Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ilves Alumni Premiere Between the Pipes

Yesterday was a first for the Ilves franchise. For the first time of its history, two home-grown goaltending talents were going head-to-head in an NHL game.

Since Manny Fernandez went down with knee problems not too far in the season, Tuukka Rask was recalled three times from the Dunkin Donuts Center (my logical conceptions need to be challenged every day, it seems, A Donut... with a Center!) of Providence via the Boston Garden to the Air Canada Center, in downtown Toronno (find me one Canadian that will say the last T and I'll disqualify him as a Québecois or something) yesterday. No on-ice appearance resulted of the first two call-ups. But after Tim Thomas' first real screw-up performance of Saturday, where he got showered with 52 pucks, coach Julien decided to give the Savonlinnalainen his first NHL start and spare him the bystander charade from going on too long.

To my knowledge, this would have been the first representative from the town to tend an NHL goal since the great Jarmo Myllys' last stint with the new San José franchise back in '92. Great hopes rest on his shoulders because if you believe - and we are indeed starting to believe - all the fuss surrounding Carey Price, then if they are as comparable as Hockey's Future seems to say, Tuukka will be his arch-nemesis for years to come.

Faith and Destiny and Providence willing, and perhaps the Tooth Fairy and a couple screenwriters from All my Children pitching in, Tuukka's first opponent turned out to be the very same team that bothered this proud young Finn on Juhannus night 2006, 2am (must've been in bed, right?), to let him know they were shipping his rights to Massachussetts against the laughing stock of Tampere during the lockout season, Andrew Raycroft (let me direct your attention to his playoff stats for the 2004-05 season here).

It took one more season out of the playoffs, one lost 1st round pick, a second round one and a fourth in '09 too for the Maple Leafs to address the hole they had themselves created at the keeper's position. And in the off-season they made the move to acquire Tampere's own Vesa Toskala. A good bloke from what I gather. I have met the gent once at a pancake gathering at a friend's place and he seemed like a stand up guy. But that was before his allegiance was forcefully switched from the quiet Bay Area to where he became a creature to be loathed. Ok, I have to admit I have had admiration for one Leaf in the past, Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour, and I cannot say I despise Toskala but let's say it's beyond me to vote him an All-Star or to applaud anything he will do while wearing that fallen Leaf on his chest. I will cheer for him though when he backstops Finland in Halifax at the World Championships this year, since I predict his club will be sending quite a few freshly sent on holidays able bodies early in the competition.

(On the subject, Mats Sundin has caused a stir by shunning the city that drafted him first overall and made him a star (before trading him for used up Wendell Clark) and choosing to pass on the opportunity to advertise this year's competition in La Vielle Capitale as well as in Halifax. You can find the article in French here, and keep adding up the number of Ontarians, and neo-Ontarians giving the proverbial middle digit to all things La Belle Province.)

Long story short once again, all to say that Tuukka Rask's Bruins came back from a 2-0 deficit to seal the deal at 4 to 2, with Kobasew scoring in a net deserted by Toskala, being the Ilves alumni that had to swallow his slice of Humble Pie last night. Rask was named the first star of the match and you can read more about it here and see highlights and all. You can also get a snippet of an interview with the youngster here. Congrats for not showing up with a Mika Hakkinen accent, by the way, son!

So like Price impressed against the Penguins in his first NHL outing, Rask lives up early to his status as one of the best and brightest prospects in the League today. And next time Montreal meets up with the oft-bruised Bruins in the Playoffs, it will be a Voodoo effigy of a facial-hair challenged young man from Savonlinna that people will torture and burn all across the Island while signing along the nursery ryhme of my youth that used to, and still says:

"Tu n'es pas Maître à Boston quand Nous y Sommes!"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

HIFK Bandy

Okay, so it's not hockey, but I need to put these somewhere and I think Mika could do with some reassurance that at least one HIFK team doesn't stink like a sewage works. They won 16 (SIXTEEN)-1 on Friday night, a great prelude to an evening's drinking in Kallio.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Regression and digression

