I’ve returned from my holiday hockey binge in Helsinki. This was an amazing trip and I am not really sure how to begin explaining everything that happened.
Let’s begin with Finland itself. The extent of most Canadians knowledge of Finland is that it’s the birthplace of Teemu Selanne. I must admit I didn’t really know that much more about Finland before coming here other than the fact that they seem to consistently win bronze medals at International Hockey tournaments. As a Scandinavian country it also has a good reputation of properly taking care of its citizens.
Finland has roughly 5.5 million people and is bordered by Russia to the east, Sweden to the west and Norway to the north. For a large part of its history Finland was actually part of Sweden making it a relatively new nation by European standards. I was surprised to learn that most of the people there speak English. I thought there might be a bit of a language barrier but that turned out to not be the case at all. One interesting thing I learned is that Finns drink the most coffee per capita in the World. I am not sure why this is the cause especially since the coffee isn’t much to write home about.
Now let’s talk about the hockey tournament! The primary reason why I went to Finland was to watch the World Junior Hockey Championships. My other option for the holidays was to go back home to Halifax. Given that I had just left two months ago I figured it would be better to wait to make a trip home sometime in the Summer. I am sure some people haven’t even noticed that I’d left! So I didn’t make it back to Canada for the holidays but a good bit of Canada made it out to Helsinki! There were easily more Canadians at the hockey games than any other nationality (even Finnish). There are tour groups that come over when the World Jrs. are abroad. A lot of retirees but some young folks as well. This tournament really is a prized Canadian holiday tradition. Going to the first game (the Boxing Day game against the US) was a surreal and once in a lifetime experience. British and Canadian cultures have minimal overlap and I haven’t met a single Canadian since I moved. To be able to interact with so many Canadians after having spent two months away from home was truly unique. I will never forget it. I met some fairly memorable characters. There were the six dudes in plaid onesies with C-A-N-A-D-A spelt out on their chests. There was the fella in the red suit (where do you buy such a thing?). But my two favourites were Larry and Peter, two retirees Newfoundland. I could always find those two within an arms length of an intoxicating beverage dispensary chatting up a different collection of pretty young ladies. A truly charming pair. They both worked in the travel industry and had some pretty interesting tales to tell. I’ll never forget them! I also ran into someone from Sackville and someone I went to high school with! Crazy!
Also, I am apparently the only Canadian on Earth without a Team Canada sweater.
Unfortunately Canada put in an underwhelming performance this year. I made it out to all the preliminary games but didn’t get to see the epic quarter final show down against Finland. I didn’t have tickets and I didn’t even get to see it in a bar because I came down with a brutal migraine. I’d never had one before. They are not a lot of fun. Like 14 Mike Tysons in his prime trying to punch his way out of one side of your head. That probably isn’t an accurate analogy because Tyson in his prime could successful complete that task. In any case, back to Canada. Not enough star power, poor coaching and abysmal goaltending doomed them. It was nice to see Leafs prospect Mitch Marner come on later in the tournament. Displayed some serious skill. He may not have a gold medal to his name but there are surely a few Stanley Cup Championships in his future! I made it out to watch the semi final games. The atmosphere for the Finland Sweden game was incredible. That’s their big rivalry and the crowd was nuts! It was nice to see Finland win that game and the entire tournament for that matter. Especially since another Leafs prospect Kasperi Kapanen scored the OT winner in the Gold Medal Game! The future is bright! I’ll just ignore the fact that the Leafs top prospect William Nylander got knocked out of the tournament in the first game with a concussion. I did cross paths a couple of times with the Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello. I would have preferred to bump into Shannahan who was apparently there as well.
I did do other things in Helsinki other than watch hockey. Helsinki itself doesn’t have a large number of tourist attractions but it is a very nice city to walk around in. The highlight was having my friends Rory and Nadine join me for a few days. We all ended up spending New Years in the Senate Square which is in front of the Helsinki Cathedral. There was a live band playing and a firework show. It was a New Years well spent indeed.
After Rory and Nadine left I took a trip over to Suomenlinna which is a fortress island just off the coast. It has similar feel to McNabs Island in Halifax.
I had a constant battle with the weather in Helsinki. It got increasingly cold during my stay. Given that the UK doesn’t have bad winters, I did not bring any heavy duty winter clothing with me from Canada. Actually I don’t have any heavy duty winter clothing period because I guess I don’t know how to take care of myself. In any case, by the end of my stay it was about -25C so my days involved walking around town and ducking inside somewhere every 10 minutes to unthaw my feet. It’s a good thing I didn’t make any plans to go further up North because I would of surely died.
The Finnish people themselves were quite lovely. Very nice and very polite. Drivers actually stopped and let you cross the road! A rare occurrence in the UK. In fact, the walk lights always seemed to be green whereas they are almost always red in the UK. I did end up meeting a fair share of characters. My favourite was perhaps the one guy we bumped into on New Years. He laughed at everything I said including my rude inquiry about his homeland “what the fuck is Lapland?” When we left he got down on one knee and kissed my hand. They really are friendly!
The trip also saw its fair share of misadventures. Perhaps the most amusing being getting locked out of my AirBnB apartment. I later learned that the locks to the front gate were changed at some point during my stay. A pretty unfortunate thing to have happened but it did lead to some amusing moments. Rory and I first discovered this after we returned home at a mature hour and were not able to open the front gate. A key pad in addition to the lock made us think that perhaps there was some code that we needed to input. We did have a code but it didn’t work and I am not convinced that the key pad was anything more than a decoration. Unfortunately the gate went from the ground all the way up to the ceiling so there was no way to get over it. There was however some give to the bottom so I ended up kicking it in while Rory crawled underneath. He was almost killed in the process but fortunately he made it through alive. The issue with the door was eventually resolved but only days later. It adds a bit of excitement to a trip when you aren’t sure if you are going to be able to get back into your room every time you leave.
This trip ended up being something really special. It has left me feeling recharged and refocused for the first time in as long as I can remember. I am looking forward to what 2016 has to offer. It will without a doubt be an unforgettable year.