Over the weekend, the Columbus Blue Jackets played a pair of games in Tampere, Finland as part of the NHL's Global Series. This event was much anticipated in Columbus after three years of rumors and COVID delays.
Over 170 fans made the trip as part of team-sanctioned travel package. According to Blue Jackets VP of Ticket Sales Marty Mulford, this is a Global Series record. Dozens of others made their own arrangements, and together made their presence known on the streets of Helsinki and Tampere and within Nokia Arena.
I should pause here to note that the series was targeted towards the European market and not just American visitors. The league-run merch stands didn't have anything you couldn't get at the Blue Line Store, and much of the game presentation felt like what we're used to. Each team had their usual goal song played in both games, and each provided video segments for their designated "home game." Columbus's own Mike Todd served as emcee (as he has done for multiple all star games) but had to wear neutral gear and not play favorites (even if he couldn't let totally keep his loyalties secret).
There was a fan zone set up at the central square in downtown Tampere. It was a bit underwhelming for me, but if the NHL had put on an event like that in Columbus when I was a kid, before the Jackets existed, I’m sure I would have loved it.
Fan event in downtown Tampere #CBJ pic.twitter.com/5TycAC31XD— Kalpea Lohikäärme (@PaleDragonCbus) November 4, 2022
As for the Nokia Arena experience, I'd rate it quite highly. It's a new facility and holds just shy of 13,000. But otherwise it had modern amenities you'd expect here, like a high def video board, ample bathrooms and concessions, etc. It just had fewer luxury boxes and a smaller upper deck.
@MileHighHockey pic.twitter.com/pndaqlLvDu— Kalpea Lohikäärme (@PaleDragonCbus) November 4, 2022
Only quibbles? First, you couldn't bring alcohol to your seats. There were plenty of stands selling beer and "long drink" (a Finnish speciality consisting of gin and fruit juices), but you had to consume it in the concourse. As a result, the seats emptied in waves during intermission, and many were late getting back for the start of the period (and missed some Colorado goals as a result!). The other issue was getting in. There were two main entrances, both at the north end of the building. With security doing pat downs on every attendee, a huge throng developed outside. As a claustrophobe, this made me uncomfortable. Also, with it being Europe, a bunch of people smoked in the crowd, which is another trigger for me.
November 5, 2022
The Finnish fans were outstanding. They love hockey, and were appreciative of the chance to see NHLers play. Of course the biggest cheers were reserved for the Finns: Mikko Rantanen (the star of the weekend), Arturri Lehkonen, Joonas Korpisalo, and Tampere native Patrik Laine. When these guys did well, the crowd roared. But they were generally excited by any good play. Colorado had more of these, so it ended up feeling like more of an Avs crowd overall.
On Friday, a woman in front of me was from Tampere and wearing a Laine jersey. She said she watches every game, and she had opinions on players beyond Laine. She wanted to know what the fans on Columbus thought of Brad Larsen's performance.
Next to me in that game was a group of young men who had traveled from a town about 100 km north for the game. One had cheered for Columbus long before Laine, since 2004. As evidence, he was wearing a Reebok-era Boone Jenner jersey. He cheered loudest for "Boon-eh."
On Saturday, an older Finn next to me was curious to know about Nationwide Arena and how it compared to Nokia. Another in front of me was seeing the Jackets for the first time, but their issues were immediately obvious to him, like how they struggled to get shots from the areas close to the crease. He quoted a Finnish coach who said “if you want a goal, you have to go to the goal.”
The highlight of the days in Tampere had to be the chance to watch a morning skate at the arena, followed by a delicious buffet and Q&A sessions led by Jeff Rimer and Jody Shelley and featuring Boone Jenner, Zach Werenski, and Sean Kuraly, then Brad Larsen and Jarmo Kekalainen. The most interesting nugget to come from these sessions was Jeff Rimer confirming that the NHL is in talks with Ohio State about hosting an outdoor game at Ohio Stadium at some point. He mentioned (as has Bob McElligott in the past) that at the broadcasters’ meeting before the season, the league said that all teams would participate in an outdoor game in the next five seasons. There are still four teams that have not played in one, including Columbus. Even Werenski — who is still a Michigan Man — wants to play a game at The Shoe, even if he admitted it would be “weird” for him to play a home game at Ohio State.
