Posts Tagged ‘World Championships’


18 years ago, 7th of May 1995, a Sunday afternoon and Finland was playing in the World Championships. That Friday before, my teacher at school had asked us to show our hands if we thought Finland was going to win gold. I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t think that the team was going to do it, given the disappointment of the year before.

On that Sunday afternoon I wasn’t paying the game my full attention. Yes, Finland was in the final, but I thought that Sweden would be the winners of the game. They always beat us in hockey, especially in big games like this.

I remember that I had my friend Hannu over at our place and that we were in my room playing computer games or whatever and went to check on the score a couple of times. It was 0-0. Until we heard my mom and dad roar. Finland had scored. Ville Peltonen had put the puck in the net for the first time. That was it, maybe Finland did have a chance.

We watched the remainder of the game and saw Peltonen score two more goals and Timo Jutila add another. It was set, Finland was going to win the World Championship in ice hockey. A sport that is engrained in so many Finn’s psyche. It was a big deal. It still is a big deal.

The country went into a frenzy, just like it would do 16 years after that Sunday in May 1995. There were parades held up and down the country so that people could greet the heroes. I went to one event in Hameenlinna and saw Timo Jutila and Marko Palo with the trophy. I remember that Marko Palo signed my hockey card I had of him (which I have since lost) and that he was wearing these big Ray-Ban sunglasses to hide his blood shot eyes.

One of the relics that I still have at my parent’s house is a signed team photo of that 1995 team. It’s in a glass frame and I don’t dare fly it over to my place in case it would get damaged in transit.

Since then the saying -95 never forget has become somewhat of a joke amongst Finnish hockey fans. Today will be 18 years since the nation’s expectations were changed and we started to patiently wait for gold year after year, only to come away disappointed, until 2011.

We may only have two World titles to our name, no Olympic gold, no World Cup of Hockey honours, but those two World Championships mean so much to the Finns that it’s almost impossible to describe in words, even if the value of the World Championship event has diluted a little bit, it being an annual tournament and all.


At the Stockholm group of the World Championships, there has been a minor upset brewing in the form of the Swiss hockey team. The Stockholm group of the World Championships was touted to be the tougher of the two groups as it featured talent packed teams, such as Sweden, Canada and Czech Republic. No one could have guessed that the Swiss that are stealing the limelight.

In the opening game of the tournament, the Swiss handed a 3-2 loss to the hosts Sweden and then carried on the run of upsets by beating Canada in the penalty shoot out and then convincingly seeing off the Czech team by 5-2.

The team is comprised of players who play in the Swiss National League. The only NHL name that might be familiar to people is Nashville Predators’ defence man Roman Josi or New York Islander’s prospect Nino Niedereitter. The other recognisable name in the Swiss roster to most hockey fans is goalie Martin Gerber, who won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006.

The Swiss have so far faced and won the toughest countries in its group  – and barring a complete disaster – should be progressing into the second stage of the competition as a team that should not be taken lightly. In the past few years it has been the Swiss who have taken the biggest strides in terms of developing their standard of players and their results at the World Championships stage and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Swiss were in medal contention this year.

The team is getting steady scoring from all lines and in goal, Gerber has been strong, posting a 1.92 GAA and 92.31 Save percentage in three starts. Perhaps if the Swiss keep going the way they have been, we might see them in the medal games this year. Though it would take a lot to see them in the final, the Swiss could be on the way to building its own Cinderella story for this year’s World Championships.

 

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IIHF has announced that the 2013 World Championships will be streamed live online via YouTube. The service, which was launched last year was welcomed by hockey fans across Europe, but things soon turned sour after media partner pressure. The IIHF had imposed a blackout of the YouTube streams for countries that had exclusive TV broadcast deals in place, but then had to take further measures as tech savvy consumers found ways around the geo-blocking.

 

To many fans’ displeasure, the IIHF then had to move its broadcasts to start half an hour after face off to make sure that no-one would be circumventing the geo-blocking. However, this year the free – and more importantly – live broadcasts will be back. The service will be available across many countries, but IIHF has already ruled out some countries on its promotional YouTube video. Countries where YouTube broadcasts are not available include: Sweden, Finland (the host countries), Denmark, Norway, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Swizerland, Germany, Canada, USA, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and France.

 

Where last year’s streaming ended with a sour note, I do think that it is the right thing to do to bring hockey to a wider fan base. Even though the IIHF broadcast the games with 30min delay last year, my point will be that any sports event should be broadcast live. The word travels quickly these days and it is important that if you are broadcasting on a social platform such as YouTube, you provide a live stream instead of a deferred one.

 

So there, another year of hockey on the web by the looks. The 2013 World Championships will be played in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland between 3rd and 19th of May 2013.


So the IIHF World Championships have concluded and the champions have been crowned in Yevgeni Malkin… I mean Russia. Russia was the dominant team throughout the tournament and perhaps no player was as dominant as Malkin. Where Russia won, I thought it’s play wasn’t harmonious and at times it was disjointed, but thanks to strong individual players who WANT to play, game-play mistakes are easy to overcome.  Apart from Russia’s championship, I think the story of the games has been Slovakia. Last year in Bratislava, the games ended in tears when the Slovakian team ended up outside the medal games. Where as a Habs fan it might sound weird me saying this, but the gesture from Zdeno Chara after the game was classy. Wearing Pavol Demitra’s jersey to the medal ceremony was a really classy move.

