Finland comes to life in the summer. Finns, happy to escape the darkness and cold that envelop the country during the winter months, spend endless hours outside at festivals, on pub patios and at cottages on the lake. The Finns’ hearts and minds are moved by the arrival, finally, of sunshine. The beer is cold, the music lively, the water warm and spirits high. It’s a beautiful place to just be. The one downside of summer in Finland, though, is the lack of hockey.
I admit it: I’m a hockey fiend. I played the sport growing up in Canada, have always followed the trials and tribulations of my beloved Montreal Canadiens and, after a forgettable 4-year playing career in the CIS, moved to Finland to study the game. I have now been coaching in Finland for 4 seasons. Coming here has given me an opportunity to study the various European approaches to the game, but also to look at the Canadian version from a different perspective. The discoveries I’ve made (and continue to make every day) have been myriad.
As any casual fan knows, hockey is played differently in different countries. Generally speaking, the Swedes are known for puck control and regrouping, Russians are skill and speed, Czechs skate in long sweeping arcs with breakouts that are simultaneously graceful and intimidating. The Finns are said to play a game akin to what we’re used to in Canada — quick transitions, mucking and grinding in the corners, blocking shots (that, mind you, is not at all what I’ve observed, but rather what I’ve heard).
This blog will focus on the Finnish SM-Liiga, and more precisely, on the players playing in Finland who have, or potentially could earn, NHL experience. Players like recent draftees Mikael Granlund (selected by MIN 9th overall, 2010), Joonas Donskoi (FLA, 99th, 2010) and Toni Rajala (EDM, 101st, 2009); other interests like Lukas Kaspar (former Ottawa ’67; SJS, 22nd, 2004), Ilari Filppulla (older brother of Valtteri, recently signed 2-way contract with DET), Jakub Petruzalek (NYR, 266th, 2004); and names recognized by most NHL fans, like Mikael Tellqvist, Michael Nylander, Dmitry Yuskevich and Steve Kariya.
Prior to coming to Finland, the SM-Liiga was an unknown quantity to me. I knew that the league had produced some world-class talent, but the flavour of the league, its tactics, philosophies, style and culture, was out of my reach. I hope to use this blog to demistify the league for those not living in Finland. If there are specific players you want to hear about, or have any other questions, please feel free to ask.
Pardon me now, as it’s 4pm and my work is done for the day. I have to hurry to my local’s patio; there are only 8 hours of sunshine left in this beautiful summer evening.
About the Author
Written by Laura Rollins
A Canadian coaching hockey in Finland.