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The Oracle of Ice Hockey

Interesting read from Chris Koentges over at the Atlantic:

In Finland not long after World War II, kids would play a street game called ice ball, which had few rules and less strategy. They'd scramble through neighborhoods buried in snow, batting and kicking a piece of cork the size of a tennis ball—graduating, eventually, if they were keen and had money for skates, to a soccer field covered with ice. But some of the more serious kids wanted to play hockey. Back then, teams weren't especially well organized: the worst athlete was usually stuck in front of a net, while the better ones attacked. Until one day, in the early 1950s, a hockey team in Rauma put a kid called Upi, who had been a powerful skater since his ice-ball days, in the net. And his team began to win.

About 10 years later, Upi—emphasis on the oop—moved to Turku, on the southwestern coast, where he found a place in goal for one of the local hockey teams. Like Roy Hobbs, he fashioned his own stick. Turku was a port town, roughly halfway between Stockholm and the Soviet border, the gateway to a 20,000-island archipelago that extends into the Baltic Sea. Its people knew how to fish and build big ships. Few people had TVs. No book about how to be a goaltender had ever been translated into Finnish. And so nobody really knew what a goalie was supposed to do. (The first proper indoor ice-hockey rink in all of Finland wouldn't be completed until 1965.) In this splendid isolation, a school of goaltending was born, with Upi, who today is 70, as its first practitioner and eventual guru.

[Photo Credit: Tuukka Koski]

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