 

Demitra undoubtedly was the Slovaks’ sixth player on the ice in each of their games. Causes like these are great to rally behind that can carry a team a long way. Demitra, who is a legend in Slovakian hockey, lost his life in the tragic plane accident that claimed the entire Yaroslav Lokomotiv team in September.

 

First off, let’s review the tickets, that have been talked about in the press and on my blog in great extent. From that point of view, it has been one of the most embarrassing World Championships I can remember. Watching the games via YouTube (I’ll get to that later) saw empty arenas in nearly all of the games in Helsinki and it wasn’t that great across the pond in Stockholm. I honestly think that the organisers of the games failed big time. Comparing to the games hosted in Slovakia last year, the TV coverage that I saw showed that the tournament was well publicised in the host towns, but judging by what I’ve seen on videos, there hasn’t really been that much in terms of visibility in Helsinki or Stockholm. Even one of the Russian players went on to say that these were the worst World Championships that he has played in.

 

Furthermore, a bit of an embarrasement, the organisers now have to get advice from Edmonton who arranged the World U-20 championships recently. Finland and Sweden aren’t exactly new to the hockey thing so it is embarrassing to say the least that they have to get help on how to make everything work. The scary prospect is that the two countries and the same organisers are in charge of arranging next years’ tournament as well. Hooray for another year of empty arenas and overpriced… well… overpriced EVERYTHING (€7 for a “pint”).

 

I do hope that the Finnish Ice Hockey Association is true to its word and guides the profits directly to junior development. It is in the grass roots where hockey has to be nurtured and talents developed. Additionally, though I know hockey isn’t the cheapest of sports to play, the Finns need to attract kids to start playing hockey as well and the sport shouldn’t be for the privileged, neither as a hobby or as a spectator sport.

 

But anyways, what did the games leave us with? Well there were some interesting games, who would have thought that one of the best round robin games was between France and Kazakhstan. In fact during round robin, it was the ‘smaller’ countries that provided more entertainment than any other game in the schedule, except maybe apart from USA vs Canada.

 

Speaking of Canada, I know my post about the Canadian team antics was read quite a few times, but I realised that the point that didn’t come across properly in it was the fact that I don’t have a problem with players going out during the tournament, it happens and as players we’ve all been there and done it. However, it was more the outburst that caught my attention. Other teams were seen in Helsinki nightlife and conducted themselves appropriately. Granted it was only a onetime thing and I guess the reason why Getzlaf’s and Perry’s exploits were followed closely is because the Ducks have been under a magnifying glass in Finland because of one Teemu Selanne. But let by gones be by gones and all that jazz. I could say many colourful things of what I think of Getzlaf as a captain of a team, but I will only say, I feel sorry for Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne.

 

For me personally, the low point of the games was when the IIHF pulled the live YouTube broadcasts, hence why I reduced the amount of ‘ink’ and space I gave the IIHF.

 

That is something unheard of in sports broadcasting and I’m sure the IIHF has had a huge backlash from people all over the world. I had numerous conversations on Twitter and Facebook about the decision to pull the feeds and all were equally disappointed. The common factor among the comments was this: “Shame, I’ve never watched the world championships and I was quite enjoying it.” Or “What’s the point of watching them with 30 minute delay if I can get another stream from the Internet.” There you go IIHF. Even if you tried to protect the TV broadcast deals you talked about, people will find a way to watch the games live and un-interrupted. I really do hope that the IIHF figures this out. You have a year to do it. GET IT RIGHT!

 

The one thing that I do think that the games needed and it is something that I have been saying for years when talking about it with relatives and friends. Kalervo Kummola needs to move over from the helm at Finnish ice hockey. I have nothing against Kummola personally and if anything we should all be grateful for what he has done to Finnish hockey and the way he has cultivated the sport. But it is time to move over now. I feel that Kummola is past it and ‘not with the times’ anymore and that his views of the game and the way things should be done are somewhat archaic.

 

Kummola’s hockey resume is something to envy, but right now I feel that what would be best for Finnish hockey is to get some fresh blood in and get new views and expand our horizons further. Finland has a great legacy in hockey and the sport means a lot to the nation and I think now, if ever, would be time to mix things up a bit.

 

Personally, I don’t think Kummola’s successor has to be a someone with a background in hockey, but someone who can bring an innovative new way to develop players and who is not stuck in the same mindset as the current core of the powers that be.

 

With Russia now the reigning world champion’s we are waiting for another 365 before Sweden and Finland again host the games, with this time Sweden being the lead country for hosting. Good thing the organisers have already come out and said that they’ll review the ticket prices for next year. Oh, I do hope that they mean review the prices on basis of reducing them, not hiking them up even more.

 


Following the Finland vs Kazakhstan game from last night, I didn’t do my own take on the game, simply because there was something that was bothering me about it. It wasn’t the game itself or the performance of the team, but one player in the roster. The player just so happens to be one of the most hotly talked about Finnish youngsters, Mikael Granlund.

 

Granlund’s year has been manic to say the least. From winning the SM-Liiga championship in 2011, accompanied by World Championship 2011 to Finnish national service, to his every move being followed, to Veikkaus using Granlund on his only real day off for 15 hours to shoot a commercial, to being the carrying force for HIFK to carrying the Finnish U-20 team. He has been asked about his airhook goal more than any one cares to remember.  However, last night, almost a year after he was put on a stamp and when he became every mom’s favourite son-in-law candidate, Mikael Granlund was benched. And I’m sad to say, it was the right call.

