Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Day Nine: Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

As the Hawks families tried to stuff their gifts and shopping into their bags for the return trip, they found themselves intensely grateful for the requirement to save six pounds in each player bag for gifts for our hosts. The space and poundage was easily filled by Fazer chocolates and gift bags from the Viikingit, not to mention Iittala birds and floorball paraphenalia.

As of arrival at the Helsinki airport, we were 7-for-7 on passports lost, then found. Five of these passports have been mentioned in previous blog posts. A sixth, belonging to a Hawks player (who shall remain nameless), was thought to have been taken to Vierumaki and lost there; after two days of searching, it was found in his parents' hotel room safe, giving us all not only a tremendous sense of relief, but also a source of teasing for the family for the rest of their lives. The seventh passport was lost, then found, within a nerve-wracking half-hour on the morning of our departure, delaying the buses from the hotel by a few minutes. But by the time the group reached the Finnair check-in counter, everyone had a passport in hand--success!

We were less successful on getting everyone's stick home, as the party at the ice rink the night before our departure seem to have left the sticks disorganized. A few don't seem to have made it into the stick bags. However, all of the new floorball sticks fit neatly into those bags--a huge relief, since they were a little too long to put into the other luggage, and since our players didn't seem to be able to imagine life without them.

It was a long day of traveling, especially since exhaustion replaced the anticipation and excitement that had marked the beginning of the trip. All through the airplane, boys could be seen napping, and voices were subdued. One flight attendant remarked on how well behaved the boys were--not a surprise, since they didn't have the energy to stir up any trouble.

After a mercifully uneventful flight, trip through customs, and bus ride through rush-hour traffic from JFK, the players and the other Hawks travelers were deposited at the Skatium to be reunited with the rest of their families. The thirteenth year of the Hawks-Viikingit Exchange was done, and by every accounting, it was the best one yet.

Day Eight: Packing and Parties

With the tournament wrapped up and the Exchange coming to the end, Sunday was a welcome free day for all. Several parents went to Catholic Easter services in English in the morning. Other Hawks families took advantage of the late weekend breakfast time (served until 11:00 a.m.!) to get a little extra sleep. There was also a relaxed trip to Suomenlinna, Helsinki's island fortress. Most families spent some time packing and weighing their luggage, with a bit of walking around the city one last time. Meanwhile, many of the Finnish hosts took their charges to the floorball rink we had visited on the first day, to let the Vikings and Hawks players run around informally together for a couple of hours.

By 5:00 p.m., however, the Hawks parents started heading for the clean and efficient Helsinki Metro one last time. The Viikingit club was hosting a farewell party at the ice rink from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. for players, families, and past Exchange participants. The party featured open ice, great food, camaraderie, and beverages brought over from Tallinn. (Tallinn is to Helsinki as Delaware is to Pennsylvania: a source of cheap alcohol.) And of course, there were speeches and gifts to commemorate another wonderful year of the Exchange. (And where there are gifts, a certain inhabitant of northern Finland tends to show up, complete with his red suit, rosy cheeks, and full sack. But he came in through the door, not the chimney, and his reindeer stayed parked outside.)

All of the Vikings and Hawks parents who were involved in this year's Exchange were thanked with gifts, but perhaps the most special gift of all was given to John Wert, the organizer for the Hawks, who was presented with the very first of the newly designed 2012-2013 Viikingit jerseys, with his name on the back. The Vikings players had not even seen the new jerseys before this, much less received them, so they were excited to get a glimpse of their new sweaters. In addition, in keeping with the Vikings tradition, the club named the top performers from the Hawks and the Vikings for the Exchange tournament. Everhett Grimes received the award for the Gibson team, and DJ Sucher took it home for the Cappo team.

