Ruutu returns to familiar ice
Pasila Arena brings back memories to Finnish star of Carolina Hurricanes
For Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes, playing NHL ice hockey in Helsinki Finland is a special experience.
In tonight’s encounter between the Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild, Ruutu is the only player who will actually be playing in his former home arena. With good memories and bad.
In the spring of 2002 - while still in his late teens - Ruutu won the Finnish Championship here with Helsinki Jokerit.
The following season when playing for Helsinki IFK, he damaged his knee severely in the same arena.
“It is a slightly closer one. Brings back more memories”, Ruutu comments when asked about his relationship with playing in Helsinki.
The interview is conducted in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room in the Hartwall Arena. Ruutu is getting out of his ice hockey gear after a training session.
The knee injury was so severe that for a moment Ruutu’s career seemed to be in doubt.
“The knee issues I have forgotten, but the positive things are coming back. The World Cup was played here and that has been one of the highlights of my career.”
Ruutu was one of the first-line forwards of the Finnish Lions in the World Cup of the early autumn of 2004, when Finland advanced amazingly into the final of the tournament. The cup final itself was played in Toronto, but some of the earlier games took place in Helsinki.
This winter’s NHL season kicks off on Thursday with five different games, but because of the time differences the puck hits the ice first in Helsinki.
The training games, practices open to public viewing, and everything else extra will be forgotten when the real business of playing for NHL points gets under way.
Of other European cities, Stockholm and Prague join the NHL season a day after Helsinki.
Conveniently for the local fans, Minnesota and Carolina are the “most Finnish” teams in the NHL, with three Finnish players each on their rosters, but they are not among the hottest favourites.
Neither team made it to the playoffs last season. And they have not ranked particularly high with the pundits in this season’s predictions, either.
The regular season with its 82 games seems endlessly long, but one thing is certain: both of the squads starting their NHL stint in Finland are out for all the points they can amass right from the get-go.
“It sure would be nice to head back with a couple of points already under our belts. The long flight would seem shorter and the time-difference would not trouble us quite so much”, Ruutu says.
The two NHL teams have had some time to familiarise themselves with Helsinki and Finland before the games on Thursday and Friday, but afterwards the time schedule will be swift.
The equipment is packed away and the teams fly across the pond in the same instance.
Ruutu now begins his third season in Carolina as just over two years ago he was transferred to the Hurricanes from Chicago in mid-season.
“The worst disappointment was when we missed the playoffs by one point. This season every game counts”, Ruutu affirms.
After the disappointing end to the season, Carolina carried out a drastic facelift. Ruutu was allowed to stay, as were his countrymen Joni Pitkänen and Jussi Jokinen, but overnight the 27-year-old Finn changed from being one of the team’s youngest players to one of the oldest.
“I will play each game as if it was the last one ever. That’s my mentality”, Ruutu says.
Thursday’s match between Minnesota and Carolina will start at 19:00. The Finnish television channel Nelonen Sport Pro will air the game live.
As the attached image shows, the current state of things suggests that just over two dozen Finnish ice hockey players will be plying their trade in the NHL this season.
For veteran Teemu Selänne at the Anaheim Ducks, this will be a last hurrah: he has declared he will retire from the game at the end of the season.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Mikko Koivu and Minnesota Wild start their NHL season in Helsinki (6.10.2010)
Teemu Selänne prepares for life after ice hockey (31.8.2010)
NHL opens in Helsinki: 8,400 kilometre trip to watch a hockey game (2.10.2009)
2010 Compuware NHL Premier in Helsinki