Q&A session with some players (7,8,38) and Jarmo/Lars pic.twitter.com/D8yDEYK6Xh— Kalpea Lohikäärme (@PaleDragonCbus) November 5, 2022
As for the morning skate, since it was between a back-to-back, it was optional and only a handful of players came out: all three goalies, defensemen Erik Gudbranson, Jake Bean, and David Jiricek, and forwards Mathieu Olivier and Kent Johnson. Credit to Off-Road, because he was the first one on the ice and one of the last ones off. It was good to see the third pair get in extra work, because they certainly need it. Defensive coach Steve McCarthy also did extensive one-on-one work with the rookie Jiricek, who was a healthy scratch for both games.
Olivier was also expected to be a scratch but was a late replacement for Jake Voracek. Olivier was doing a lot of net-front drills with Jared Boll and Kenny McCudden. McCudden also worked on board play with Johnson. I’ve heard that Johnson is a workhorse and seeing him practice proved that. Here’s a thread I posted on Twitter with pictures, videos, and observations:
Kenny McCudden out first for morning skate pic.twitter.com/TkTZJqwImT— Kalpea Lohikäärme (@PaleDragonCbus) November 5, 2022
There was a lot we did and saw prior to the games. First, more than 70 of us opted into a travel package which included four days in Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm is a super cool city, with a mix of old and modern buildings.
Group Photo from Stockholm #CBJ @BlueJacketsNHL pic.twitter.com/wM9xBdTfQF— Justin Needham $15 #80 (@jneedham24) October 30, 2022
After having cocktails at a bar made out of ice, from glasses also made of ice, we watched the Jackets/Devils game at (of all things) a Boston-themed Irish pub down the street from our hotel.
5th Line Traveling Party watching the game from O'Leary's in Stockholm #CBJ pic.twitter.com/0te1wqIoKP— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) October 30, 2022
The site I most wanted to see was the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was 17th century warship that was meant to look grand and powerful, but sank just 20 minutes into its maiden voyage after a breeze tipped it over. It’s like if the 2022-23 Blue Jackets were a boat!
In Helsinki, I was able to spend nearly four hours wandering around Suomenlinna, an island off the shore which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of a Swedish (then Russian) military fortress. (CBJ senior vice president Kathryn Dobbs was there the day after I was, and took better pictures of it than I did)
I think you should visit Helsinki pic.twitter.com/2yXzxgoOPQ— Kathryn Dobbs (@KateDobbs99) November 3, 2022
I also got to experience an authentic Finnish sauna. Now, I didn’t do the thing where you go back and forth between the sauna and actual outside water; it was just a sauna in the basement of the hotel. But it was a neat experience and super refreshing.
The smorgasbord that I was looking forward to on the cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki was disappointing, but the rest of the food on the trip was outstanding. I went on a food tour in Stockholm that provided a diverse selection of products, including authentic Swedish meatballs and a pizza made on crisp bread with reindeer meat. I had a moose burger in Helsinki (similar to a bison burger, but better flavor).
Despite the poor performance of the games (I’ll save that discussion for this week’s Cannon Cast), it was an incredible experience overall and I’m really happy that I made the trip. I can’t give a stronger endorsement to visiting the three cities that I did, though I would suggest doing it in the summer rather than the late fall (the weather was actually better than I expected in Sweden, but got cooler and damper in Finland).
I was worried about winter weather for this trip but that didn't hit until today. First snowfall comes as we leave the arena— Kalpea Lohikäärme (@PaleDragonCbus) November 5, 2022
(Arena, Orthodox Church, my hotel) pic.twitter.com/gxvGI9BQrh
Special thanks to Marty Mulford of the Blue Jackets for organizing the exclusive event on Saturday, to James Hanlon of Victory Travel for organizing the trip, and to our local coordinators Erik Rosensvard and Ulla Andersson in Stockholm and Olli Vakkala and Ville Koistinen in Finland. Ville is a former NHL player, who was quick to remind us of his first NHL goal, which came against countryman Fredrik Norrena of the Blue Jackets.