 

Prior to the World Championships, Granlund was out with a nasty bug but came back to the roster and was not at his own level. After the SM-Liiga season was done, Granlund was put on rest, which seemed to bring him back, but come the World Championships, he has been not at his own level.

 

Let me iterate that Granlund’s attitude is there. He wants to compete, he wants to win and he wants to play the game, but the sad fact is that it’s impossible to compete or play with your attitude alone and be at the top of your game, while your batteries are completely and utterly empty. Everything that Granlund has achieved, those achievements do take A LOT out of a player mentally and physically. On March 27th I wrote on http://pushforpros.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/mikael-granlund-and-that-damn-airhook-goal/  about some of the concerns that I had for Granlund. I still stand by the fact that people should’ve had alarm bells about the kid after the U-20 world championships. He looked tired and the media scrutiny at home over the missed penalty shot was shocking.

 

Going back, look at the year the kid has had! Do you think that with all the activities that he has had to endure, that he has had time to train properly. The sad fact is that Granlund has been driven to the ground and he is tired, despite what he says to the media. And speaking of which, no one gets asked such dumb questions as Granlund.

 

Looking at the Canada and USA games, it was the first time that Granlund played against his future opponents and he was invisible. Granlund wanted to show that he can play against the players on the NHL stage, but he was not able to, because he has nothing in his tank left to give. It has gotten to a point that a TSN commentator has now said “It looks like Granlund will play for IFK.”

Yes Granlund will be an NHL player, but in hindsight what would’ve been THE best thing for him this year, was to leave him out of the team and give him time to train properly and prepare for Minnesota Wild training camp. Granlund needs the hard training and good quality rest. After these performances, if it is the first time you’ve watched Granlund, you might ask yourself “This kid was drafted 9th overall?” The fact is that Granlund IS better than what we have seen from him this year.

 

I think that another part of the problem is the expectations that he carries on his shoulders. He was spectacular last year, in every competition he played in and that has set the bar for some that it is how he should play. Believe me, Granlund can play like that when he is fresh and when he is 100%. Because of the expectations, I think part of Granlund’s problem is psychological. I bet that somewhere in the back of his head he is thinking what kind of hype will the next play/goal/pass create. Another part of (a rather complex problem) is that he is trying too much. Last night we saw him try a pass to Jarkko Immonen twice on the power play. Immonen was on the side of the goal and could’ve done nothing but go behind the net. Why try the same move twice?

 

I think Granlund will still dress for Finland in this tournament, because he can play and I think he has the capability to bounce back, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he is the 13th forward for the Finnish team and is used sparingly.

 

For Granlund’s sake, I hope that after the World Championships are eventually done, that he is left alone to focus on what for what is best for his future and what is beckoning. Let the kid re-charge his batteries, let him spend time with family and friends and let him train and prepare and don’t bother him with moronic questions and ask him to do give 15 hours of his time to do a freaking TV advert.


IIHF World Championships got underway today. The games started with a ton of media critique over the ticket prices and it showed in all of the games of the opening day. For the first game of the tournament between USA and France, the Hartwall Arena (with capacity of 13,000) in Helsinki drew 8,402 spectators (see picture below), while in Stockholm (Globen capacity is in the 10,000 region) the first game between Germany and Italy drew just over a 1,000 pairs of eyes to watch the games

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It didn’t go much better for the other games as Canada and Slovakia, with some super-star  names in their respective rosters, drew an audience of 6,400, which was depressing as under the bar stands of the Hartwall arena, there was not a single spectator watching the game (see picture below). Good on the Slovakian fans for making a lot of noise, cheering on their own. It seems that Slovakians love hockey no matter what game and at what level of play they are watching it

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The games themselves were a bit sluggish. France held on valiantly for a period and a half before the US team finally clicked and started controlling the game. Rather empathically the French kept trying but the USA team had just way too much skill and speed on its roster for the French to match it.

There’s a lot that’s been said about team Canada, with its deep roster of NHL players. However, the game against Slovakia left me unconvinced that the team was something that would send shockwaves across the world. Perhaps part of it was due to the fact that several of the key players on the Canadian roster (Tavares, Getzlaf, Perry among others) were seen in the Helsinki nightlife the night before the game. There was a lot of speculation that the teams’ moist night out lead to the cancellation of the morning skate. Canada was visibly sluggish in the first period and the Slovakian’s held on to the very end, even if the Canadian team started to find its legs. I wouldn’t say that Slovakia will be a ‘pushover’ in these games as it was in the last years world championships. Canada won the game 3-2 in the end, but again, there’s a lot to be desired for from the Canadian team looking at the names they’ve got on paper.

Let’s hope that the guys on the roster aren’t treating the World Championship tournament as a roadie with the boys and a chance to have some fun away from home and play a few games of hockey while they’re at it. It is an easy thing to have happen in the world championships. I guess all the Finns remember the rumours from the Moscow world championships a few years ago with supposed helicopter rides to Helsinki and back and not all players being fresh for game days.

