Fare Thee Well Sami
In honor of Sami Kapanen's announcement that he'll retire from the NHL and head back from the Flyers to his native Finland, here's an excerpt from a piece I wrote about him during the '04 playoffs.
In about three hours, the team will board a plane for Tampa Bay for Game One [of an Eastern Conference Finals series that they'll ultimately lose]. About a day and a half earlier, with 12 minutes and 21 seconds left in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jeremy Roenick blasted a series-clinching, overtime wrist shot into the net and danced up the side of the rink.
It was one of those unforgettable plays, yet it wasn't the topic of conversation. Instead, many minds were still replaying what had happened 44 seconds earlier.
Joni Pitkanen passes to Michal Handzus. Handzus fires a wrister that sails over the net and around the boards out toward the blue line. Sami Kapanen darts in to keep the puck in the offensive zone when thwap. Right in front of a rink advertisement reading "Famous Players," Toronto's Darcy Tucker catches Kapanen just wrong.
The impact of the collision leaves Kapanen parallel to the ice before his body falls 5 feet and slams into the playing surface. Blue-jerseyed Leafs fans roar. Kapanen doesn't seem to know where he is, but play continues. He tries to get up, he falls. He tries to get up again, he falls again. Finally regaining some semblance of clarity, he makes his way toward the bench.
Captain Keith Primeau -- who's rapidly approaching that top tier -- reaches out from the bench with a stick to pull his teammate to safety, just seconds before Roenick gets the puck, skates over the ice where Kapanen was just flailing and ends the game. The teams line up for the traditional post-series handshake line; Primeau doesn't join them until heading to the bench to check on his wounded teammate who'd soon recover enough to shake hands with the Leafs' himself. ("He'll leave a lot out on that surface," says an announcer of Kapanen, a 30-year-old Finn in just his second season with the team.)
"With all the desperation and tension, especially on the Leafs' part, it will go down as a hit I'll never forget," says John Buccigross, host of ESPN's NHL 2Night. "Whenever ignorant media types talk of hockey's demise, I'd like to pop in the tape of the Flyers and Leafs overtime and tell them to shut up."
About 36 hours had passed when Hitchcock was asked in Voorhees about Kapanen's condition. Discussing the first time Kapanen was back on the ice since the Tucker shot, Hitchcock responded, "He knew my name, which was a pretty good sign."
On another note, methinks it's time for Moises Alou to shut thee hell up about the whole Bartman play. He's gonna put a Whammy on the season if it keeps up. Go Cubs.