Good evening from high above the ocean somewhere on top of your handy globe. We’ll be descending into Iceland in an hour or so, then after some refueling and a change of crew, 7 hours into Minneapolis, an hour to clear customs, get home and sleep for the first time in a week.
Update: Landed in Iceland, and I’d love to say it was beautiful, but we didn’t get off the plane. The second leg was one of the most turbulent plane rides I’ve ever been on. We were bouncing around the sky pretty good. But now I’m home, walking in at 5:15 a.m.
Fabulous trip to Finland, although I did underestimate the workload. I figured because of the time difference, I’d cover practice, sightsee, then go back and work. No, pretty much from the minute I woke up to the minute I went to sleep around midnight or after, it was at the laptop. I saw nothing but the inside of buses, hockey rinks and my hotel room.
Kinda exhausting but much fun.
Most fascinating to me is the different culture in terms of the media and the hockey fans. For instance, Finnish reporters don’t go in the locker room in Finland, so they never really got comfortable loitering like us Americans do. As Guillaume Latendresse reads over my shoulder, he thinks we should have a change in policy in the NHL.
In Finland, reporters only have press conferences where a player or two come out and the coach, and in those press conferences, the PR guy from the side asks the first five or six questions. They also have what’s call mixed zones, where several players come out and reporters can basically go from station to station to talk to players. They have that at the Olympics, too, and big events like the Stanley Cup Finals. After being in Finland for a few days, I now understand why so many Finns that I’ve covered over the years have had so much trouble getting the role of the American sportswriter.
In Finland, reporters only cover games, rarely practices, and you saw that different culture at morning skates where barely any Finnish reporters showed. In the U.S., I’ll skip one or two morning skates a year – max, and less these days since we now have to blog and tweet and flipcam and …
As for the fans, the bowls of the arena empty during the intermissions. Why? Beer isn’t sold in the stands. You can only drink alcohol in the concourses, which I learned this summer is the same in the English Premier League. Also, the arena fills with cigarette smoke. Fans go outside to smoke, and the smoke just billows in the arena. Brutal while trying to write.
The Hartwall Areena was a beautiful complex, and it seemed bigger than it really was. There were 13,400 and change in for tonight’s game, and it felt and looked like 18,000. Maybe it was 18,000 with the exchange rate J
Tonight, the Finnish President attended the game, you know the one who looks like Conan O’Brien. Also, Wild draft picks Mikael Granlund and Jere Sallinen attended the game.
The Wild played a solid game, worked its butts off and undoubtedly deserved better. The only time they took their foot off the gas was when they most needed it – the 5 ½ minutes of power-play time in the second. But they competed and generated a gazillion scoring chances, but Cam Ward was absolutely scintillating. I sat right behind him to the right, at least where he stood for two periods, for two games in a row, and when Ward is on, he’s as good as it gets in the NHL. And unfortunately for the Wild, he was on.
The blue line had a strong recovery from the opener tonight. Brent Burns racked up 31 minutes of mostly solid play. The rest of the group was mostly good.  
Latendresse is clearly in Chateau Bow-wow. As I wrote yesterday, the Wild’s not happy with his fitness, and he played 12 minutes tonight. Casey Wellman played nine shifts, which surprised me. I thought he looked very good, he created a great chance and I thought we’d at least see him in 4-on-4 overtime. But it’s hard to argue with their overtime. Eight shots, and Martin Havlat deserved a penalty shot at the end.
Anyway, lots of good signs tonight other than the shootout loss. It was a great game to watch in person. Intense, desperate, end-to-end hockey by both teams. If the Wild plays like that, they’ll win more often than not. Question is can they maintain that furious pace for 60 minutes, every game?
Couple odds and ends:
Jose Theodore is due in Saturday and he’ll be one of the rare guys at the rink Sunday to take some shots from Bob Mason and Clayton Stoner and P-M Bouchard. Anton Khudobin will be reassigned any moment I’m sure, as will Matt Kassian. Drew Bagnall can also be sent down, but the Wild may eventually need him back as they’ve got to figure out what’s up with Marek Zidlicky. Luckily, the Wild doesn’t play again until the home opener vs. Edmonton Thursday, so Zidlicky has time to heal up.
Also, I put this in the paper a few days ago and again Saturday, but I’ve confirmed through his agent that James Sheppard has been suspended as a result of breaking his kneecap in an ATV accident before camp. I feel for the kid, but the Wild had no choice. They’re up against the cap, and this injury has incredible ramifications here and in Houston. And somebody will have to explain to me the benefit of three days of high-altitude training a week before camp. I’m sure that would have made dramatic difference in his conditioning and season, especially considering by all accounts he worked exceptionally hard this summer to get ready for the season. He won’t be paid his $803,250 salary while out, he comes off the cap, but the Wild will continue to help him rehab. His agent won’t comment as to whether he’ll seek to have a grievance filed.
That’s it. Finland coverage is near complete, other than a follow in Sunday’s paper and a column on some funny stuff. Hope you enjoyed. Now it’s onto just covering the season. And I'm sure everyone inside the Wild will love getting me off their buses and their planes.
Barring news, I’m off til Tuesday, and the team’s off til Monday. Kent will be on here Monday.