Thursday the Thirteen, hockey masks will be put on, no chainsaws allowed, but the puck will drop on another SM-Liiga season. We will be attending at Hakametsä (providing there is still tickets left, tickets that were supposed to be purchased last week by a collaborator that will rename nameless and that blamed poor old booze for his own shortcomings, when will they learn…) the first duel between this fine city’s rival units.
I have witnessed only 2 games of the team they dub the Montreal Canadiens of Finland, and I can see the similarities. Capable of the best and most often the worse, terribly inconsistent and frustrating for their fans that have known the glory heights of being crowned champions and that are left to wonder if they will see this glory revive during their lifetime, taste the bubbly wine and wander the street high-fiving total strangers.
The first match up Ilves was implicated in that I got to attend was a humiliating defeat. It was a Tappara home game and it showed. We were sitting under the giant orange and blue flag, which covered up nicely our illegal Jim Beam intake from the breast pocket flasks. I had made plans to cheer for Ilves, strangely, for an allegiance to Vesa Toskala's former colours, I guess, and was a bit worried what would happen of our asses if the wind had turned the black and green way. But Tappara showed the dominance that made them the top home team in the league last year and when Mikko Kuukka finally scored a goal to make it 3 to 1, it was already clear anyway in which way the breeze was flowing and the surrounding crowd was simply mildly amused at the lost foreigner standing up to cheer in the C3 section (or was it D1?)
I say humiliating defeat, but that crew seemed like they had been down this road before. Exuberant comportment is surely not a Finnish staple but one could tell when a team is used to defeat, when frustration is just another one of those daily annoyances you don’t have a control over, like the price of gas, runny noses and recurring herpes symptoms. There is no use getting mad no more, you just bear with it, bite the lower lip while you piss, maybe but the swearing ain’t gonna affect nothing.
While my Italian friend, who was popping his Ice Hockey cherry by attending his first game, was wondering why when someone gets a tap on the elbow, he doesn’t fall on the ice all teary eyed, looking at the ref for a yellow card while holding his knee, I couldn’t notice much brilliance on Ilves’ side. I had previously even seen brilliance in a SaiPa/Pelicans game, so it goes to show diamonds do lie, buried in manure. Tuukka Rask, which is touted as one of those Next Big Things, on a par with Carey Price now, Kari Lehtonen a couple years back or sliced bread a while ago, didn’t seem to mind the red light, like he knew this was the inevitable outcome of most nights he still has to hold fort with a jersey bearing the ugliest sports logo since the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons moved up to Motor City in 1957 and got themselves a potent graphic designer that could achieve the feat of drawing a proper basketball.
Rask will be at training camp this week in
But for me Pierre Dagenais is an even more special case of a thick head, the guy gets a one year contract with Montréal. Minimum NHL salary is not too shaby, 450 000 US dollars per year then, but still, if you get this sum guaranteed for 1 year and you are fairly conscious that your talent is limited to career ECHLer potential that is lucky to get along with the team's second center who is in the process of being booed out of town, what do you do with the good financial fortunes that fell upon you this year? Invest in high interest long-term stocks and bonds? Buy a Taco Bell franchise? Stash under your mattress for post-concussion days? You never know nurses willing to feed you with a straw and change the diaper of a 29 year old man don't come cheap. But Pierre did not go that route, no, he took the high way, blew the bulk of the money on a cardboard mansion is the far suburb of Blainville, on a Ferrari and on a Hummer, the ride that eclipsed the Corvette of old as the emblem for minuscule genitalia compensation. Of course, there is a resale value to these things and both his motor vehicules are probably not seeing a lot of mileage in the Québec winter since he now spends his season being out skated in the highly competitive Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, but yeah there you have it, another airhead that blew it all away and make us French Canadians look like shortsighted dimwits.
So short story long, I have good pictures of that game. I'll post them here one day. Ilves took it 7-2 and never looked back. They got thrown out of the playoffs by the same Jokerit bunch (without Dagenais), in 4 straight whipping but I wasn't around to witness. Although here in this contest, the flashes of brilliance I saw emanating from the local side were again not from the tender of the goals, which did not see much action, but rather from the power play point men, Radek Duda and Kristian Kudroc. Solid team at the back, reminiscent of my most hated duo of McCabe/Kaberle with the Leafs, efficiency from both sides, precise and dangerous shots. Problem is: Duda is now on his way home to Slavia Prague after a short stint with Amur Tigers Khabarovsk where apparently they cut his hair. 6 foot 6 Kudroc, which if you pronounce his name in French means something "hit by a stone", a name that made him a crowd favourite back when he played junior with Patrick Roy's Québec City Ramparts, has crossed the bay to Södertalje where he will soon be joined by Quinn Hancock.
If you add to this that last year's Golden Helmet Home Boy Lingren has flown to Texas to skate with the Finns back there a while and then probably be shipped to the Mormon State Grizzlies for a year because he's stuck in the line behind Mike Ribeiro, of all men, there is not much left of what barely made Ilves a playoff team last year.
Like I previously said, my mind isn't made up but Ilves' chances at renewed glory don't appear to be so obvious this year. I'll say more on the Tappara crew in the next column, but I guess it's time to post this since I lost the interest of most readers 7 paragraphs ago...