The farewell party wound to a close, but there was no need for sadness just yet. Though the boys went home to get a good night's rest (or not), the Hawks parents joined their new Finnish friends for what was billed as the "After-Party" at a nearby nightclub. Entertainment was provided by "The Tosivisio" (translation: "The True Vision"), a Finnish band led by none other than Viikingit organizer Kimmo Tenhunen ( Though the week's activities had left him with a diminished voice, Kimmo's daughter Laura filled in on vocals, and Kimmo himself was still well able to keep the party lively despite his hoarseness. In the festive atmosphere, people danced who (clearly) hadn't danced in years. For one number, Hawks parents (and grandparents) were called to the stage to sing background a la the Pips. For another lengthy segment, Kimmo led a hotly contested Saturday Night Fever dance contest that had the entire place in stitches and led to a "Dancing King" title for Hawks coach Eric Cappo. To say it was a good time is a massive understatement. Eventually, however, the Hawks parents had to think about the long journey ahead and return to the hotel for a final night.

Day Seven: Championship Day

Saturday was Championship Day, and both Hawks teams were scheduled for games in the morning. The Gibson team faced a Viikingit squad that was determined to avoid the drubbing it had received the day before at the hands of the Hawks. In a hard-fought contest, the Vikings came out ahead, 6-4, despite a hat trick by Brendan George, an additional goal by Bobby Gibson, and 2 assists for Everhett Grimes. Brendan Leonard and Beau Dougherty were named Hawks MVPs.

The Cappo team, meanwhile, had their hands full with the chippy HJK A team. The Hawks started out tired and it showed, as they had trouble maintaining their discipline early on and racked up five penalties in the first period. The HJK team taunted and goaded their way to a 2-0 lead, and things looked bleak for the American team. The depths of despair came at the beginning of the second period, when a Hawks player was called for a 5-minute major penalty. Some confusion arose over the refs' call, and the game stopped briefly while the penalty was sorted out. When the game resumed, the Hawks had gotten new energy, and they proceeded to kill off the 5-minute penalty. DJ Sucher scored with under two minutes left in the second period to put the Hawks on the board, and again with two minutes gone in the third to tie the game; Nick Wert assisted on both goals. Logan Simonian put the Hawks ahead with 10 minutes left in the game, then DJ completed his hat trick to put the Hawks up 4-2. Nick Wert sealed the 5-2 win and the trip to the finals with a goal with 5 minutes remaining. Nick Hensel had 2 assists, and DJ Sucher was named Hawks MVP for the game.

In the other semifinal A game, the Vikings played their hearts out against the Ilves, fighting to a 2-2 tie until, with just two minutes left on the clock, the Ilves team scored, dashing hopes for a Hawks-Viikingit A final.

The Gibson squad got very little rest before it was time to face the unpleasant HJK AA club in the game to determine third and fourth place in the tournament. They came out strong, however, with a goal three minutes into the game by Brendan George, assisted by Bobby Gibson. A few minutes later, Bobby put the puck in the net himself, with an assist from Everhett Grimes. The second period saw a single goal, by Brendan Leonard from Bobby Gibson. The HJK team tried to get back into the game, scoring in the first minute of the third period, but the Hawks answered right away with a goal by Brendan George, assisted by Everhett Grimes. A fifth goal by Beau Dougherty, assisted by Frankie McVeigh, cemented the 5-2 win and the third-place trophy for the Hawks. Pat Ryan, Beau Dougherty, and Matthias Chernitsky were named Hawks MVPs for the game.

The host AA Vikings continued their strong performance in the finals against the AA Nikkarit team, winning the AA Tournament championship game 5-1 with an audience of Hawks players and parents loudly cheering them to victory.

In the finals of the A division, the Cappo squad faced the Ilves team to which they had fallen the day before. The first period saw sloppy play by both teams, but thanks to a fine defensive effort, the game remained scoreless. Halfway through the second period, the Hawks finally broke through with a goal by Nick Wert, assisted by Cal Bibeau. Five minutes later, Nick Hensel put the puck in the net, assisted by Albert Bleznak and Nick Wert. The defense continued to deny the Ilves, and DJ Sucher deposited the puck into an empty net at the end of the game to make the score 3-0. Nick Wert, Cal Bibeau, and Mark Bianchi were named Hawks MVPs for the game, and Mark Bianchi accepted the championship trophy for the team as Cappo team captain.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Day Six: The Tournament Continues

Friday was a long and full day at the ice rink, with the Hawks teams playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back. (There was not much else to do in Finland anyway, as Good Friday is a major holiday and most shops and many restaurants are closed.) At one of the early tournament games, between two of the other (non-Hawks or -Vikings) teams, there had been an incident: the referee thought the coach had said something terribly inappropriate and called a 10-minute penalty. The coach protested that it wasn't he who had said it, it was a spectator standing just above him. The referee could not determine which spectator it was, so he told all of the spectators to clear out of the rink (and took back the penalty). This was such an unusual happening that it actually made the afternoon edition of the big Helsinki newspaper, with millions of subscribers.