As previously covered, SM-liiga's on the first of its weekish long breaks, about a third of the season has gone and the original intention was to give a quick overview of proceedings so far. So let's have a go and see if we can stumble on anything exceptional. KalPa, Ässät and SaiPa are all in all too familiar territory in the nether regions of the table, HIFK are dodging around the lower cut-off line, while TPS have struggled northwards in the last few weeks. Plus ça change, as Saku Koivu (see, educational as well) might not say. In less familiar surroundings are HPK, Jukka Jalonen unsurprisingly proving a hard act to follow even for someone as clued up as Matti Alatalo. Starting the season with half the squad as newcomers can't have been easy for the ex-JYP man, and maybe their last game, a 3-4 victory in Raksila, the sort of home defeat I can just about tolerate, is a sign of better results to come. JYP themselves are squabbling over the mid-table positions with most of the usual suspects plus the nuclear powered foxes from Rauma. Jokerit are currently taking Buggins' turn to be third, which brings us next to Kärpät.

On the results front we've beaten KalPa unconvincingly three times, and suffered rare home defeats to SaiPa and Hannu Aravirta's gang from Lahti, the last one a genuinely good stuffing of the weasel. Pity poor Tappara though, who must be wishing games against us were three seconds shorter. Twice we've played them and twice we've beaten them, each time a decisive goal coming in the last two seconds of the game. On the player front we've suffered the seemingly usual gaggle of defensive injuries, the other side of the coin being that the younger defenders get more ice time and are playing well to boot. Extra cover was provided again by the ever reliable Ivan Majesky. Oskari Korpikari celebrated his 200th league game with a victory over Ässät, and in his 201st got hit in the face by the puck, breaking his jaw in several places. Mikko Lehtonen and Ilkka Mikkola are also sidelined, the former losing his place for the Karjala tournament no thanks to a dodgy back. Jere Karalahti's been out for 2-3 weeks now with a dead leg. Karalahti, ah yes, I knew he'd be at the centre of something that doesn't happen every day.

I wasn't present, but presumably last Tuesday's training session in Raksila was running quite normally. Until two police officers turned up, arrested Karalahti in connection with a drugs investigation and carted him off to Espoo for questioning, that is. Kärpät management are reportedly "gobsmacked" (my translation) that such a thing could have happened, seemingly unfamiliar with the idea that people with a colourful past such as Karalahti might just be carrying some baggage around. Looking on the bright side, it speaks volumes for the wayward one's reputation here that the old bill turned up at a scheduled training session with the expectation of finding him there, and actually succeeding. Coming to think of it, it also speaks volumes of the local plods that they had the wit to look for him at a scheduled training session. Let's face it, their powers of deduction aren't always unquestioned in these parts. The low point must be the car harpoon from the mid-'90s, with no one apparently able to work out beforehand the likely dangers associated with having a sharpened piece of solid metal attached to the front of a speeding car. To be fair though some do use their brains more profitably, like the time I was present during a daring daylight raid on a supermarket in Kaijonharju. The already unsteady robber, laden with a crate (24 bottles) of beer, shuffled his way craftily between the two checkouts, taking care not to interrupt the ongoing deep discussion. He would have made a clean, albeit dishevelled, getaway had he not farted all too loudly as the automatic doors opened for his exit, thereby causing the alarm to be raised. Half an hour later two of Oulu's finest sauntered onto the scene and casually took said felon from slumped against the supermarket wall, together with remains of crate, into custody.

Getting back somehow to Karalahti, today he gets to know his fate. Police must either release him or charge him. Missing three weeks through injury is one thing, but he'll miss a lot more than that if he ends up doing bird. By which utterly contrived means I turn to the one team so far not covered by the round up, Pelicans. C'mon, let's be honest, we may not have been too surprised to see them head the league after half a dozen or so games, but who amongst us would have reckoned on their staying there to this point? Not me, for sure. Will they last or will they fade? The latter, for my money, after the long season takes its usual injury toll. Now, about those bloody shirts of theirs...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Against the world

Today I read Mika Nieminen's column in Helsingin Sanomat. There was some general stuff about the league, but one interesting point was about Matt Nickerson's five game ban because of his current contribution to the Ässät. In there Nieminen said that it was somewhat over exaggerated but it would would have been standard if Nickerson had played in HIFK-team.