The Finland vs Belarus game did draw a big-ish crowd, reported at 12,354, which still left almost a thousand empty seats at the arena. The game itself was… well… it was boring. The Finns were in control for most of the game but couldn’t really get anything going. It seemed that the audience in Helsinki woke up to a hockey game in the 3rd period when the first full arena “Suomi” chant was heard. Finland had plenty of power play opportunities in the game but didn’t make anything of it, except maybe prove that the team can pass the puck really well. That being said there were some good things to take away from the game and I’m carefully optimistic about the teams’ chances in the tournament. We won’t know our full capability until games against the likes of Slovakia, Canada and USA. Kari Lehtonen was definitely Finland’s MVP in the game. He had two saves in the first period and was sharp throughout the game when Belarus had some good scoring opportunities.

Even Finnish D-man Anssi Salmela had his bit to say about the attendance to the games. In a post game press conference he was quoted saying “I normally don’t pay attention to the stands, but I have to admit that it was quiet today.” I guess the Finnish teams’ PR person has to have words with Salmela again, just like after this interview after last years’ world championships: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03nIcG6mXVQ

EDIT:It didn’t go that well in Sweden either, where the game between Sweden and Norway only drew a crowd of 5,985 to Globen. Across the three games played in Globen, the games have so far drawn a total of 8,000 spectators. Now on any standards that is poor, specially if it is across three games.

One can only hope that the organisers will do something, ANYTHING, to the ticket prices or hire people to come in to watch the games. Otherwise, the 2012 World Championships will forever be remembered for the low attendance. People at the top can say what they want about the cost of organising the games, but no one can ignore the rafts of empty seats at the arenas. It’s not good for hockey or for the reputation of the World Championship tournament.

However, the YouTube streams of the games are a welcome plus. I can’t commend the IIHF and its media rights holder enough for getting the games on the web, live and for free. It’s a great feat and its a great way to follow the games, even if the commentators cause some hilarity, bless them though as for most of them, English is clearly not their first language.

However, the YouTube streams did cause somewhat of a debacle in Finland. At first, like reported here yesterday, it was said that Finland would be on the geo-blocked country list, but by the time the puck dropped for the USA – France game, people could tune into watch the games on YouTube. It wasn’t until midway through the game that the feed was blocked in Finland. It appears that the MTV3, who has exclusivity for TV rights in Finland had to place numerous calls to the IIHF to get the games blocked as it went against the contract they had signed for the games.

Oh well, there are ways around it with different proxy settings and so on, so all is not lost.

Hopefully the games will pick up from here and we are in for some great hockey in the tournament and that we will see both the arenas, Hartwall Arena in Helsinki and Globen in Stockholm, filled with fans. Though with those ticket prices the sarcast in me thinks we’ll not see a sold out arena, except for the final.


Following from the post I did on the prices of the world championship ticket prices, it would appear that the tickets really aren’t selling like hot-cakes, specially for the host nations’ games. It today transpired that there are thousands of tickets left for sale with only three days to go till the opening face off.

 

Apparently for Finland’s games against France, Kazakstan and Switzerland there are between 1000 and 2000 tickets available, with other tickets that have been reserved but not yet picked up. That would mean that the Hartwall Arena (capacity 13,349) would have plenty of empty seats. Where the four other opening round games for Finland have been fully booked, it does not mean that the games would be sold out. There is still a vast number of tickets that have not been collected and if tickets are not collected they will go on sale again.

 

The cost for tickets to watch Finland play range from €156 to €196 per ticket. The organisers have said that the reason for the high ticket prices is due to the overall costs for arranging the games. The costs, according to the head secretary of the games, Mika Sulin, is €19 million. Theoretically the organisers have 350,000 tickets available and if all games were sold out at the price of €156 per ticket the organisers would gross €54,600,000 in ticket sales alone with net profit of €35,600,000. This does not include the sale of merchandise and other paraphernalia at the games.  

 

Obviously that figure does not include the tickets that have been given to sponsors or to travel agents to sell as a part of a package, so please bear in mind that it is a theoretical net profit, but I guess that the net profit of the games would far exceed the organisational costs.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Finland is hosting the games and there is a great buzz about it in Finland, but with my biggest hockey heart on, I can’t understand or justify the ticket prices. I’m sure that the event itself is well organised, but one can only guess how many fans have been out-priced on the tickets.

 

Furthermore to the games, there was another story in the Finnish press that I picked up on was the fact of on the streams of the games. Usually by this time in the lead up to the games, you have been able to purchase a games pass from the IIHF.com site, but with two days to go, there is no such option available as yet. It’s rather alarming as like myself, many European hockey fans do not necessarily have access to channels in their local country of residence that would show the games. One example is the Northern Lights pub in Brighton, UK. I recently paid a visit to the pub and thought it was a great venue and gave me a little taste and feeling of home. Anyways, Northern Lights has for years been showing the games to the Scandinavian masse, but now it is looking rather bleak as the stream options have not been published.

 

Though I am still holding out hope that the streams will be available again this year, after all the IIHF tweeted me saying that the streams would be available, along with list of where to view (by this I imagine a list of TV channels in each region that show the games).

 

Hopefully another Scandinavian themed bar, called Pipeline in London will show the games. At least last year they managed to get a satellite feed of a Swedish channel showing the Final game. Even if it’ll be expensive to travel to London to watch the games, it’s still cheaper than buying a flight and tickets to see the games live from the Hartwall Arena.

 

Here’s to hoping that the streams will be announced soon, else I fear that there will be a number of disappointed fans across the world.


