Missing in Action - pro hockey's disappearing acts
Some of the NHL reinforcements went AWOL in mid-season
By Matias Möttölä
When the NHL lockout began last fall, Finnish ice hockey teams rubbed their hands and eagerly awaited the arrival of reinforcements from North America. They would be true professionals.
But what has happened since then?
Ryan Malone, who played for the Espoo Blues, ran out of steam in October. "It was as if the referees wanted to prove that a guy from the NHL won’t show off up there", complains Malone, when reached by phone in Italy.
Malone also failed to embrace the tough training regimen employed in Finland. "You should have extra energy for matches, but that was spent on morning practice."
Malone took off as soon as the trial period of his contract was over. He prefers Italy to Finland. "This is like a paid vacation. I feel that calls on the ice are made more equally here."
Another player with a tough-guy reputation, Sean Avery, also decided he had had enough quite soon. He left the Lahti Pelicans without informing team management. Avery posted a message on the website of the NHL Players' Association saying that others should avoid Finland, as matters are run in an amateurish fashion here.
"It is hard to say what the true reason was. Culture shock may have been a factor. Pelicans took care of matters well in any case", stresses Krister Kaukinen, Avery's agent. Avery is now playing minor-league hockey in Canada.
The star acquisition of HIFK Helsinki, John Madden, spent all of two weeks in Finland. He asked his agent to notify the team of his departure, and did not even bother to visit the arena to bid the others farewell. Back home in the U.S., Madden has given homesickness as the reason.
"He probably thought that he could rule the Finnish league even out of shape", snorts HIFK manager Pentti Matikainen.
Krystofer Kolanos, who still played for Espoo in January, said he would drop in at home in Canada to collect some of his belongings. Kolanos never used his return ticket, and the team was not able to contact him.
"Some personal things came up in Canada that I would not wish to discuss. I was disappointed that I was not able to return - and they still have many good NHL players", Kolanos explains over the phone from Germany, a couple of months after his departure.
If the NHL season does not start on time this coming autumn either, many proud NHL professionals will again arrive in Finland to test their skills.
Before this happens, Finnish hockey team bosses should ask their basketball colleagues for advice, as they have become used to the disappearing acts of American reinforcements.
Sometimes all that has been found in the wake of a fugitive has been a car that had been dumped at the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport. "A phone bill left unpaid is more the rule than an exception", says basketball coach Eero Saarinen.
Finland’s sometimes arctic conditions come as a shock to many basketballers. American player Carrol Boudreaux had just arrived in Finland when on an October evening he left to get an evening snack from the local hotdog stand. He forgot his keys at the dormitory, and the player was discovered at seven in the morning shivering in his shorts outside the door. Two days later, Boudreaux had taken off for warmer climes.
Torpan Pojat, a Helsinki basketball team, once received the wrong man entirely. The American player who had signed the deal chickened out, but was considerate enough to send his muscular friend instead.
"He was with us for one match, but he didn't have the first idea about the game", recalls Finnish basketball legend Kari-Pekka Klinga.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print in the March edition of Kuukausiliite, the paper's monthly supplement.
MATIAS MÖTTÖLÄ / Helsingin Sanomat