COLOGNE – Apparently, the thriller games against Germany, Belarus, and the U.S. weren’t enough to satisfy Finland’s captain Sami Kapanen’s appetite for suspense and action. The 36-year-old forward spends his non-game days working his way through a pile of books. And they’re fiction, not the Team Finland playbook.
“I’ve read James Patterson’s ‘Run for your life’, Daniel Silva’s ‘Moscow rules’, and I’m going through Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ right now,” Kapanen says.
No need to read too much into the titles of the books - especially “Moscow rules” - because Kapanen is just exercising escapism to keep his mind from wandering.
“During the tournament, it’s easy to get into a funk, and definitely lose track of time. All we have are game days and non-game days. Everybody’s got his way of dealing with it, some people like to get out of the hotel and go shopping, but I’ve just stayed in and read,” he says.
Besides, Kapanen has been to Cologne before. Back in 2001, he scored tournament-high seven goals, collected 11 points in eight games, and was voted Best Forward, and in to the tournament All-Star team. Finland went all the way to the final, but fell short against the Czech Republic, losing 3-2 in overtime.
However, this year’s tournament is only Kapanen’s second World Championship since 2001. He played in the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, but after that, wasn’t available either due to the Carolina Hurricanes or the Philadelphia Flyers’ NHL playoffs runs or injuries.
“There were a few years when my team always went pretty deep in the playoffs, or I had problems with a shoulder or a knee, and had a surgery. I was a little surprised myself when I realized it had been eight years last year,” he says.
Well, better late than never. Now Kapanen is also the captain of Team Finland, and especially with Selänne, the Koivus, Jere Lehtinen, and Kimmo Timonen not here, he’s the undisputed leader. Especially on a team with nine players making their World Championship debuts. After their loss to Denmark in Finland’s opening game of the tournament, Kapanen was the player everybody looked to, to get the team out of the hole.
Always the fighter, Kapanen showed the way in the game against Germany, which the Finns won with the smallest possible margin, 1-0, and then he scored the game winner in the high-stakes game against the U.S.
“I’m really enjoying this. It’s like getting a new playoff run in a way, and in our case, the stakes went up dramatically after our first game. But that’s just fine,” he says.
Kapanen could be excused for taking his eye off the World Championships for a second. A father of four, and the majority owner and chairman of KalPa Kuopio in the Finnish SM-liiga, he’s got responsibilities outside Team Finland as well.
“Well, I don’t really run the day-to-day operations at KalPa during the season, anyway. And the family understands that I don’t have that many tournaments in me. It’s only two and a half weeks, I think we’ll survive,” he says.
And if he feels like babysitting, there’s plenty of that to go around with a hockey team as well. The captain, being the communication link between the players and the coaching staff, has some mundane responsibilities as well. Like, making sure the boys know what time to get on the bus.
But Kapanen wasn’t made captain so that he can be a tour guide.
“Every captain has to lead in a way that he feels comfortable with, and I think the coaches just expect me to lead by example,” he says.
The second-generation national team forward - his father, Hannu, was inducted to the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005 - has averaged about 18 minutes a game and is one of four plus-players on the Finnish team. The team’s trend has been an upward one, and Kapanen would naturally like to keep it that way. So, if the team needs a pep talk, he’ll be ready.
“Of course there are situations when I speak up, and try to get the team going, or remind everybody of certain details in the game. But it’s not only me, we have several experienced players on the team, like Petteri Nummelin and Lasse Kukkonen, who can, and do, get vocal in the dressing room,” he says.
But most of all, he’d like to lead the way with a couple of goals. He had two breakaways in Finland’s game against Belarus, but failed to capitalize on his chances.
“Let’s hope the goals come in more important games,” he says.