The World Championships draw closer and obviously the team that I am most interested in following is the Finnish team. The team was published last night after the final Euro Hockey Tour game against Sweden, which Finland won 4-1.

 

The roster is as follows:

Goalies:

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars

Karri Rämö, Avangard Omsk

Petri Vehanen, Ak Bars Kazan

Defence:

Juuso Hietanen, Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod

Topi Jaakola, Luulaja

Joonas Järvinen, Pelicans

Lasse Kukkonen, Metallurg Magnitogorsk

Mikko Mäenpää, Amur Habarovsk

Janne Niskala, Atlant Mytishi

Anssi Salmela, Avangard Omsk

Ossi Väänänen, Jokerit

Forwards:

Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings

Mikael Granlund, HIFK

Jarkko Immonen, Ak Bars Kazan

Jesse Joensuu, HV 71

Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes

Niko Kapanen, Ak Bars Kazan

Tuomas Kiiskinen, KalPa

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

Leo Komarov, Dinamo Moskova

Petri Kontiola, Traktor Tsheljabinsk

Janne Pesonen, HIFK

Antti Pihlström, Salavat Julajev Ufa

Mika Pyörälä, Frölunda

Jani Tuppurainen, JYP

 

Players that were cut from the roster include Petteri Nokelainen (Montreal Canadiens), Lennart Petrell (Edmonton Oilers), Pasi Puistola (HV71) and Ville Peltonen (HIFK). From the cut players I am surprised that Petteri Nokelainen, a member of last years championship winning team, was cut from the roster. Nokelainen could’ve easily filled the fourth line centre role. Nokelainen has carved himself a niche in faceoff and is an excellent two way player. His role in the Habs wasn’t a big one, but he did play to his role. Nokelainen was bugged by injury towards the end of the season so it could be that he has not fully recovered, leading to him not being at his peak, which is something that head coach Jukka Jalonen wants from all of his players.

 

Lennart Petrell is another surprise. When it was announced that he was to join the camp, I thought he was a shoe in and that the Finnish fourth line would consist of Leo Komarov – Petteri Nokelainen and Petrell. Petrell played his first season in the NHL this season just gone and provided the Oilers with some energy and also hit home a few goals. Petrell was never going to be a high scoring player in the NHL, but he possesses a great work ethic and is willing to put his body on the line for the team. Petrell was supposed to play in last years’ World Championships, but an ankle injury prevented him from taking part.

 

As for Ville Peltonen, I’m not surprised that he was left out. Peltonen is an icon in Finnish hockey, but in my opinion it was the right call to not include him in the roster. There is a crop of younger and equally good and hungrier players out there. I know Peltonen is hungry for success, but as the saying goes, it is time to let the kids play the game. Peltonen could’ve added leadership to the team, but to be honest, the roster as it stands has plenty of it.

 

I have confidence in Jalonen’s choices and ultimately it is responsibility how the team performs. However, being a couch coach, I probably would’ve not included Janne Pesonen and Antti Philstrom in the roster and would’ve brought in the afore mentioned NHL players (Nokelainen, Petrell). With Pesonen, he’s a decent player on all fronts, but something is missing. He had a good stint in the AHL with Wilkes Barre Scranton, but since then it sort of seems like his game has been a bit lost. He failed to make the Winnipeg Jets’ roster from the training camp and returned to HIFK and in light of statistics wasn’t anything spectacular.

 

With Philstrom, I’ve got two fold feelings of him. He is a great energy player and has probably the best set of wheels I’ve seen on any hockey player in years. Sometimes, however, I think his speed gets ahead of his thought. I was on the fence with him last year as well and I’ll continue to sit on it this year as well.

 

Goalies:

The goalie situation is something that Finnish fans shouldn’t have to worry about. There is an abundance of world class talent in the native SM-Liiga. If there isn’t a goalie there that is available, there’s always the KHL and a couple of nifty NHL goalies. Kari Lehtonen has been stellar the last two years and is starting to show the promise and skill we all knew he had. He has now had two injury free seasons and has been able to give Stars a chance night in, night out.

 

Vehanen is familiar from last year and was amazingly solid throughout the games last year. Last year I questioned his ability but he convinced me of his skill and ability. It will be an interesting fight between the two.

 

Ramo will likely be the third goalie in the games. He has been solid in the KHL and played OK behind a weak Tampa Bay defence a few years ago. He was one win away from the KHL championship. Should be able to challenge for a spot on the team should Vehanen or Lehtonen tank during the games.

 

Defence:

Rather unsurprisingly, not a single NHL defenceman in the roster. Then again the Finnish NHL defence man is a dying breed. Sami Lepisto declined to play this year, as did Sami Salo. Last year I thought our defence was weak on paper, but on the ice it executed relatively well, though there were one or two too many scary “holy c**p!” moments on the ice.

 

There are experienced players on the blue line and key pieces from last years’ team, which should ease things a little bit as majority of the defence is familiar with Jalonen’s playing style.

 

 I’ll probably get into trouble for saying this, but in my opinion, on paper the Finnish defensive roster is the weak point of the team again. It will mean that all the goalies have to bring their A-game night in, night out.

 

Forwards:

The forwards of the team consist of the core of last years’ champions and culminate in the leader of the team Mikko Koivu. In many people’s opinion (including mine) Koivu is the best Finnish forward. He is able to play both ends of the ice and like his brother, he is a natural leader who has such a passion for the game and most importantly, winning.