That actually is very true. Some pretty strange stuff has happened when HIFK has been part of it. When Shedden coached the HIFK and they had quite a lot of fights S/M-Liiga (yeah /-character is used in purpose) ruled that HIFK has to pay 10000 € because it causes bad influence to league. In the same year
Ässät paid about 1000 € for similar reasons. Anyway I have no idea were those ever paid to anyone. Hopefully not.

At one time there was also a rule that no rulings could be made after the game IF match official hadn't made note about something that had happened. Anyway they changed that and after that they gave Raimo Summanen a fine about his comments about the league. What they didn't do was to penalize Otakar Janecky (he was playing Jokerit) while he tried to kick Lukko's Jarmo Kuusisto. I couldn't find a video but at times I saw it in the news. Janecky was in ground and he tried to kick Kuusisto with the both of his skates. This episode had happened before Summanen's comments and it might have been a good example too.

On the other news HIFK won two games before the break. First there was 2-6 win against the Blues and after that they won Ässät in penalties. I can't really tell is it a good thing or just pure luck. I heard that Blues goalie Bernd Bruckler didn't have his best day so who knows. After the break there's away game against KalPa and if things go as they usually to go you might want to bet your money against HIFK. KalPa has won three games this season and you probably can guess which team was associated with one of them.

Karjala Tournament Preview

From the 8th of November until Sunday, Hartwall Areena will host its flag beer's tournament between the 4 ice hockey powerhouses of Europe.

For those not familiar with the exercise, the Karjala tournament is the second of 4 of the kind called the Euro Hockey Tour, played in the Czech Republic first in August-Spetember under the name Česká Pojišťovna Cup (if it's misspelled, blame the copy/pasting, not me), then in Finland, followed by the Channel One Cup in Russia in December and the Swedish LG Hockey Games around February. The whole ordeal is ended by a quick medal round in May to crown the winner.

The squads gather the elite of each countries playing in Europe. So the level is interesting, although the stint is brief and the rosters might change from a tournament to another, which results in uneven play quite often. For these reasons, it is very hard also to pick a favourite. Some team might bolster some famous names, Malkin was playing a couple years ago, Niinimaa this year! but the chemistry is not guaranteed to be clicking with the linemates at all.

Like expected in a previous post, Peter Forsberg will be a no show. He had to end his first skating session with the team because of his ever-lasting foot injury, explained here in details by Bob McKenzie. In short, if don't want to read the article, Foppa got a club foot and his career is over. Spread the word! If you want to read, there might be a little more layers to it.

TV2 will be broadcasting all the Leijonat games so you can watch in the comfort of your home if you have paid your TV tax, of course!

Not a lot of known names playing for the Czech Republic. Zbynek Irgl though, during the last World Championship, struck me as a man who is one pronounceable name away from the NHL. He showed some great flashes and was a threat most times I have seen him on the ice. Worth a closer look if he shows skills like here, Ojojoj, indeed!

Under the supervision of diminutive Montreal alumni and hero of my youth, Mats Näslund, the Forsberg-less Swedes don't look so stellar either. Former Espoo winger Ekman, who had nice production when he was carried by Thornton and Cheechoo in San José, surfaces here out of Khimik. Daniel Tjärnqvist who does not seem to find a home this season is showing up too. HV71's starter Stefan Patrick Liv, a Polish orphan (insane what you find on Wikipedia), will mind the net. Along with Captain Kenny Jönsson, the last two will be the only representatives from the Gold Medal Winning team in Torino.

Slava Bykov, a former Nordiques pick, is the coach for Russia. Between the pipes, they will have the Washington Capitals' second first round pick of 2006, announced back then by future teammate Alex Ovechkin (fun video of the Backstrom pick there). Since being chosen to succeed the long reigning German Torhüter, Olaf Kolzig in Capital City, Varlamov has gone through a little makeover. From the name he was bearing on draft day, he has, coming into training camp this year been rebaptized Simeon, a good Jewish name. The former Anglicized version of his name, Semen, had connotations one does not always want to associate with, apart when it brings you headlines like this one: Semen makes women happy. He plays with Irgl in Yaroslav at the moment, perhaps the Czech could learn a thing or two from Simeon's publicity stunt and go under the moniker of Zach Eagle or something flashy of the sort, that could land him a spot in Nashville!

