By Lars Mahrendorf, Special to Colorado Hockey Now
TAMPERE, Finland – The Avalanche practiced for the first time in Tampere today. It was an open practice with a couple thousand fans spread around the Nokia Arena, who came to watch the Avs and later the Blue Jackets on the ice.
After the practice session, the press conference obviously circled around the Finnish players and their chance to perform in front of home fans, friends and family.
Head coach Jared Bednar stated, “We want to come out and play our best game in support of our Finnish players, and show everyone here what our team is made of.”
Since coming to Finland, the team seems to have had a good time.
“We’ve got some great hosts in Lekhi and Mikko; they’re showing us around and taking us to dinners and whatnot. They’re two important pieces of our team. They are super excited to be home. They have upwards of 30 to 50 people coming each to this game. And I’m sure they wanna play their best, and in order for them to play their best, their teammates have to play their best as well. We want to go out and make sure we have a good game for them and in support of them, and make sure the Finnish fans are seeing our best performance,” Bednar said.
Bednar has liked the trip so far and was impressed by the crowd at practice.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to see the country and look around and do some sightseeing, and come play in front of different fans and a different building. You can tell the support just even in practice today with all the fans here. I’m sure tomorrow night will be buzzing, and we’re excited,” he said.
Next up was forward Nathan MacKinnon, who echoed a lot of what his coach said right before him.
“I’m still trying to adjust to the time change,” MacKinnon said, “but it’s cool seeing how excited everyone is for these guys. Hockey is such a big deal in this country. You do know that, but you don’t, until you come over here and experience is, and it’s really cool.”
Mackinnon hopes his two Finish teammates will have good games on Friday and Saturday.
“Defnitely, hopefully these two can score a couple of goals and we’ll win. That’ll be awesome. Probably once in their career they get to do this, so it’s really special for those two,” MacKinnon said.
Finally, the two Finns joined the stage and expressed how different this opportunity feels for them. “We’re just kinda enjoying the moment,” Rantanen said. “It feels good. When we landed in Finland it felt really cool. We just waited for this weekend to start. It’s obviously nice to have a few days in Helsinki, but now we’re here and just kinda enjoying the moment. But also remember that it’s four points that we’re trying to grab here.“
The favorite moment of the trip for Lehkonen was the wellness part: “Going to the sauna and swimming in the ocean. It’s a very Finnish thing to do. It’s nice to share a little bit of finish culture with the boys.”
Besides having a lot of familiar faces in the stand, Rantanen put the focus on getting good results in the two games. “It’s not a normal home or road game, but in the end, we just wanna win.”
- For the first 15 minutes of practice, the Avalanche donned their regular red jerseys. They switched to practice jerseys with different colors for the lines afterward.
- Valeri Nichuskin was back on the ice on the first line. Coach Bednar said he was “not as good” as yesterday, but he’ll probably play tomorrow. Nichushin skated on a line with MacKinnon and Evan Rodrigues.
- Lehkonen and Rantanen played together on the second line, so we might see a “Finnish line” centered by J.T. Compher tomorrow.
- The crowd was quiet for most of the practice, but once it was finished, the kids cheered for the Finnish players to get pucks and stuff. All Avalanche players threw shirts into the stands instead.
- MacKinnon on the sauna experience: ”It was awesome. We jumped in the Baltic Sea back and forth. Than it was a competition who could stay the longest. And it felt like an oven, like your skin was gonna fall of. All the Russians won of course, Val, Gorgi.”
- Asked about what city could be next to host a Global Series game, MacKinnon mentioned London as a possible destination.
- Both MacKinnon and coach Bednar mentioned salmon soup as their favorite Finnish food, so that might be the menu for dinner tonight.
Lars Mahrendorf is a freelance sports journalist based in Germany