 

The forward crops has some familiar names, ensuring that the system is easier to implement this year. Names that are back from last years team include: Mikael Granlund, Jarkko Immonen, Jesse Joensuu, Niko Kapanen, Mikko Koivu, Leo Komarov, Janne Pesonen, Antti Philstrom.

 

The NHL additions of Valtteri Filppula and Jussi Jokinen, should bring more offence and puck control, specially in Filppula’s case to the roster. Let’s not forget that Jalonen prefers a puck control style of play.

 

One of the interesting (and at the same time sad cases) is how Mikael Granlund will perform. The youngster became an overnight sensation after last year and has been used for so many promotional activities and extras off the ice that it has bound to have taken its toll on the guy. I wrote earlier that the nation has unrealistic expectations for the kid and as much as it pains me, they will be waiting for something to top the airhook goal, which will not happen. I believe Granlund will be on top form, and play in a style that is borderline erotic (seriously, the things that the kid does with the puck and how he reads the game are unbelievable.)

 

Surprise names to me include Tuomas Kiiskinen and Jani Tuppurainen. Both have had strong seasons in the SM-Liiga and it will be interesting to see how the guys will respond to being chosen. I can’t say that much about their individual skill sets, but I’ll be following these two rather closely.

 

Overall? I think Finland will do OK. We have a tough group to start the games from, with the likes of USA and Canada in the same group, but you know what, I think we are within a shot of a medal. I doubt we will be able to get the gold, but I have a feeling that this will be the year that Finland will finish high in its home games. Hopefully there isn’t anything extra in the works that would distract the players from the job at hand.


The IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships are just around the corner. In the host nation the anticipation for the games is at its peak. The reigning world champions are hosting the games with Sweden and Finland is ranked at number one at the IIHF rankings. Not bad for a nation of 5.5million and who have only won the world championship twice and is eagerly waiting for its first Olympic gold medal (no pressure guys).

 

However, one thing that has actually hit me quite hard after reading an open letter by the editor of the Finnish Urheilulehti. The editor, Esko Seppanen, criticises the Finnish Ice Hockey association’s chief, Kalervo Kummola over the pricing policy of the games.

 

I have seen stories written about the high priced tickets at the games, but the letter written by Seppanen really hits the nail on the head.  In a letter published in Urheilulehti on 26.04 and the magazine’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150772714449851&set=a.10150689498594851.420270.358693599850&type=1) Seppanen writes “Dear Mr. Kummola, You have deserted the Finnish hockey fans with your extortionate ticket prices. You have shown that the fans do not matter in your money making scheme.” (see translation of the letter at the end of this post)

Harsh words on the eve of the games in a nation that has seen a huge boost in hockey since last years’ World Championship finals. In fact, the hockey boom was evident in nearly every news outlets’ reporting. The local professional league Sm-Liiga was covered more widely than ever before and attendance was up, not to mention the emergence of some of the greatest young talents the Finnish hockey system has produced in years! Even the NHL was covered to the point that it didn’t matter whether a team had any Finns on its roster. This maybe a slight over exaggeration, but this years’ coverage has been a real pleasure to follow and it feels like for the first time in years that hockey is generating discussions around the water cooler again.

 

While I have been relying mainly on the news papers and Twitter to get a feel of the preparations to the games, it would appear that the marketing effort for the games has not focussed on the ticket sales, but rather to push TV packages to watch the games from the comfort of your home. In his letter  Seppanen calls out this fact by stating “The tournament in Helsinki starts next Friday. Mr. Kummola, have you seen a single advert that sells tickets to the games? No, you haven’t. Neither have I, or anyone else for that matter. What have we seen? Buy this super-turbo-mega package of channels. Watch the games from your couch! Better yet! Upgrade to a HD-Package”

 

Every time I visit Finland, I am confused of the TV packages and what provider offers what channels and what bolt-ons one would have to buy to get the channels that show hockey. Trust me, I feel sometimes feel like you need a degree in astro-physics to make sure that you get all the games. What I have learnt is that in Finland Nelonen Pro shows the NHL. For the World Championships the TV rights for the games were sold to MTV3 from Yle (think of Yle like the Finnish BBC). With MTV, I have no idea what channel in its vast plethora of pay to view channels the games are going to be shown on. It is incredibly confusing. Imagine if you are a tourist and want to catch a game in your hotel room. Chances are the hotel doesn’t have the channel on its channel list, or then there is the option of calling reception to ask what channel a game is on, go to a bar to watch it, or just simply give up.  

 

But what of the ticket prices themselves then? One would like to think that Finland being the reigning champion and the games being hosted in Finland (and Sweden) that the prices would be competitive and comparative to the other World Championship tournaments. Well, according to the letter by Seppanen a family of five would have to pay €1000 ($1,320) to go see Finland vs France. A THOUSAND Euros for Finland vs France. Comparatively, tickets to Canada vs USA would cost €196 ($258) and the semi-final would cost from €175 ($231) to €226 ($298), though I have seen a tweet of someone getting a ticket for the afore mentioned CAN-USA game for €40.