At any rate, the Gibson team started the Hawks' day off at noon with a game against the Vikings. After all of the time spent mingling between the two clubs, this is always a highly anticipated game. However, the Hawks were playing with energy after their loss the previous night, and they ended up with a 6-1 win. Two goals were scored by Brendan George, and one each by Bobby Gibson, Brendan Leonard, Everhett Grimes, and Matthias Chernitsky; Everhett and Brendan George each also had two assists. Brendan George was named the Hawks MVP.

The Cappo team followed with a 2:00 p.m. game against the Ilves from Tampere (about 1.5 hours from Helsinki). It was hard fought, and could easily have gone either way, but the Ilves scraped out the 1-0 win. (Unfortunately, the refs missed a backhand goal by Nick Wert halfway through the game that would have tied the contest.) Tim Osifchok was in goal for the Hawks, and he received the Hawks' game MVP award.

With only four hours between start times, neither Hawks team had much time to dwell on the early games. After a quick lunch, which was provided for all players at the rink, it was pretty much time to put on the equipment again. The 4:00 p.m. game featured the Gibson team against HFK--the club whose A team had been so interested in fighting rather than playing against the Cappo team the day before. The HFK AA team proved to be no different (and in fact sported a few of the same players), in a game that was rough-and-tumble with emotions running high. It was with both relief and joy, given the obnoxiousness of the HFK team, that the Hawks pulled out a 4-3 win, with goals by Bobby Gibson, Matthias Chernitsky, Brendan George, and Everhett Grimes. Brendan George was again named the Hawks MVP for the game.

The final Hawks game of the day, at 6:00 p.m., featured the Cappo team against the Viikingit A squad--and saw the return of Albert Bleznak to the ice after the Porvoo Toe Incident. The game was tight, but the Hawks played their hearts out, and ended on top, 3-1. DJ Sucher had two goals for the Hawks, and Cal Bibeau added one. DJ was named the game MVP for the Hawks.

At the end of the round robin, each Hawks team stood at 2-1, making them each the second seed in their division. This meant that the Gibson team would play the Vikings again the next morning in the semifinals--and the Cappo team would face the nasty HFK team one more time.

Day Five: A Free Day, and the Tournament Begins

Please note that we continue to add dozens of photos each day on the photo website:

Thursday was a free day, to be scheduled however the players, host families, and parents wanted. Because Good Friday is a major holiday in Finland, with most shops, restaurants, and schools closed, a number of schools also had just a half day on Thursday. In many cases, the boys went to school with their host players, and found themselves teaching English, playing dodge ball, and exploring the cafeteria. We were told that often the Finnish teachers were very much looking forward to these visits, since they allowed the Finnish students to practice their English.

In the afternoon, most of the players hung out with their host families. Some went shopping at Itekaskus, the largest mall in Scandinavia. Some met up with their parents. Among the Hawks families, there was shopping, sightseeing, and some bonus sleeping. But the afternoon was short, as the boys had to be at the rink for their first tournament games that evening, playing at 6:00 and 6:15 p.m.

A word about the tournament. There was an AA division, in which the Gibson team played, and an A division, in which the Cappo team played. There were four teams in each division: the Hawks, the Vikings, and two others. The tournament started with three round-robin games in each division to determine seedings. Then on Saturday, in the semifinals, the first seed played the fourth seed, the second seed played the third. Then the winners of the semifinals played for the championship, and the losers played for third. Each game against the Hawks began with the national anthems of the US and Finland, and each ended with a handshake by the captains, a handshake of the teams, and an announcement of a game MVP for each team.

