Finnish hockey fans sacrifice sleep to watch Cup finals


finiemi.jpgOne of the mini-stories of the playoffs, Olympics and recent seasons in general is the odd rise of the Finnish goalie. In the last decade or so, the league’s been treated to the play of Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom, Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff and most recently Boston’s Tuukka Rask and potential Stanley Cup champion in Chicago’s Antti Niemi.

Still, while the nation produces some great goalies and the occasional Koivu here and Selanne there, it’s a rare opportunity for the country to have a guaranteed Stanley Cup winner. The 2010 Stanley Cup finals mark the fifth all-time occasion in which a team with a Finn squared off against another team featuring a Finn. In this case, it’s Chicago’s Antti Niemi vs. Philadelphia’s Ville Leino and Kimmo Timonen.

So, even though most of the games start in that country at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m., Risto Pakarinen of shares the story of a few fans who are willing to go into work with some dark circles under their eyes to watch their countrymen go toe-to-toe for the Cup. Take the story of Aki Mäki-Kuhna of Helsinki.

All Cup Final games start at 3 a.m. in Finland, probably the worst possible time for the working man. But of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I do time-shifting, so I record the game, and get up at, say, 4:30, then watch the first two periods, fast forwarding past the commercial breaks and the intermissions, and then watch the last period live,” Mäki-Kuhna said.

“It’s not like I get up in the middle of the night to watch every game during the regular season, but I try to catch the most interesting games, with the Finns. Or, Detroit. And Selänne. The Final is obviously great, with Finns on both teams,” said Mäki-Kuhna, who mentioned that his brother has seen more than 100 NHL games this season.

The list of Finnish Cup winners is pretty small yet difficult to spell: Valtteri Filppula, Jari Kurri, Jere Lehtinen, Ville Nieminen, Reijo Ruotsalainen, Teemu Selanne and Esa Tikkanen. Here’s a rundown of the five times Finns played against other Finns in the Cup finals, from that same story.

1985: Edmonton Oilers (Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen) defeated Philadelphia Flyers (Ilkka Sinisalo)

1987: Edmonton Oilers (Kurri, Tikkanen, Reijo Ruotsalainen) defeated Philadelphia Flyers (Sinisalo)

1994: New York Rangers (Tikkanen) defeated Vancouver Canucks (Jyrki Lumme)

2008: Detroit Red Wings (Valtteri Filppula) defeated Pittsburgh Penguins (Jarkko Ruutu)

2010: Chicago Blackhawks (Antti Niemi) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (Ville Leino, Kimmo Timonen)

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.