 

I need to take a breather here as I’m about to faint from just looking at that. How can a family of five afford a €1000 in this economy to go watch hockey, not to mention all the other expenditure (parking, refreshments, merchandise etc etc) associated with a trip to a hockey game. To some the €1000 is half of their monthly salary, if not all of their monthly salary. As Seppanen points out in his letter, it would be cheaper for that family of five to go watch the Champions’ League Final in Munich than to go watch Finland play France.

In fact just to put it into perspective, I saw someone tweet earlier in the week that in 1998 when Finland last hosted the World Championship, they were able to buy a ticket to the final in the black market for €90. That’s cheap for a ticket to the finals… on the black market. I dread to think what a single ticket on the black market would cost to go see the 2012 finals. And yet, Kummola has the audacity to wonder why the tickets aren’t selling as expected, or proclaim that the prices are on par with NHL regular season game prices. Well, him and his peers have set the prices and it’s too late to back out now.

If I was to go and watch the games in my native Finland, I would have to shell about €250-300 on flights alone and then pay almost the same to go watch Finland play France? Give me a break. I love my hockey, I really do, but there has to be a line somewhere. For those kinds of prices, I’m expecting that I would be treated like a royal.

I would rather use that money and go on holiday somewhere. At least the holiday would last longer than  60 minutes.

I really do feel bad for hockey fans in Finland and those foreign fans who have paid a top dollar to fly over to support their nation in the games. It is a huge expenditure just to watch a few games, not to mention the fact that Helsinki isn’t exactly the cheapest capital city in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like Helsinki, but it is expensive.

I really can’t help but feel that these games are for the elite and that there is a them and us mentality between the organisers and the fans. It is almost like a throwback to the good old days of societal class structure. I’m sure there are fans who will pay tooth and nail to go see the games, but my mind boggles at how someone can seriously think that the pricing structure for the games is fair? To be honest, if I was in Finland, I would rather go to a bar to watch the games than shell out money for an additional TV package or one of the ludicrously priced tickets

 

I fear that the cheapest way to watch the games for any fan would be to buy their nations’ game package from the IIHF website, hook their laptop to their TV and put the radio on for commentary. That’s what I’ll have to resort to as there is no way that I can justify spending what would be probably two month’s wages to go watch some hockey, or less if I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere.

I don’t know whether we’ll see a colourful cavalcade of fans at the games, like we are used to with the World Championships, due to these prices or whether we will have arenas full of men in suits. I for one want to see people decked out in quirky outfits and that dude dressed in the cat costume drinking a (blow up) bottle of Fisherman’s Friend flavoured vodka.

Seppanen sums up three key facts that the organisers have done well and I have to agree with him. “Mr. Kummola, you have succeeded in three things: 1. You started to cash in on the national pride, which died at the collective level really quickly. 2. You abandoned your core fans. Those fans who lived vicariously with the Finnish team throughout the whole 2011 World Championships have been ruthlessly cut off. 3. You have turned our home games into a neutral event, where the home team has no advantage on its side as the stands have been turned into venues for the games’ corporate partners.”

 

Seppanen fires off a great finish to his letter by stating “I know that you don’t care Mr. Kummola. But the Finnish hockey fan does care!”

I hope that the games will be entertaining and that people will fill the arenas as otherwise the games might go down in history, and not in a good way. My fear is that this will leave a massive brown, smelly stain on the Finnish hockey credibility if the games are not sold out. Could you imagine either the semi-final or final that would be played to a nearly empty arena?

 

Thanks to Esko Seppanen at Urheilulehti (www.urheilulehti.fi and http://www.urheilulehti.fi/jaakiekko/leijona-liput-hapeallisen-kalliita-kummola-vaihtoi-aidot-faninsa-kylmasti-rahaan) for permitting me to quote and paraphrase his article. You can follow Seppanen on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/EskoSeppanen (tweets mainly in Finnish). Also thanks to Teemu Lindfors (https://twitter.com/#!/TeemuLindfors) and Jan Johansson (https://twitter.com/#!/JanPPa) for ticket price information.

The letter translated:

 

Dear Kalervo Kummola,

 

You have shockingly abandoned the Finnish hockey fans with the ticket prices at the World Championships. You have coldly shown that the fans mean nothing in this money making scheme.

You have also shown, that ticket sales are just a part of the whole concept. Mr. Kummola, if we are honest, ticket sales have nothing to do with the games. It is only a plus in your cash flow at the end of the games. Look around you and you’ll understand.

The tournament in Helsinki starts next Friday (4th May). Have you, Mr. Kummola, seen a SINGLE advertisement that would sell TICKETS to the tournament itself? No, no you haven’t. Neither have I – or anyone else for that matter. What have we seen?

Buy this super-turbo-mega package of channels. Watch the games from your couch! Better yet! Upgrade to a HD-Package! (It is perverse that these adverts are displayed at Hartwall Arena, and there is not a word that would push sales of tickets!)

This is what we have seen, however, perhaps more now than at any other point in time in the Finnish sporting history. Regardless of what Finnish website you visit, you will see advertisements for the TV packages. You will not see a single advertisement that would encourage you to buy tickets to see a game.

 

How can this be Mr. Kummola?

 

When you shrewdly out-priced the “people” out of your games, you are in the position where you can sell your TV packages for prices that don’t look half bad to the average consumer. If a family of five went to your friends’ Arena to watch Finland – France match, the head of the family would have to pay over a thousand euros for lower level seats! And you have the audacity to wonder why the tickets aren’t selling like hot cakes.

