Category Archives: NHL Premiere In Finland

Saying Goodbye To Finland

In one hour, the Minnesota Wild will face off with the Carolina Hurricanes one more time. In five hours, the team will be on a plane pointing West toward Iceland, and then Minnesota.

Finland has been an amazing place to be this past week. The people are friendly. The scenery is beautiful. And, the hockey has been great. If you have the means, I highly recommend paying a visit here. It is so choice. And from what my tour guide, Ripsu said, you should try and be here on April 30 and May 1. Don’t ask why. Just book your ticket.

All that said, and I can’t speak for anyone else on this trip, but I’m excited to get home. First, there is some business to take care of and that is exacting revenge on this pesky team known as the Hurricanes.

The Wild will once again be without Marek Zidlicky, who is dealing with groin issues. There isn’t a timetable for his return.

Casey Wellman will get his first game action of the season tonight, while Brad Staubitz will be the healthy scratch. I’ve got a bunch of other things to get to before this game ratchets up, but you are welcome to follow along with me on live in-game commentary starting a little before 11. All the cool kids are doing it.

The Regular Season Is Here At Last

Last night was a long one for Twins fans, especially those in Finland who couldn’t get a wink of sleep because he couldn’t pull away from the GameCast. Bah!

Today is a new day, and you’ll be able to kick if off right back home in Minny with a little lunchtime hockey bonanza. Finally! Hockey season is officially here. Once the Wild sets the tone for the day, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the Yankee butt whooping on tap later tonight.

I’ll just get right to the nuts and bolts because I’m going to need to crush a nap in short order:

Marek Zidlicky was on the ice for today’s morning skate, but he pulled himself off midway through and had a grimace on his face as he summoned Doc Fuller. I would be surprised if he’s in the lineup tonight, but Zid is a warrior so don’t count him out. If he can’t go, Clayton Stoner is in, as are the other remaining defensemen.

Everybody else seemed healthy, other than Pierre-Marc Bouchard who is still a ways away from returning. He was out there on the ice, however.

Todd Richards has not yet decided which forward would sit out tonight. I would think Casey Wellman would get the green light to play after his game on Monday, but it remains to be seen.

Nik Backstrom will obviously get the start tonight, with Anton Khudobin as the backup and Dennis Endras as the third stringer.

That should do it for now. Have fun today!

Bagnall And Kassian Clear; Zidlicky Hurt, Friday Lunch

Hello again State of Hockey on a beautiful but crisp day here in Helsinki. Anything going on back home sports wise?

If not, there is plenty going on here to keep you busy. First of all, Matt Kassian and Drew Bagnall cleared waivers today and they will be assigned to Houston. Of course, they aren’t going to be able to head to Houston until this weekend. That would be cruel to send them on a commercial flight back to the states without at least giving them a chance to watch these games that they came out here for.

Plus, it sounded like it’s possible the Wild will need to make a quick call up if things don’t progress with Marek Zidlicky. That was the big news today. Zidlicky aggravated his groin muscles against Ilves on Monday, and he did not skate today. Todd Richards didn’t sound optimistic, saying “I don’t know what his status will be tomorrow. His leg/groin was not good today so we kept him off the ice and we’ll have to see if he can recover some and how he feels tomorrow morning.”

If Zidlicky is out, that leaves six defensemen on the roster, including Clayton Stoner who would have been the likely scratch.

The news sounds better for Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat. Both sat out Monday, but both practiced today. Right now, it sounds as if that duo will be broken up tomorrow night with Cal Clutterbuck staying with Matt Cullen and Havlat. Clutter and Cullen obviously enjoyed each other’s company on Monday. By the way, Cal was mic’d up at today’s practice, and you can see that video here.

As for Latendresse, he’ll be on the wing with Kyle Brodziak at center and either Casey Wellman or Brad Staubitz on the wing. The guess here is that Wellman gets the start after a solid outing on Monday, and the chance for him to play with a finisher like Gui.

By the way, if you’re not one of the 100 or so Wild fans in Finland, I’ve got a great place for you to watch Friday’s game at 11:00 a.m. central time. I suggest you get your kiester down to Xcel Energy Center for the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. For just 50 bones, you’ll enjoy a delicious lunch on the arena floor while watching the Wild and Canes on the Jumbotron. It will be like you are in Finland, and even better, you won’t be at work, which of course is for suckers when there is a hockey game on.

Each ticket purchase guarantees you access to tour exclusive, behind-the-scene areas of the Xcel Energy Center – including the Wild locker room and Al Shaver press box, where I like to say “the magic happens.” Attendees will also receive Wild giveaways and be eligible to win prizes including tickets and memorabilia.

Speaking of food, the Wild is enjoying one last team dinner tonight before getting plenty of rest for tomorrow’s game. It’s a biggie, so I suggest you get your rest as well. I don’t care if there’s a baseball game on tonight. That said, let me say this: “Go Frankie Franchise!”

