So far since the Olympic athletes have been arriving, its been a slim trickle of identifiable faces & a lot of "I think they might be an athlete" blank stares from us.
But Sunday, the party really started up for the majority of the hounds. A group of generally 5-8 of us that had been out all week for other athletes, were suddenly dwarfed by the never less than 15 and as many as 70 fans, lookie-loos & just arriving hounds from other locales. They were all there because the glut of NHL players were coming for the Olympic games came thru Vancouver's YVR airport.
The media was there. There was lots of Canadian, American, Swedish, Finnish & even a couple Asian media personnel around.
Things really started for us, Saturday late night when Peter Forsberg & various other European based Team Sweden players & the Belarus team came in. Foppa was an incredibly willing signer, very talkative & quite personable. For those hounds (myself not being 1, I was on a different mission at the time) that were there from the time he got into the publics sight, reports of 5 & 6 autographs per person were boasted. Even for my friends & I, who showed up to the party very late (literaly as he was heading out the door to the security area that you cant get them in) we managed 2 each. It was then off to rest up for Sunday.
Sunday morning I slept in, and missed a terrific signing session by Finnish star Miikka Kiprusoff. One of the locals pulled 10 items out of the scrum. Team Canada superstar Jarome Iginla was less receptive to signing and did maybe 10 total from all reports I heard for the crowd of about 20 people at the time. Jeff Carter, who came as a hopeful replacement signed for the hounds before getting the punt by Team Canada the next day.
By the time I arrived in the early afternoon more than a dozen players had come thru, some signing, some being rushed thru the protected Olympics only doors to awaiting vehicles well away from the public. When I arrived everyone was getting prepped for Alex Ovechkin, probably the greatest hockey player there is currently playing. A couple guys came out before him like Thomas Greiss & Joe Pavelski from the Sharks, then came the Washington Capitals posse. Nick Backstrom came over and signed quite a few, most people leaving with more than 1 item, while the other Alex, Alexander Semin ignored the crowd, along with Semyon Varlamov. Alex Ovechkin however did sign, barely. A crowd of 50 or so waiting fans & lookie-loos anxiously begged him to sign, and he scribbled his rushed minimal effort autograph on 4-5 items, I was lucky enough to get one. Sure it looks like crap, but I still value a BAD Ovi at $50. Which last time I looked is better than NO Ovi at $0
After that scrum we hurried over to the domestic arrivals to grab a flight with a couple Bruins on it. David Krejci, who signed only 1 per person got the crowd of 20-30 people warmed up. Then Patrice Bergeron, Team Canada member, came thru & the crowd seemed to double out of nowhere. I was watching for Marco Sturm who saw the crowd swarm his NHL team mate & he took the chance to try & leave. I went over for him & got 2, only 2 other people got him before he slipped out the door. As I got him I jokingly said "waited for Patrice to go before you made your move eh?" which he replied with a smirk "hehe, yeah". The crowd around Patrice was so thick I had time to get over to him & snag an autograph before he was rushed out by security & overzealous volunteers who pushed people around. It then was noted Eric Staal was trying to sneak away as well, but was nabbed by a few from the crowd before his handler declared he was done & shooed him away.
A couple small scrums for guys like Dan Boyle for Team Canada and Jonathan Quick for Team USA filled the dull hours in between, but for the mostpart, the mid-evening was slow.
Reports that Martin Brodeur & other Devils had slipped in nearly undetected surfaced which was met with disappointment by some & acceptance by others more experienced in hounding large events where you understand you cant be everywhere at once.
Next was Pavel Datsuk who was greeted by a pile of collectors, dealers & fans on the international side. Myself & a couple others who were late in reacting only got 1, while most got 2 or 3. While the crowd followed him outside hoping to crack him on signing again, we noticed other players coming out in the security area. We rushed over to the fence, which for some reason had been moved up maybe 75-100 feet on Sunday, making access to them more possible. Valtteri Filppula and others came out, came over to do interviews for Finnish TV & then signed willingly. I got 4 from Valtteri, before collecting my things & moving on to look for more. A handful of other Finnish guys including Joni Pitkanen, Jere Lehtinen & Tuomo Ruutu also came in around that time as well. My luck wasnt as good with them. Mainly because looking for items when your carrying 1500+ items can be time consuming. It certainly cost me more than a few times. Pitkanen & Lehtinen both signed but I didnt have the time to get into my stuff, get back into the moshpit of hounds & get them.
A series of bad decisions lead to me being shut out for a couple hours, even with players coming in. I chose to sit on Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov for awhile thinking with only a couple of us still waiting, he would surely sign. But after 45 mins of him sitting talking to a fairly fat puckbunny, he ignored all autograph requests & left. While I was there getting kicked in the balls by Nabby, Team Anaheim came in (minus the Canadian guys). Selanne signed a few, Koivu signed some & the others got away either without being asked, or with Team USA personnel wooshing them thru the crowd.
A late night flight with a handful of Boston Bruins came in & I thought afterwards my luck was turning around....but I again made a foolish choice it seemed. I got in & nabbed 3 Zdeno Chara autographs, 2 Tim Thomas along with 2 Miroslav Satan autographs. Generally getting 5 autographs from the most recent major trophy winners liek Chara (Norris) & Thomas (Vezina) would seem like a great score, but they came at the price of missing more Red Wings players in Lidstrom & Zetterberg. At least I got SOMETHING this time, but I still felt a bit disappointed that the 2 Miro Satan autographs I waited an extra 5-8 mins to get might have cost me the 2 Wings stars.
