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President Sauli Niinistö sitting on a bench at the Kallio Ice Rink (Brahenkenttä) while preparing for a game of Save Pond Hockey in Helsinki on February 9, 2019. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today / Click to view gallery
“Is the ice soft?” asked President Sauli Niinistö, 70, while sitting on a bench at the Kallio Ice Rink on a mild but windy Saturday in early February.
He was wearing skates, blue jeans and a blue helmet. His white hockey jersey had number 17 emblazoned on the back. Above the number, big capital letters said: “Niinistö.”
He pulled on his hockey gloves. He leaped off the bench like a young city rabbit.
Was the ice soft?
I couldn’t tell as I was wearing sneakers.
I didn’t hear anyone replying to the president.
Perhaps it was a rhetorical question?
Nevertheless, President Niinistö now had a big smile on his face as he took a few spins on the ice.
Someone passed him the puck.
He passed it back.
He was smiling even more.
There were no visible signs telling this would be President Niinistö’s last game of the season. Later in February, he will have planned hip surgery.
The Helsinki Save Pond Hockey Tournament was about to begin. It was a game against global warming, and some big names of hockey had joined to support the cause alongside the president such as Finnish NHL legends Jari Kurri, Teppo Numminen and Niklas Hagman. From across the eastern border, Slava Fetisov, the Russian defenseman known from NHL and as the former Russian minister of sport, was there, too.
A few minutes into the game, President Niinistö scored the first goal. He switched to a golden helmet and not too much later, he scored another.
There are no goalies, and exact scorekeeping is irrelevant; pond hockey is about having fun; Save Pond Hockey is about having fun while raising awareness.
After 30 minutes the game was over. Niinistö’s team lost by two goals: 8-10.
The result didn’t seem to bother Niinistö much.
He had bigger problems on his mind.
“If we lose the Arctic and lose the ice there, we lose the globe,” he said.
Video: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today