarasov's tough love
I’m with Mario, always have been, but still, summer always feels like a new chance to get in shape. I don’t seem to succeed, but every summer, I still try. I even do some of the old conditioning drills back from when I still could. And when nobody’s watching, I try to run up a tree. I always have to get at least three steps up the trunk to feel good about myself.
Back in 1984 or so, when I was a freshman in high school, our hockey hotbed town got visitors from the Soviet Union. We, my team, were told to report to practice on the tennis court of my high school for an off-season practice session, headed by Anatoli Tarasov, “the father of Russian hockey.”
There we were, all twenty or so of us, standing in line in the scorching sun, looking around to see what he wanted us to do, out of breath because we had just sprinted there, as told. Except for those three teammates of mine who took a shortcut and walked through a hole in the fence, instead of jumping over it, like we were supposed to.
Uncle Anatoli wasn’t happy. As a punishment for their laziness – and undoubtedly lack of character – the three players had to turn three somersaults right there on the asphalt.
After a little warm up, Mr. T led us to the lawn by the side of the schoolyard. We all stood in line, as he explained the drill to an interpreter who then told us what to do, and then retreated to the shade to observe.
“First, run up the trees here, everybody has to get in three steps, but try to do four," he said. Only, he said it in Russian, so we just stood there, staring at him, waiting for the interpreter to do his job. And then we just stood there, staring at him, trying to figure out if he was being serious.
It was a birch, not huge, but solid enough to… well, be run on. None of us had ever done that so there was some nervous laughter.
“Then, you continue running and do three vaults,” he said.
We looked around at each other to see if we had understood the interpreter right. Or, even more so, if he had really understood Tarasov right. There was nothing there, just the lawn. Nothing to jump from – especially not skill – and no mats to land on.
“And then run back to the back of the line.”
I waited for my turn, took a deep breath and dashed towards the birch. One, two, three, up, up, up, and fourth, and down.
Jogged along to the next station and without thinking, without ever having done vaults before, I jumped and tried to do something in the air before landing on my back on the lawn.
I thought it was obvious that it was not only an impossible task, it was also idiotic to have young kids jumping on their backs on bare ground. But when Anatoli Vladimirovitch said “jump,” you said, “how high?”
After all, Tarasov was the man who once said that he saw two young players come to the practices, and without even seeing them play, he could tell which one of them would become a better player.
Naturally, it was the one who carried his own bag.
So, I took another deep breath, and jumped, twisted my 120-lb body every which way – and landed on my back. The pain was worse this time, but I still had to make one more attempt.
It took me a few years to realize that Tarasov wasn’t even trying to teach us to jump and do a vault.
He was trying to teach us to get up.
]]>Hockeyhttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=287Tue, 5 Jun 2012 18:26:15 +0200The times they have a-changed
It used to be that Finnish kids grew up dreaming about playing for their country, and maybe winning medals at the World Championships and the Olympics. I still don’t know when it changed. Now we all know - and accept the fact - that winning the Stanley Cup is everybody’s dream.
(I wonder if kids see themselves in full playoff beards when they dream the dream).
In Finland, it was probably Teemu Selänne who began to bring up the Stanley Cup in his interviews. It could have been Esa Tikkanen, too, but either way, at some point in the 1990s, the conversation took a new direction, and the Stanley Cup became the career goal for all aspiring hockey players.
Of course I understand it. It’s the biggest prize in hockey. It’s legendary. I’m not sure if I truly feel it, but that’s just because I grew up watching the Worlds.
However, now the whole world watches the Stanley Cup Finals, and if you happen to be Teemu Selänne, thousands of people will come and see you hoist the Cup in your hometown the summer you’ve won it. We all get it now.
We don’t have to stand outside any stores anymore because we all have cable, or I should probably say “cable” because, I, for instance, have all my hockey packages online only. Whether I watch Swedish Elitserien or Finnish SM-liiga or the NHL, I always watch it on my laptop, and more often than not, alone. (The rest of my family famously cheers for the officials should they ever watch a game with me.)
The world has changed, and the hockey world has changed with it, and around it. We no longer turn off the sound on the TV and listen to the play-by-play from the radio because we have so many other options now.
We still get together to watch the games, even if we don’t always get together in the same place at the same time. Nothing beats watching a game together with buddies. Ten years ago, I used to text my friends during the games, and that was how we’d make those funny comments we all think we make. These days, even if we sit at home, or at a cottage - like I did a few weeks ago - we can chat about the game with our new hockey buddies all over the world, thanks to, for example, Twitter.
There will always be somebody else watching the same game, cheering for the same team, or wondering about the same thing you just saw – whether you’re sitting in Toronto or Los Angeles, or in the quiet darkness of the night in Sweden, or Finland, or Russia.
All eyes on the big prize.
]]>Hockeyhttp://www.ristopakarinen.com/hockey/index.php?itemid=286Mon, 4 Jun 2012 21:39:29 +0200