Posts Tagged ‘Slovakia’

The Sochi winter Olympics have provided the hockey loving folk some great games, and for the NHL GM’s a stack of grey hairs as the injury ninja sweeps the games. So far, the losses (NHL only) have been as follows:

  • Henrik Zetterberg – Sweden/Red Wings: Left the games with a herniated disc and flew back to Detroit to be evaluated. Season potentially in jeopardy.
  • Aleksander Barkov – Finland/Florida Panthers: Injured his knee against Norway. Team Finland doctors said that it is unlikely that Barkov will need surgery for the injury, but is sidelined for 4-6 weeks. There’s roughly 8 weeks of the NHL season left for Barkov as Panthers are not going to make it to the play-offs.
  • Tomas Kopecky – Slovakia/Florida Panthers: Got hit in the head against Slovenia. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • Mats Zuccarello – Norway/New York Rangers: non-displaced fracture in his hand. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • John Tavares – Canada/ New York Islanders: Leg injury, no timeline for return announced. Edit: It was announced that Tavares would miss the remainder of the season after it was revealed that he sustained a torn MCL and a torn meniscus. He might avoid surgery, but should he need it he is ready for training camp for 2014-2015 season.

Those are just the players that are out of the games and potentially from their respective NHL club games. The list does not take into account small nagging injuries that players may have carried pre-Olympics. The Sochi Winter Olympics came at a time in the NHL season – and hockey season in general – that there is not a single player that is 100% healthy.

Zetterberg is possibly the biggest loss to his club team. The Red Wings’ captain is due to undergo exams if his back requires surgery straight away or if it is safe for him to carry on to the end of the season and potential play-offs. Tavares is another big loss as he is a huge part of the Islanders’ offense. Where Islanders have an uphill battle to get to the play-offs Tavares is a loss that will be felt in the line-up (depending on the severity of his injury).

The NHL and IIHF have a contract in place for the NHL to be part of these Olympics and then it is up for review. Could you imagine if some one like Sidney Crosby suffered an injury that would sideline him for a long time at the Olympics? Where some of the above players have been injured in ‘meaningless games’ (apart from Tavares), the NHL GM’s – specially those in Florida – will be tearing their hair out. A point on the frustration that the international competitions provide team executives, is when Barkov was injured and it was announced that he was out. He received a call from his GM, Dale Tallon, which was described as (Tallon being) frustrated. Barkov is one of the rising stars of a young Panthers roster and has struggled with injuries before and during the season (he underwent shoulder surgery before camp).

Similar concerns are always shared by GMs during the annual World Championships and many players are looking to go play for their national teams. At the end of a gruelling NHL season, every minor injury is examined and NHL medical staff is often reticent to let players go if there are signs of injuries. Sometimes, players’ desire to go and play for their countries is going to over ride the doctors. Alex Ovechkin, for example, played a few games for Russia in the 2013 World Championships with a broken foot. Speaks volumes of his toughness and desire to play, but I bet it caused some grief to GMGM.

So all in all, when the IIHF and the NHL sit down to talk about the NHL’s continued participation at the Winter Olympics, there will surely be questions raised as to whether teams will want to let their assets go and risk injury at the Olympics stage. In my opinion, the NHL will continue to be part of the Olympics as it is a stage for it to market itself and compete the ever expanding KHL. The risk the NHL has is that some of the more patriotic players may defect to leagues which allow them to compete in the Olympics and World Championships.

It’s going to be another four years before the South-Korean Olympics so there is time, but having said that, there was time to avoid the last lockout and I’m sure IIHF will want the contract in place well in advance for the 2018 Winter Games.

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.


Well, Finland’s dream of a double world championship are over, but at least the team is still playing for a medal. The game against Russia was encouraging. The team showed that it is capable of competing play-wise with a star studded Russian team. However, where I feel the Finnish team fell down on was on individual talent. If you have some one like Yevgeni Malkin snipe three goals at will you are in trouble.