Finland Day Four/Five

For whatever reason, it feels like I’ve been in Finland longer than four days. Don’t get me wrong, I love this place. But my hotel room is starting to look and smell like a pack of Finnish reindeer had a party in it. Normally, I’m not one to utilize the housecleaning, but I’m going to have to relent. If anyone on the hotel cleaning crew is reading this, my apologies.

Today’s blog is going to inlcude last night’s game, and then the events of today (there weren’t many).

Last night, the Wild nabbed its first and only win from the preseason. First, the game stuff.

The Wild beat Ilves Tampere, 5-1, but were tied after two periods before beating Sami Aittokallio four times in the third.

Cal Clutterbuck was huge, burying three goals for his first hat trick since “two weeks before camp started at the St. Louis Park Octagon Camp.” All three of Clutter’s goals came on quick wrist shots from around 15 feet away. He was on a line with Matt Cullen and Casey Wellman, and they looked great all game long.

The other two goals were scored by Marek Zidlicky and Chuck Kobasew, and they were the prettiest two goals. Zidlicky worked a give-and-go with Mikko Koivu (who is rather popular here), and then kicked the puck from his left skate to his stick and then fired a wrister through traffic.

Kobasew fought off a defender in front of the net, and with the puck laying between his opponent’s leg, he jammed it on goal and under Aittokallio. Kobasew was upstaged on the play by a jubilant John Madden, who slapped his stick on the ice and then picked up the puck. He said it was his first point ever in Finland. He played here last year with Chicago, and also played two games for I.F.K. during the lockout.

The team bussed back to Helsinki through the darkness and made it back after midnight. That prompted Todd Richards to call off Tuesday’s practice citing the lack of rest his guys have had in the last two weeks.

The team did appear at Hartwall Areena on Tuesday, however. The 100+ Wild fans that traveled from Minnesota were treated to a lunch with the entire team. General Manager Chuck Fletcher gave an opening speech and answered some questions from the fans. As usual, he had some good one-liners, saying the team has really bonded here in Finland…maybe too much considering they spent all Saturday together on Sauna Island.

He also mentioned that the team will have to make the two cuts prior to Wednesday’s game. Those two players have been told they have been placed on waivers, but he didn’t say who they were. We’ll be able to post the names once they are claimed or clear waivers.

Once Chuck was done, the players then entered the arena restaurant which had a castle-style feel to it. The players spread out among all the tables to break bread and sign autographs for the fans. Even Bruce Oreck, the U.S. Ambassador to Finland was in attendance near the end.

The players have the rest of Tuesday to themselves. Tomorrow will be the final practice in preparation for Carolina on Thursday. The Canes arrived in Helsinki last night and were on the ice at Hartwall Areena for the first time today. They lost to SKA-St. Petersburg last night, but I can’t imagine they are too broken up about it. From all accounts, it sounds as if they were just happy to get out of there with everybody’s limbs still attached. Apparently, the Russian team was taking a few too many liberties with the skilled players.

Finland Day Three

Good evening everybody, although it’s the afternoon back in Minny, if that’s where you’re currently located. I know that some of you are right here in Helsinki because 110 Wild fans arrived in town today for a week of fun and watching the good guys in the NHL Premiere. Welcome to Finland!

Let me know if you want me to show you around. After three days and a guided tour of the city today, I feel like a native.

Today was a nice little Sunday. As you know, yesterday the Wild players made a trip to Sauna Island in the afternoon before returning. I’m not sure what they did with the rest of their Saturday night, but I would assume they hung out in their rooms and maybe caught a new release. I see that Iron Man 2 is playing.

Whatever they did, they were at their best at Hartwall Areena for today’s open practice in front of a couple thousand Finns, at least! The Areena staff had to open up a couple of blocked off sections because more people came than expected. They love their Wild here.

As for practice, the three injured guys – Brent Burns, Guillaume Latendresse and Marek Zidlicky – all skated. It appears all should be good to go by Thursday’s season opener. Burns and Zidlicky will most likely play in tomorrow’s exhibition in Tampere.

Following practice, the players grabbed a quick lunch, many opting for a Finnish specialty restaurant called “Subway.” I was one of the customers and was blown away. You can get a 30 cm. sandwich here!

After that, it was time for a guided tour of Helsinki. The players boarded one bus, and coaches and management boarded another. Wild PR guru Aaron Sickman took the flip cam with the players, so I went on the management bus and snapped photos (which will appear in a gallery later this week). I made the right choice. We had a travel guide named Ripsu, who was absolutely hysterical.

Two of her gems that I can remember: 1) Talking about the celebration of Vappu, which lasts 24 hours from April 30 to May 1, she said, “May 1 is a great day to come to Helsinki because everybody is partying and everybody is drunk. May 2 is not a good day to come because everybody is sick. In Helsinki, we speak many languages, but on May 2, we don’t speak anything.” and 2) There is a statue of Labor in the middle of downtown, which features three muscular, naked men with hammers. Ripsu said, “I call those my three ex-husbands, but that would not be true because I only have two ex-husbands. But they are naked because I took everything in the divorce.”

