The Colorado Avalance hoisted the Stanley Cup on Sunday evening after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning four games to two, officially putting a bow on the NHL season and hockey. Mostly. There are leagues popping up during the summer months here in North America like Da Beauty League and the freshly dubbed 3Ice. If you haven’t checked out 3Ice, I think it would be in your best interest to do so if you are already craving more of the greatest sport on ice. It’s literally non-stop three-on-three ice hockey with a few new and intriguing takes on the game. Do yourself a favor and give it a shot.
All that being said, this season has shed new light on the sport that I have come to love dearly. Mostly that hockey is alive and thriving in places outside of North America. Like, Finland. Liiga is the top Finnish league that has produced and provided some of the more recognizable names in the NHL. Patrick Laine, Roope Hintz, Tuuka Rask, and Sebastion Aho just to name a few. (Seriously, it’s a long list if you want to take a venture down that rabbit hole.) The club that I found myself immersed in was Ilves.
Throughout this year you may have seen me mention a podcast I have been running called Whatahockey. It is mainly a Texas-based hockey podcast with the intent of bringing more eyes to the sport here in the south. One player that joined us was Les Lancaster, formerly of the Allen Americans. The Americans serve as the ECHL affiliate of the ECHL. Les joined Ilves after a stellar season in the ECHL where he would find himself second in MVP voting as a defenseman. Easily one of the hottest commodities to be looked at by ECHL teams and any international league looking to shore up their blueline with a stout offensive-minded defender. That’s when Ilves came calling from Tempere.
After releasing the episode with Les, it instantly became the most listened-to episode we ever dropped beating out names like Marty Turco, Vern Fiddler, and Joel Hanley of the Dallas Stars. Then we started getting followers on all forms of social media from the Ilves supporters seemingly overnight. It was unreal. That was quickly followed by Ilves supporters filling us in on the team’s history as well as requests for more interviews with their North American players. Which we were lucky enough to provide with NHL alumn Nick Baptiste. (Our second most-listened-to episode to date. Sorry, Nick.)
Since then the podcast has kept in touch with the Ilves faithful which has led to planning a trip to Finland to catch an Ilves match in person. A true bucket-list journey. When the trip was teased we even had the team reach out so we could let them know when we would be there, and fans promised we wouldn’t have to pay for a ticket or beer. Instant hospitality. Immersing myself in the team and the culture has been one of the most gratifying moments of whatever style of career you want to call this journey. It has shown me how special this sport of hockey is and that there is no language barrier when it comes to showing your support for your club no matter where the league is based.
You can catch Ilves and all Liiga games online through various websites which are usually broadcasted in the mornings here in North America. Who doesn’t want some live hockey with your morning coffee? So do yourself a favor and find a club to support.
Even though hockey is over, for now, this season is one I can look back upon fondly and know that no matter where you are from, or what club you support, there are bound to be thousands around you that feel the same way.
Thanks, Ilves, I love you.