Where I might’ve said some harsh things about the Penguins during the first round of the NHL playoffs, I have to admit that I have not seen a player as hungry as Malkin is right now. At the moment, his playing oozes the desire to win.


The reason why I am not overtly disappointed at the Finnish teams’ efforts is because the team went down with its boots on. The score 6-2, I feel, does not reflect the game on a playing level. Finland was the more dominant team across the first 30-35 minutes and I thought that until the 3-1 goal that the team had every chance to claw back. The body language of players said that they were there to fight to the end. However, it wasn’t until Malkin completed his hat-trick that the wheels fell off the bus. A 4-1 deficit is difficult to claw back from, not impossible, but difficult.


A couple of things that I was impressed with: Petri Kontiola’s game was probably the best he has ever played, or at least what I’ve seen him play. Same with Jesse Joensuu. I think as the tournament has gone on, he has elevated his game probably more than any other player on the Finnish team. It was his strong board play and relentless hustle that set up the Finnish first goal.


Petri Vehanen didn’t have one of his strongest games we’ve seen from him. Let’s not forget that Vehanen has been linked to a couple of NHL teams during the tournament (One of which is the Penguins). I don’t know whether the contract talk got his nerves going. Personally, I don’t see why Vehanen would go to the NHL. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great goalie when he is on top of his game, but he is what the hockey world would call a veteran. Then again, I’m always happy when a guy who has worked hard for his dream actually makes it, so from that point of view, it’d be great to see Vehanen make it.


Whilst we’re on the topic of goalies. Today’s game against Russia sets up an interesting dilemma: Ride Vehanen or go with the back-up, Karri Ramo. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Vehanen will play tomorrow. Jalonen is unlikely to throw a guy in the net who hasn’t played a minute in the tournament. Ramo is a capable goalie, but I think that Jalonen will stick to his guns and ride Vehanen rather than risk putting Ramo in goal. What he should’ve done though was to put Ramo in goal for the 3rd period in the Russia game. By that time the Finns would’ve had nothing to lose. It’s OK to say this in hindsight, but there you go.


One of the things that has been, shall we say, ridiculous has been the refereeing. Not only in the Finland vs Russia game, but across the entire tournament. There were a couple of calls the refs missed in the game and then called a few things that they did call, but wouldn’t have been worthy of penalties. Where Malkin went down I don’t think should’ve been a penalty. I’ve watched the play again and again, and Malkin goes down on his own as opposed to the Finnish player tripping him, as the refs interpreted.


Despite the loss tonight and the disappointment of it to the team, I’m sure that the Finns will come out and want to win the bronze on home soil. Though I think as a team, the guys want to go out with a win as it is officially the end of the season fro them all.


A quick word about the other finalist. I’m really happy for the Slovakian’s. Their last tournament was a disaster to say the least, but they have come through as the underdogs and I’m sure the guys will be relishing every moment. There’s no doubt that the Slovakian team has a 6th player with them on every shift in Pavol Demitra, whose jersey is hanging in the Slovakian changing room. For those who don’t know, Demitra was among the victims who perished in the Lokomotiv air disaster in September.

16 years is a long time to wait. In that 16 years a small nation has come close several times. There has been the World Cup Of Hockey, Olympic games, several world championships, all accompanied by bitter disappointment. But on one fine Sunday in May, that all changed.

If you haven’t guessed what I’m talking about, I’m talking about the Finnish victory in the World Championships over Sweden. I have to admit that when I first saw the roster for the games, I was not willing to bet any money on Finland. The past few years had been weak performance wise and it had been somewhat painful to watch the Finns play. I had, however, always agreed with the game plan that the coach Jukka Jalonen had drawn up, but I did think that if he didn’t get into the medal games, his days would be numbered.

I remember watching in frustration when the Finns took on Latvia, then Czechs and even later on Germans. After the Germany game, I was ready to write an article titled, “Finnish ice hockey on life support” and had planned to follow that up with an article, should the Finns have been knocked out early, titled “Finnish ice hockey: An obituary.” I’m happy that I haven’t had to write those articles… yet.

