Saturday, March 24, 2012

Outdoor Game in Helsinki

The game of my trip that I was anticipating the most did not disappoint. I was excited to see it because I had never seen an outdoor game before. The atmosphere was sure to be huge because of the larger than normal crowd. It seems sort of silly given the bitter cold temperature. Who would want to sit in an outdoor arena when the temperature is -18 Celsius? Apparently, 34, 264 people—the normal crowd for a baseball game—were crazy enough to do just this.

I wore just about every piece of clothing I packed with me and then borrowed other clothing articles such as additional long underwear, thick wool socks and a long scarf. I also borrowed a pair of boots that were too big for me, but felt like they fit because of the abundance of socks I was wearing. I still felt cold after 3 periods of hockey.

I learned during the drive from Tampere to Helsinki that there were some other things about this game that I found interesting. Number one, was the two teams that were playing—HIFK and Jokerit—were Helsinki’s two largest clubs with the biggest rivalry. Every game between the two clubs is sold out. This game at Helsinki Olympic stadium would be no different. The game from last year drew over 2000 more spectators, but the temperature was not nearly as cold.

The second was that Mikael Granlund, the leading scorer for the eventual winning HIFK, also was the second leading scorer in the whole league and was only 19 years old (he has turned 20 between the time of the match and me writing this piece). He was drafted by the Minnesota Wild and easily could be playing in the NHL this season, but decided to stay in Finland for one more year. He is expected to play next year in the NHL and must be the favourite for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie.
 Unfortunately, Granlund did not do much during the game. The player that stole the show was former NHL’er Jarkko Ruutu. Ruutu was known as a pest or agitator in the NHL. In fact, he was once suspended for biting another player’s glove. Jarkko drew several boos from the home crowd, and got under his opponents skin right from his first shift. To me, he was the most noticeable player playing albeit in a losing cause. He scored the game tying goal in the third period that eventually forced the game to a shootout and extended the shootout longer by scoring as well. The home team HIFK scored the eventual shootout winner and Jarkko Ruutu’s impression on me went to waste.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hockey in Finland

I took a bus from Prague to an airport in Germany and flew from Germany to the small city of Tamperes in Finland. In Finland I had the opportunity to see a hockey game in another small city close by Tamperes with a Finnish and a French Canadian architecture student. 

The Finnish league--SM-Liiga--did something unique that I thought added to my enjoyment of the game. The leading scorer on each team wore a gold helmet. I found this to make things more interesting, especially for someone unfamiliar with the players. My anticipation rose when the gold helmet players were on the ice as I was waiting for them to do something exciting—by scoring a goal or making a pretty pass—and I found myself at the edge of my seat.

To add to the excitement, with the home team down by one goal with time dwindling down on the clock in the third and final period their leading scorer –the gold helmeted player—had not one but two break away chances! That is to say, he was stopped on both chances and disappointed all the fans that were cheering him on. Would these plays have been as exciting without the special lid on his head? 

I know one thing, I felt more disappointed because he was supposed to be the best player, exactly the player your team would want to have on a breakaway in such a situation. He choked under pressure. I am not very familiar with the league, nor with the players in the league so the helmet helped highlight the players worth coming to see and the players I would expect to come through in clutch situations.
Had it been the NHL the helmet would be unnecessary for me because I already know who these players are and who to have my eyes on. It would still be interesting to see. I also think it would be an interesting dynamic from the team perspective, especially where the top point producer on the team changes from game to game. I think it would also make the game more interesting for the casual fan, for the same reasons the helmet made the Finnish game more interesting for me.

The only standout comment I had about the game play was how poor some of the line changes were done.