 

Did I forget to mention that the TV Package providers are the biggest sponsors of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association?

 

Your goal was never to allow the average income fans to the games at all. That is why you have bolted the doors shut to the average Joe at the Arena. You know full well that the family of five’s wallet will choose the TV package rather than pays a THOUSAND euros for ONE Finland – France match. Unbelievable.

 

 

Mr. Kummola, you have succeeded in three things: 1. You started to cash in on the national pride, which died at the collective level really quickly. 2. You abandoned your core fans. Those fans who lived vicariously with the Finnish team throughout the whole 2011 World Championships have been ruthlessly cut off. 3. You have turned our home games into a neutral event, where the home team has no advantage on its side as the stands have been turned into venues for the games’ corporate partners

 

This letter will carry on in the Urheilulehti World Championships special, which goes on sale on the 26th of April.

 

I know Mr. Kummola, that you do not care. But the Finnish hockey fan does care!

For the love of sports

 

Esko Seppanen, Urheilulehti


Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of Granlund’s and this article is not to criticise him, but rather look at how he has coped since rising to stardom in his native Finland.

 

Mikael Granlund, the supremely talented Finnish forward, has seen more column inches than any Finnish hockey player not playing in the NHL in recent years, or dare I say it decades. Granlund was known as a promising player and had garnered some international attention prior to his 9th overall draft pick by the Minnesota Wild.

 

It wasn’t until the 2011 World Championships that Mikael Granlund played himself to the knowledge of the entire hockey world and at the same time cursed himself with the amazing air-hook goal he scored against Russia in the semi-finals. I write cursed himself, only because it seems to be the only thing the Finnish media has been asking him for the past year and every time someone somewhere scores a similar goal and it goes viral, the press and in particular the tabloid press, pick up on it and say “Better airhook goal than Granlund’s.”

 

Yes Mikael Granlund is a super talent, and one like Finland has not had in a long while. He is a legitimate player that can bring something to the table at Minnesota right off the bat. Where he is not (yet) physically the size of some of the other players he will be playing against, he showed his fearlessness and determination in the Russia game in the World Championships when he finished hits against players such as Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuck. The only downside I can see with Granlud’s stature is that whether he will be able to take the hits in the NHL.

 

I’m not taking anything away from the professionals in the Finnish league, but I’m going to stick my neck out there and say that the NHL is far more physical and the hits far harder than they are in the SM-Liiga and how Granlund will cope with that remains to be seen. Let’s not forget that he has a history of concussion and missed significant amount of time last year when he mistimed a hit and crashed into the boards head first.

 

The latest topic of discussion around Granlund around the SM-Liiga playoffs has been whether or not he is tired. The young man has been used for PR duties and he has also played the world juniors, where he got a lot of criticism of his missed penalty shot at the crucial time. Hero one minute, villain the next. As a captain of the team, Granlund shouldered the responsibility of the loss, but it looked like it was all becoming too much for him.

 

Granlund has also missed a lot of time with the flu and as a result missed almost the latter part of the regular season and has only returned for the playoffs. After such a long time off with a persistent disease, Granlund has not been at his optimal level as has been pointed out by many hockey journalists in Finland.

 

After the playoffs eventually come to an end for HIFK, Granlund who was second in the point scoring race in the league, will likely be chosen to play for Team Finland in the World Championships. There’s nothing wrong with being chosen for the team, its just that the games are in Finland. After last years’ triumph I can expect that the media will be on the players like piranhas and every move will be scrutinised on the ice by respectable journalists and those who are only looking for stories on how drunk the players got and what Miss Finland contestant they are dating. My advice to the latter would be not to bother. You’ll do a bigger favour to the team by staying at home and let the team do what they are there to do; play hockey.

 

In nearly every video interview I’ve seen of Granlund of late, he is visibly agitated by the interviews as he has to answer same questions over and over again “Something something about airhook goal?” “How tired are you?” “How much fun is it to play hockey”. I can only expect that the media interest will get higher as the games get closer and Granlund is already losing some amount of sleep over it. The kid is under huge pressure, specially if he is chosen for the World Championships team. The coach Jukka Jalonen has been good on the front that he hasn’t overloaded Granlund with the (in my view) insignificant Euro Hockey Tour games.

 

Which actually leaves Jalonen with a tricky call. Name Granlund to the team even if he is tired and still recovering from the flu bug and not at peak condition, or leave him out and give him time to rest. If the latter, Jalonen might be crucified by the fans and if MG is not at 100% shape, will the fans and so on crucify him for playing sub par?

Granlund has always been a level headed player and is so much fun to watch on the ice. In fact, looking at pictures or videos of him on the ice, show that he is truly happy to be out there. There are no outside distractions and its just pure enjoyment for hockey. To me there are more brilliant plays than the airhook goal. Granted some of the moves/plays have not lead to a goal, but the kid is not afraid to try something new. He is super creative on the ice.

 

As and when he does make the move to the NHL, and if the Minnesota Wild website is anything to go by, he will be in the show next season. There will be media interest from the local press as well as that on a national scale, but Granlund, to a greater extent is an unknown in the league. Sure people have seen what he is capable of, but he is still a rookie in the league.

 

For some reason, I have a feeling that Granlund will actually relish the move across the pond, if for nothing else, he wouldn’t have to answer any more inane questions about the damn airhook goal.