Ryan VandenBussche crouches Pasi Nielikäinen next to the start.
– Are you that tough guy, the cane asks.
The swallow does not solidify.
– I said let‘s go, he recalls.
The gloves fall and the men pound each other like windmills as the Hartwall Arena mumbles.
It is 14 years since that most terrifying fight in Finnish puck history, and now Nielikäinen is telling its background.
The seed had been sown three weeks earlier at the HIFK-Jokerit series opening in the 2006-07 season. The swallow, a man from IFK, wanted to fight the Jokers Tomek Valtosen with.
– Tomek and I had always had something against each other. He had yelled at me and I at him.
At the opening of the series, Nielikäinen felt that his moment had come.
– I told Tomek that we will now find out by fighting these gaps. I chased Tomek from the start, but he didn’t go to fight. I tried to sweat.
The swallow was driven into the shower, a little embarrassed.
Jumped from HIFK to head coach of the Jokers Doug Shedden was furious at Swallow’s trick.
– Shedden got angry and said that we are ordering a guy from North America who is beating us.
Eleven days after the series opening, the Jokers said they recruited VandenBussche on a one-month contract.
– Everyone knew what was going on.
VandenBussche, who played 310 NHL matches and sat there for 702 ice minutes, was a heavyweight in puck fights. The swallows were warned on the eve of the encounter.
Up to two HIFKs tried to prevent a fight.
– Robert Schnabel (teammate) said don’t fight it, it’s too hard a guy for you.
Schnabel, a Czech package over a hundred pounds, knew VandenBussche from his American years.
Also HIFK head coach, previously coached in the NHL Bob Francis talked to Swallows the night before.
– Franciskin said don’t fight, it’s too hard a guy. I said I would fight, of course. Francis said he would not recommend under any circumstances.
– The situation was such that I walked into the booth corridor and said to Pena (CEO Pentti Matikainen) that Koutsi said I must not fight.
According to Nielikäinen, Matikainen announced that HIFK’s club management is behind Nielikäinen.
– Pena said you must fight.
Head in armpit
Nielikäinen prepared for the match by watching videos of VandenBussche’s fights.
– The game day came and I knew that a fight was inevitable. And there’s a guy in front of you who had quit Nick Kypreosin career by hitting this with a fist to the head.
– I knew I had to be awake. There must be no long shift below when the fight comes.
The fight came right in the first shift, at 1.13.
– It was a balancer. There would have been power to fight an even longer fight.
As the line judges struck in, VandenBussche’s head was briefly in Nieläinen’s armpit. The swallow left the ice, sending flight kisses to the public.
HIFK himself won the hockey match 5–3. Kopissa Jere Karalahti shouted to the Swallow, “Good match!”
He meant fighting.
An unprecedented uproar ensued as various parties, including the Minister, took a stand on the fight. Police launched a criminal investigation called Assault.
Swallowed and VandenBussche were interrogated at the Pasila police station.
– We went there with an IFK lawyer and answered questions. It took an hour or a half for that interrogation. It was a pretty absurd situation, Nielikäinen says.
In the end, no charges were brought.
Nielikäinen and VandenBussche later collided by chance on Helsinki night.
– A few words were discussed and it was stated that no hard feelings.