by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Let’s start with the one you haven’t heard of. His name is Valtteri Filppula, although most call him “Fil,” some call him “Val,” his nickname is listed as “Flip,” and I’ve heard him referred to as “the Finn”- since he is the first true Finnish player to play for the Red Wings.

Whatever you call him, he is a surprise. He just turned 23 and has one of those soft, young hockey faces that you see up close – dirty-blond hair, deep-set eyes, few whiskers – and you think, in another life, this kid is on Tiger Beat magazine and not scoring two goals in his first two NHL playoff games.

But that is what Val, Fil, Flip, the Finn has done in these 2007 playoffs. He got Detroit’s postseason started Thursday with a seeing-eye wrist shot from about 30 feet. The Wings never looked back.

And on Sunday, in the third period of a 2-1 game, here came Val, Fil, Flip, the Finn again, on a rush, and just as he broke free from a Calgary player’s clutches, there was the puck – having rebounded off goalie Miikka Kiprusoff from a Johan Franzen shot – and the kid didn’t hesitate, just swung and fired.

Bang! It’s 3-1 and all but over.

“What do you think of this kid?” someone asked Kris Draper.

“Just get out of his way,” Draper joked.

That, or jump on his bandwagon. Val, Fil, Flip, the Finn began the year in Grand Rapids, but he is having one of those surf rides that newcomers dream about. After scoring his first playoff goal Thursday night, he phoned home to Vantaa, Finland, to speak with his parents and his brother. They were thrilled.

“Will you call them again now?” he was asked Sunday.

“I think tomorrow,” he said.

How quickly it becomes passé.

Playoff Pavel lights the fire

Filppula’s success has surprised everyone, including coach Mike Babcock. It was only injuries that brought Filppula to the spotlight so quickly. But how can you sit him down?

“Do you expect another goal in Game 3?”

“No,” he laughed. “I know luck is going to end some day.”

On the other hand, luck is finally starting for Pavel Datsyuk. The issue for Playoff Pavel hasn’t been “Where did he come from?” It has been “When’s he going to show up?”

So far, he’s center stage. Pavel put a goal past Kiprusoff in Game 1 to end his 26-game playoff scoring drought. And on Sunday, he got things started almost literally in the first minute, when he stole the puck from a Calgary player, then spun, wheeled and fired it past Kiprusoff for a 1-0 lead.

“That was huge,” Dan Cleary said. Indeed, in a 1 p.m. game where revving up can be a hurdle, Datsyuk’s goal was like lighter fluid on hot coals. The Wings dominated that first period with 23 shots, including another goal.

“How did you make that play?” I asked Datsyuk.

“I can’t remember first shift,” he said. “Happened too fast.”


Goals count in any language

Well, this is part of the mystery of Datsyuk. He has all the talent in the world, his skating and instincts are a joy to watch, but understanding where he’s coming from – that’s another story.

A Russian journalist told me, after interviewing Datsyuk on Sunday, that he kids around a lot in Russian. For example, this journalist asked about that first goal and used the phrase “picked his pocket.”

“Don’t ask about my past,” Pavel joked, according to the writer, as if he had a previous life as a pickpocket.

I’m telling you, the stuff you miss when you only speak English.

Anyhow, as long as Datsyuk keeps scoring, he can speak Pig Latin. With him as one threat – and Val, Fil, Flip, the Finn as the other – no wonder Calgary looks like a fighter who can only clutch and grab. The Wings lit the Flames for 51 shots Sunday, and Calgary, after vowing to be smarter with penalties in Game 2, got whistled for the first five of the game.

Then again, you can’t blame them for being dazzled. You may not be able to find Russia or Finland on a map, but you can find both in the Red Wings’ playoff scoring leaders. You know what we call that? Good international relations. You can call it “Fil.”

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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