The first game for the Gibson team was rough, as they suffered a 5-0 loss at the hands of the Nikkarit (in English, the "Handymen"). Everhett Grimes was named the Hawks MVP for the game. On the other side of the rink, the Cappo team fought to a 2-0 win over HJK. The game was a rough one, as the HJK team seemed less interested in playing than in fighting. Fortunately, that worked in the Hawks' favor--they kept cool heads while HJK spent a lot of time in the penalty box. Goals were scored by Mark Bianchi and Brendan Bolon, DJ Sucher had an assist, and Matt Hollingshead had a shutout in goal. Matt was named the game MVP for the Hawks.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day Four: Porvoo

Thank heavens, the Hawks families had Wednesday morning free, and most took advantage of the time to sleep a little later and do a little shopping in Helsinki. At 1:00 p.m., the bus arrived to transport the group to Porvoo, where it would meet up with the boys. Porvoo is a quaint town with charming little shops and a historic area about 35 kilometers (45 minutes) north of Helsinki. (Think New Hope, only with all the signs in Finnish and Swedish.) We were met in Porvoo by two tour guides, so we split into two groups, bundled up, and started our chilly walk through the picturesque town. Old Porvoo is not very big--as one Helsinki native told us, if the tour lasts more than an hour, they are probably showing us things twice--but its inhabitants are very proud of their town and its history. When we had seen the river, whatever wooden buildings had survived the many fires through the years, and the Porvoo cathedral, we were free to shop in the little boutiques--and the Brunberg candy shop, conveniently located next to the restaurant at which we were to eat.

While some Hawks loaded up on delicious Finnish treats, a few parents found the Irish Pub across from our restaurant, where they warmed up and rested up. In chatting with the pub manager, they found that he had played for the Porvoo Hunters 86 team that had played in the very first Hawks-Viikingit Exchange tournament in Helsinki in 2000. In fact, we had photos of that Hawks-Hunters game with us to show him. It was a reminder of how small Finland is, and how long the Exchange has been going on.

After a delicious late lunch/early dinner at a Finnish homestyle restaurant, everyone climbed onto two buses to go to the Porvoo ice rink for games with the two Porvoo Hunters 98 teams. We were greeted at the rink by a welcome table set up by the friendly Porvoo parents, with maps and booklets about Porvoo. We also were delighted to find heavenly warm cinnamon buns at their snack stand. Cal Bibeau's grandfather even got a tour of the rink's cooling system. The games went well--the Cappo team won 5-3, and the Gibson team coasted to a 9-3 victory--as the players became accustomed to Finnish referees and international ice. But the real excitement occurred in the locker room after the first game. Albert Bleznak's big toe had an unpleasant encounter with another player's skate blade. It was sliced deeply across the top of the toe, just under the toe joint, and it produced an unsettling amount of blood. An ambulance was called, and Albert was transported to the Porvoo hospital for treatment. A foot surgeon was found to evaluate the injury; he determined that fortunately, the tendons were intact and the toe needed only five stitches, not the surgery that we had feared. And the boys learned a valuable lesson about taking their skates off IMMEDIATELY in the locker room!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day Three, Part 2: The Boys Head to Vierumaki

On Tuesday, the boys traveled with the coaches to Vierumaki, a sports camp about an hour north of Helsinki. The day started with more floorball, followed by hockey practice for both teams. The boys then got a special treat, as the Finns had arranged for our boys to meet the U-19 Finnish National Team. They had a chance to interview the older boys, to give the Finnish team practice in answering questions in English.

In the evening, the boys enjoyed a sauna. Many took it in the "natural style," or, as the boys called it, "going commando." After getting nice and toasty, the players ran out into the snow to roll around--then raced back into the sauna. (Fortunately, Coach Bob nixed the idea of jumping into the freezing cold Gulf of Finland in the dark.) Then the coaches and boys headed to the dormitory for some much-needed sleep.

In the morning, there was another hockey practice for both teams, after which the boys piled back on a bus and headed to Porvoo, where they viewed a candy factory, toured the town, ate lunch, shopped, met the rest of the Hawks travelers, and headed to the Porvoo ice rink for a pair of games with the Porvoo Hunters team.