The Anaheim Ducks have been focused on playing hockey while they are in Finland. Sure, they have had a little fun and sightseeing, but they have a job to do. A job that really begins in earnest on Friday against the Buffalo Sabres when there will be real points on the line.
For the 140 fans who have traveled to Finland (and will make the trek to Sweden as well), things are little less structured and a lot more fun.
Fans have gotten a real feel for Helsinki and Finland with sightseeing around town as well as a visit to the medieval town of Porvoo, about 35 miles outside of Helsinki. Porvoo is a lot like Solvang, except it is real. And not commercial in the way Solvang is. There are lovely cobblestone streets and red wood houses along the picturesque river. But this is not some history site preserved for tourists - people live and work there. The history is respected and maintained and you get the feeling everyone has a vested interest in keeping it preserved yet functional.
There have been trips around Helsinki to see all the local attractions and get a feel for the Finnish history and culture. The hotel, centrally located, has afforded easy walking access to shopping and museums and restaurants. The local Kamppi mall is like a Finnish South Coast Plaza and Stockmans department store is like a Macy's and Super Walmart times ten. They have nearly everything that you could possibly imagine, except universal rechargers for your computer (thank you Clas Ohlson!).
In addition to the hockey games, for which the seats have been a dream (centered, lower bowl, Club level type experience), there have other hockey themed events.
On Wednesday, after the win over Jokerit, the fans of the Road Crew were treated to a private practice at Hartwall Areena. There were also several hundred Finnish fans at the practice, with about the same number of people who came to the Ducks training camp when it opened on September 17.
After the practice, which was really a light workout intended to entertain those in attendance, the Road Crew was treated to lunch at a private restaurant inside the Areena. Think reindeer cabin chic for the decor. After lunch, GM Bob Murray, the coaches, and the players joined the fans for a meet and greet and signed autographs, chatted and posed for pictures. The players were in a very good mood, perhaps grateful to have a fun session on the ice and not have to listen to Randy Carlyle barking at them. Barking could wait another day.
Later that evening was a reception back at the hotel and a surprise visit by Jari Kurri, and a local Finnish journalist, who has been covering ice hockey for the past 15 years. Radio play by play commentator, Steve Carroll, led the unexpected question and answer session.
When on their own during free time, the Road Crew has been out and about around Helsinki. Some are taking the boat for a two hour ride to Estonia. Others are staying a little closer to home and back. Others are venturing a little closer by taking the 15 minute ferry to Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a fort used to defend the Finns in the past.
Reindeer and bear are some of the more exotic items on the menu at local restaurants. Ordering Reindeer Wellington is just...strange. But reindeer in Finland is as common as cows in Texas. It's what's for dinner here.
The excitement about tomorrow night’s game just continues to grow. While part of the Road Crew’s job is to be tourists, their main function is to support their team and help them on to a win for their first game of the regular season. It’s here.