Ripsu was a big hit on the bus, as was the tour. Helsinki is a beautiful city with colorful buildings, a beautiful harbor and many statues and squares. Ripsu had information on all of them, which made me regret giving the flipcam to Sickman. I could have educated all of you who haven’t been here. A couple highlights were a church that is built inside of rock, which surrounds the pews on all sides. Then, there was a metal sculpture of tubes in a park that you are supposed to stick your head in to hear music. Again, there will be photos posted of all of this in a couple days.

The full day of activities left everyone tired. Tomorrow’s a game day, so it’s time for some beauty sleep. The next Lighthouse blog may very well be written on a bus ride from Tampere to Helsinki. Have a great Sunday!

Finland Day One

The Minnesota Wild and crew have arrived in Finland at last, clad in their green and black team sweat suits. I love the sweatsuit idea. It reminds me of a youth hockey team playing in an out of town tournament in “the Cities.” I fully expect to see a knee hockey game breakout in the hotel hallways and chicken fights in the pool tonight.

It was touch and go for awhile last night when the plane’s engine was in need of repair. Anytime that happens, the blame can only be placed squarely on the team’s media relations folks, who in this case would be Ryan Stanzel (formerly of the Wild.com R.S.S. feed) and Aaron Sickman.

Not to worry, Stanzel was quick on his feet and knew that Finland is famous for cruise ships, so he made a couple calls to “his people.” Soon after, we were on a bus bound for Duluth, where we boarded a luxury ferry and methodically made our way through the chain of Great Lakes, out the St. Lawrence seaway across “the pond,” through the frigid waters of the North Sea and safely into the Helsinki harbor of the Baltic Sea. At least that’s what I think happened. I slept most of the way.

By my count, we only lost a couple hours in the process, so the only problem was that the press conference welcoming the Wild was delayed a bit (again, this falls on the media relations guys).

The press conference was held in the Helsinki airport with Nik Backstrom, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Todd Richards and Chuck Fletcher as the featured speakers. The rest of the team went straight to the hotel, which is a shame because they missed a lovely media gathering.

Fletcher and Richards answered their questions in English, but Koivu, Miettinen and Backstrom spoke mostly Finnish (except Backstrom, who even threw a little Swedish out there just to impress everybody).

Upon arrival at the hotel near downtown Helsinki, the players got settled and strapped on the feedbag in the hotel buffet. Then, strength and conditioning coach took the entire team on a 30-minute walk around town “to get the legs going a little bit.” That will be the extent of the workout today, but the team will be back on the ice tomorrow for its practice of the trip.

Some say Minnesota and Finland are very similar, but in just a couple hours here, I’ve noticed one major difference. Their VH1 channel plays music videos. Where is Flavor of Love 4?

That about does it for today’s action. It’s time for me to hit the wrapper because I haven’t adjusted to the time change yet. It’s actually a week later here, but don’t worry, the Twins are up two-games-to-none on the Yankees and the Americans beat the Euros in the Ryder Cup!

Business At Hand

You’ll pardon me if I’m a bit distracted today, but I’ve got lutefisk on the brain. In 12 hours, I’ll be attempting to sleep on a plane bound for Helsinki, Finland while listening to Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid order more wine.

It’s okay if I’m distracted though. What’s important is that the 25 guys in the Wild locker room are focused on Grant Clitsome and the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

First of all, all attending tonight’s game should bring a piece of used equipment to the game tonight. You do that, and you get a voucher for discounted regular season Wild tickets. You also get to feel good about yourself because you just helped a youth hockey player suit up for this season. That’s called good karma, and you never know. That kid might develop into an NHL star, and that piece of equipment might end up being his lucky pair of shoulder pads that he wears his entire career. It’s not that far-fetched.

As for the lineup tonight, it will closely resemble Tuesday’s. Cam Barker did skate today, which surprised Todd Richards, but he doesn’t expect him to go tonight. That could always change. Guillaume Latendresse and Marek Zidlicky did not skate today, and will not play tonight.

Chuck Kobasew will get the chance to play alongside Matt Cullen and Marty Havlat tonight. Cal Clutterbuck will go back to playing with John Madden and Eric Nystrom. It’s still unknown whether or not Casey Wellman or Matt Kassian will be in the lineup. Jared Boll, who is one tough hombre, might not be with Columbus tonight, which would probably mean Kassian sits.

Marco Scandella will be in for Zidlicky, and Clayton Stoner will sit this one out again.

Todd Richards said he really likes the chemistry that’s developed in camp between Cullen and Havlat. He thinks it’s a good pairing because Cullen likes to skate, and Havlat likes to control the puck and make quick passes. He can feed it right into Cullen’s skating lanes and that generates chances.

All right y’all. It’s very possible that the next time the Lighthouse shines, its beacon will be scanning the Baltic Sea. But stay tuned because there will be plenty of posts from Finland throughout the next eight days. Hyvasti!