Suomi has got a good deal of familiar names on the cast and might be icing the most potent team on paper. Markkanen and Niemi or as solid as they come in net. Väänänen, Niinimaa, Immonen, AJ Niemi, Pirnes, Santala, Koivisto, Hahl, Laaksonen, Rita, Pesonen, you got to admire that Finnish trait of not backing up when the Nation is calling.

Some high flying to be expected from Shedden's troop and we are looking forward to it! Especially my colleague Egan who will be out of the town along with 12 Russian exchange students, looking for a pub broadcasting Suomi - Venäjä...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On Koivu's Francais

A stir has been caused once more in La Belle Province of Québec about the fact that Montreal Captain Saku Koivu, an immigrant since 1995, has not yet mastered La Langue de Molière. It has reached the shores of this nation's fine newspapers, so I guess we have to address the subject.

The issue was raised in a governmental public consultation, the Bouchard-Taylor commission, about what is called Reasonable accommodations. It deals with the integration of immigrants to the Quebec Society. Immigration being under provincial jurisdiction in Canada, it is no surprise it will cause a commotion in the only official French-speaking province. If you need more explanation, think about it, We are French, we can't live without commotion. (Funny enough commotion is also the French word for concussion, not that we are so fond of those mind you, just ask Patrice Bergeron, but we are visor wearing pussies after all.)

Bringing forth his outrage to the commission was lawyer Guy Bertrand. A professional shit-stirrer, at the forefront of many far-fetched controversies, once a separatist, once a federalist, always a disgrace to his Province and his name (his brother Rosaire has been for many years my native region's deputy, representing it with great efficiency). This is only the latest desperate attention for headlines that he woke up with some morning when not waking up at all might have been a better option. Just to show, last time I remember him being in the news, it was to represent Leon Mugesera, a Rwandan war criminal known for speeches about "dump[ing Tutsi's] bodies into the rivers of Rwanda."

The argument brought to the table was "the right of Quebecers to be served in French". Good God almighty (or Allah or Buddah or Travolta or The Fonz, don't want to offend any religious groups here) that stuff ain't real, like Bob said (the other Bob, not Gainey and certainly not Marley). The guy is paid, not to offer a service, he is paid to do a job, a manual job, which requires little oral skills other than "Heads up, guys!", "Would you fuckin' pass it for once, Kovy!" or "You want to? Ok! Square off? Ok, Good Luck Man!", ok that last one is for larger men than Koivu, but you get the point. He does his manual job very well and, equal opportunity, equal salary, should a French speaking person be better at the position, it is hard to figure out.

Perhaps in 1993, Montreal should have opted for the next French Canadian available in the draft, namely Eric Lecompte picked by Chicago 3 ranks later with his grand total of 0 games played in the NHL until now. (Let's give him time still he's more than a point per game in Innsbruck this year and he used to kick serious ass in Switzerland's Nationalliga B, a legend in Langenthal, wherever the fuck that may be!) At the same salary, we can arguably find more impressive talent who speaks francais, but do they want to play in Montreal? The debate rages on and I am not getting into that now.

Let's raise a parallel, though.

Here we have a man who has immigrated to a French-speaking country, but has opted to live in its English speaking part. L'Île-des-Soeurs (when David Cronenberg does not infest it with horny zombies from outer space) is as close to a gated community as you will find in Québec, fitting for publicity-shy millionaires but not necessarily the best to mingle in the backstreet with the Boréale drinking frogs (Yes, I am allowed to use that word, having juicy tights yearning for garlic butter myself).

For my part, I couldn't find the French speaking part of Tampere when I moved here, but perhaps I could have found more talkative neighbors there. I have been in Finland for more than 3 years, but never had to take road trips to the rest of the non-Finnish speaking Europe every other week and don't get to flee when I miss the playoffs to come back for training camp, so all in all, I might have spent more time in Finland than Koivu really has spent in Québec. I probably speak worse Finnish than Saku speaks French, but he has the terrific advantage of being debated about on TV everyday and radio 24/7, whereas I am not name checked on Salatut Elämät yet.