But after the Germany game, something changed. The players wearing the Lion emblem on their shirts became a team. There was something that was good to watch and there was some real guts in the play that I felt had been missing since the start. As we played the Russians in the semi finals, I was first captivated by the performance put on by a ‘no-frills’ Finnish team (not to take anything away from the Finns, but Ovechkin, Kovalchuck and co are bigger names). It was particularly amusing watching that game how the Finns completely shut down the big Russian forwards. And then of course, there was THE goal.

I’m not going to mull over Mikael Granlund’s Lacrosse move, but I will say this: The news coverage I’ve seen has been kids talking about and practising the move. It’s all well and good kids. Be creative with the game, but do not forget to pay more attention to your shot selection and play. Chances are you will not ever get a chance to score a goal like Granlund did in a proper game.

The final was a thing of beauty and to watch it in a Bar in London (Thanks to the owner of the Pipeline Bar for putting on the game and acting as a brilliant host). I lost my voice cheering the Finns on and along with many fellow countrymen, we all felt relieved as Mikko Koivu hoisted the trophy. The long wait was over. I was 13 when Finland last won the title, so it has been a long time coming.

The celebrations have caused somewhat of a stir, due to various members appearing drunk in live interviews, falling off the plane and not showing up for the public celebration. I have no problem with celebrating the win with alcohol, hell I’ve been there, done it and got the T-shirt for winning competitions on a much lower scale than the World Championship.

The truth is, it mattered to the players and rightly so, they have deserved their party. But I do have a problem with the rush of organising the celebrations. Less than 24 hours after winning the title, the players were rushed in front of the adoring public still in the best party mode from the night before. We all have seen coach Pasi Nurminen being helped off the plane and then falling on the red carpet. Sure people think “he’s just celebrating it”, but when you take a step back, it does look embarrassing.

The teams’ management had no control over the team in the events leading to the public celebration. If I was in charge, I would’ve made sure that I had a handful of people that were allowed to speak to the media and I would have left Nurminen on the plane until everyone else had gotten off and whisked him to sleep it off while no-one was watching. I would have stuck someone to tail Anssi Salmela to make sure he didn’t say anything moronic and I would’ve sent Timo Jutila to sleep it off as well. If there were questions (like there has been) about the whereabouts of the personnel, I would’ve been honest and said that “they are resting for the benefit of the team.”

However, there were members of the team that conducted themselves well, despite the amount of alcohol they had consumed. Mikko Koivu was exemplary, yes he had been drinking, but he was not slurring his words (much) and spoke like a true captain. Also coach Jukka Jalonen handled himself respectfully. Other players such as Niko Kapanen, Janne Pesonen and Mikael Granlund acted like real professionals. Should the party have been delayed by 24 hours and let the team return in peace, we might have seen a different team on stage.

But that’s enough about that. Main thing is that we have captured a world championship title once more and it is great to see what the sport of hockey and the success on an international stage means to our nation. I guess you could say that about any other sport and it’s importance to us Finns. However, I’m going to say this and I don’t mean to take anything away from the team who won the title. This does not reflect on the true state of Finnish hockey.

We are on the right path with developing young players, but we are still a couple of years off the pace of the Canadians and so on. We have a pool of talented players and proven veterans, but we are not in a position where we can take our eye off the ball, like we have done, and say everything is OK, we are champions.

What I also hope that this championship will do to hockey in Finland is that it will encourage kids to take up hockey and for parents to actively support their kids hobby. It can lead to great things and hockey can teach kids many values and make them better people. Any sports will, not just hockey.

People will also need to be realistic moving forwards. It is unlikely that we will win the title two years running, but I do hope that we won’t have to wait for another 16 years for the trophy to be in Finnish possession. For now, let’s be happy that we have won and we can call ourselves world champions once again.