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!"


Cubanpuckstopper said...

There appears to be a changing of the guard with Leclaire, Price, and now Rask in, and some old favorites out, Belfour, Cujo, and Esche (now in Russia, in what is the last season for foreign goalies in Russia).

Toskala will be an interesting study throughout the season as he changes coaches from the late, great Warren Strelow, who was "highly fluid" in his approach with goalies, to Steve McKichan who is a pupil of Mitch Korn.

yvresgyros said...

The changing of the guard is nice to see. Not only those you mentioned, but Miller, Ward and Lundqvist are potential game-stealing men who will take the bulge of their team's workload for years to come (Backström is a bit older, but he is nonetheless brilliant, although he's got Harding pushing up behind). Bernier in LA might turn out to be another to add on the list of contenders to Brodeur's throne, when he decides he's had enough.

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