In my job description, it is said that I am expected to speak French-Canadian as my mother tongue (don't ask what I'm doing but just know that I am not stealing anyone's job at least!). My company's official language is English, for internationalization purposes, our competitors, clients and employees are from different origins and we have a point in common, we speak the language that is commonly used in the trade so that everyone understand each other. Parallel stands. In Koivu's job description though (as well as in Mihail Grabovski's who does not even speak English), language is not mentioned, . Winning face offs, killing penalties, blocking shots and deflecting shots from the point, appearing on posters and tv spots, wearing a suit and tie on game day, yes, and a couple more things you can require to warrant a 4.75 mil a year (be it only American dough), but linguistic specifications aren't part of the deal.

At work, when I turn left, I see a Russian colleague and a French Canadian one, when I turn right I see a wall. If I turn around, behind, I see an American, a Briton and an Italian. Their names are not Kovalev, Bégin, Komisarek, Dafoe and ... Italian, hard to come up with one, Muzzati, ex-Hartford Whaler, is that too far fatched? but we are all part of the same team and communicate in English. No, I do not play right wing, but the situation is similar. My immediate boss, my Carbonneau if you allow the comparison, is a Finn, but he speaks to me in Shakespeare's lingo. And my higher hierarchical overlord is some Swedish holding company if I understood that correctly (Gilletsson from Kålårädostad as far as I care) and he does not give two shits about me speaking the local dialect or not, or he hasn't shared his feelings on the issue with me just yet.

Of course Jean Béliveau wasn't sitting in my chair before me but you get the point. I live well, albeit on a slightly reduced salary compared to Monsieur Bouleau's, in a country where I do not speak the language and, at 32 years old, find very difficult to assimilate. I want more, at my age, out of conversations than the basic
-Terve, minä olen Yves, minä olen Quebecilainen.
-Ooooh Kanadalainen!
-Ei, Quebecilai... ah pis laisse faire.

I have, in the past few years, mainly concentrated my cognitive efforts into learning how to do my job properly (which does not involve Justin Williams' stick blade getting under my retina in any way, but has a couple twists to make it interesting or at least challenging) and doing my best in the remaining time to raise my two children in French, a 3 years and a 1 year old, a girl and a boy (the parallel becomes eerie).

The Finnish (Suomi) language is of a level of difficulty renowned to be of the hardest but, if learned in a vacuum, is much easier than French. Problem is that finding a Finn to talk to is about as hard as getting a French to shut up. But silent letters do not exist in Finnish and exceptions have mostly been purged. The grammatical system however has not much to do with any other languages except Hungarian (Magyar) and Estonian (Eesti, hahah, Québecois inside joke here), which is why I say in a vacuum, because most Occidental speakers will look for reference in their own language and/or in English and they will find not much, mis à part a couple borrowed words here and there that have been cruelly butchered to fit strict Finn spelling (kahvi = coffee!). On the other hand, evidence of Napoleonian era colonialism and other historical phenomenons that have spread the seed of la langue francaise can be found in most languages. The only word that has evaded Finnish and spread to the far reaches of Turkey and Korea is Sauna, and let's not forget it. But I digress.

All I want to say is that, for my part, I might be able to speak Finnish one day and I do half count on my kids to teach me, like Koivu was saying, but it requires time, which I don't always have, and effort, does the "I'm not perfect" argument work here? Simple answer is I am in the country that offers the best situation for my family for the time being and am grateful for the opportunities it offered me, and with all the good will in the World (and I do take classes once a week which means far from often enough), putting the extra effort in learning a language I will probably never master enough to hold a decent conversation or get my point across without using 4th grade vocabulary does seem like a vain effort somehow. But even if, or let's say when I do learn, it will be a hell of a long time before you see me answering the questions of the Finnish equivalent of Michel Villeneuve on TV, unless he accepts a punch in the neck as a Finnish enough answer.

The PR blunder from this season's home opener cannot be blamed on Koivu. Yes, he could have seen it coming, he is a smart fella, but still, someone should have thought about it in higher places. It is not that hard, just write in Finnish (which is phonetics without the funky stuff and a few dots more): "Lö nymero kätrövinkätr, Gijoom Läätaandress" and so forth...
Easy! Facile! Helppoa!