There was 1 final group of the night. A large group that included a lot fo east coast guys. On the flight were New York Rangers stars Henrik Lundqvist & Marian Gaborik. Along with New York Islanders Swiss star Mark Streit, a few other various guys from the Tampa Lightning & other Rangers All in all, about 8 to 10 players. I came out of the whole debacle with 2 Marian Gaborik autographs and 2 Mark Streit autographs. Most of them didnt even come over, and Lundqvist signed maybe 4 autographs for the 20 or so people waiting at 1 AM before walking back to the vehicle that was picking him up & leaving.
That was the end of the NHL arrival main day. A small handful of guys arrived early Monday morning, most notably Daniel Alfredsson. He signed willingly for the fans that went out.
A lot of the Canadian Olympians did not come thru because private charters were picking them up at meeting locations & taking them in to our smaller airport in Abbotsford (about an hour away) along with a few other non-Canadian Olympic team guys. With no decent access, and lots of uncertainty on who exactly would be on them, we never took the gamble to head out there..which probably was for the best, but we'll never know. With a star studded line up that came thru including the likes of Crosby, Fleury, Malkin, Getzlaf, Perry, Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Nash and many more on them, it might have been worth the gamble to go out & try. But the uncertainty deterred anyone from trying.
The undisputed #1 goalie for the Team Finland Womens hockey squad at the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver. Noora Raty has a lot of pressure on her. She seems up to the challenge.
No stranger to North American hockey, Noora is honing her skills at the University of Minnesota in between starts for the Finnish womens team. Already a veteran of 5 years of National team experience, Noora is not a stranger to Olympic play either. At only 16 yrs of age she started for Finland in the 2006 Olympics helping the Finns to a 4th place finish.
With 2 World Championship Bronze medals, and with multiple wins over the #1 IIHF ranked Team U.S.A. in tournament games, Raty has no lack of confidence going into the 2010 games. Named the tournaments best goalie in 2007 & 2008, Raty could be arguably the best goalie in women's hockey, certainly without question the best goalie in Finnish womens hockey.
If Finland is going to get back to the podium in Vancouver after narrowly missing it the last 2 Olympics, Noora Raty will have a lot to say in that happening.
If Finland is going to have any hopes of a medal, they need some offense. Their top hope is Michelle Karvinen.
Of the big 4 nations, Finland is the one that finds itself most offensively challenged on most nights, but they do still have scoring talent. Saara Tuominen, Karolina Rantamaki & Michelle Karvinen making up the majority of that scoring.
Karvinen, a 19 year old Danish born Finnish winger, who spends her time playing for the Espoo Blues in the Finnish Womens league when she is not competing for Finland in international tournaments has already chalked up some decent stats in her hockey career. She was the leagues top point scorer in the playoffs 2 seasons ago, the same year she was picked as Rookie Of The Year. She has lead or tied Finland in tournament points in practically every tournament she has competed in. She was in the top 10 in scoring at the last 4 Nations Cup in her home country of Finland, as well as in the top 10 last World Championships.
In Vancouver, the Finns will be looking to generally muck out low scoring, tight checking affairs. They will rely heavily on their offensively talented players to step up their game as much as they can. Not even 20 years old yet, Karvinen is already one of the teams top producers, her upside is still growing, the Finns might have a legitimate gamebreaker in Karvinen.
Finland has their eyes on a medal, and hopes of knocking off one of the two super powers perhaps along the way. If Michelle Karvinen is at her best, Finland might be able to do that.
You can follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/M3Karvinen
If you want to know how strong Finnish goaltending is. Just ask anyone in the Nortwest Division of the NHL. Whether you are the Oilers, Canucks or Avalanche you see it almost every time you play one of the other two division rivals. In Minnesota there is Niklas Backstrom. In Calgary there is Miikka Kiprusoff.
The man affectionally known as "Kipper" to his fans will be relied on heavily by Finland at the 2010 Olympics to carry them to the podium. He put the pressure on himself by stating he wont go if he cant be the starter. So he has put the pressure squarely on his back. Luckily for Finnish fans, hes been under major pressure before and done quite well.
If Kipper struggles, Niklas Backstrom will jump in & the Finns will be just as confident in his play. He didnt make a big spectacle about wanting to be starter, he just took whatever was given to him. If its the back up spot, he'll do it. If he is called upon to be the starter, he'll do that too. Much like how he has handled goaltending controversies with his club team, the Minnesota Wild, where he has been the back up and the starter.
Finland certainly has strong goaltending with Kiprusoff & Backstrom at the helm. But they lack scoring depth. Sure they have NHL capable scorers, just not a lot of them & not overly lethal ones. So goaltending will need to be strong. Luckily for them, it is.
Kiprusoff has a Vezina trophy in his trophy case. With 3 silver medals in international play (2 World Championships & 1 World Cup) he is hungry to add a Gold to that total. Something his counterpart Backstrom sports, albeit at the World Junior level. Something else Backstrom has that Kiprusoff does not, an Olympic medal. A silver in 2006. Niklas also sports a Jennings trophy for top goals against average in the NHL by a team. He is a Vezina trophy runner up. Both goalies have something to prove. Whether its Niklas trying to prove he is really better than Kipper, or Miikka proving he desrves to be the #1.
Finland isnt going in with a lot of people picking them as medalists because of their scoring. But with goalies like Miikka Kiprusoff & Niklas Backstrom, you could theoretically only need to score 1 to win. A medal is not unrealistic for them, a gold is even possible if either of these two is in the zone.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.