THE VOICE cracked, and with it the stoicism that defines Finns.
Kimmo Timonen had paused and coughed, and coughed and paused again, hoping perhaps that another question would wash over this inquiry about the night that lay ahead, and the emotions it would produce.
None came, though, and so he fought through his answer with all the Sisu he could muster.
"Sorry," he said, after his first attempt to choke back tears created a long pause. "I'm sure it's going to be good . . . All the things that happened here . . . Happy to be here . . . "
His voice trailed off once again, and finally someone - OK, me - bailed him out.
"Finns are supposed to be stoic," I said. And Timonen, looking relieved, laughed harder than the line deserved.
"Well," he said, "sometimes hockey makes you take a different route."
Yes, it sure does. For Timonen, that route was directly responsible for the oddity of last night, returning to the place he played seven fruitful seasons filled with oodles of Sisu, the hard-to-translate word that defines Finland's national character, a word that rolls bravery, perseverance, resilience and hardiness into that well-documented stoicism.
The word explains perfectly why Timonen was on the ice in a Chicago Blackhawks sweater last night, why he was even on the ice at all. Ten months after he last skated in a Flyers jersey and 8 months after blood clots in his right leg and lungs threatened his life, he was again patrolling the blue line at the Wells Fargo Center, using his deceptive lower-body strength and sneaky sharp elbows to push and pry away pucks, playing more minutes than he had in his previous nine games.
Months of medicine and maintenance. Months filled with doubts and setbacks. Perseverance, resilience and, of course, bravery fueling this one final attempt, at age 40, to win a Stanley Cup.
Not the way he imagined it, he said.
But what in the last 10 months has been?
"Everything has been unusual," he said. "New team. New players. New coaches. New city. Everything is new."
Timonen's new team entered the game in third place of the Western Conference's Central Division, just five points short of conference-leading St. Louis, just six points ahead of the current second wild-card team, Winnipeg, and coming off a 3-1 victory in Carolina on Monday. Playing with a day's rest against a team that, since the trades of Timonen and Braydon Coburn, has skated itself right out of the playoff picture, it was a great chance for Chicago to close that gap.
Almost a month has gone by since he joined the Blackhawks, the team that sabotaged his best shot at the Stanley Cup, the team indirectly responsible for this last stab. Timonen has often said he came back so he could finish his career on his skates, and not in his shoes. But he has also said that might not have been enough motivation if his name was already etched into the old chalice, if Patrick Kane had not snuck that wide-angle overtime goal past Michael Leighton back in 2010, Timonen's stoicism again dissolving a few feet from the net as Kane blasted down the ice in celebration.
"Every time I go to practice there's a picture there celebrating that last goal," he said. "So I can't really forget about that. Every day, I see that goal."
And so there was almost a sense, as the fans stood and cheered raucously during a moving tribute halfway through the first period, and chanted his name one last time as the final seconds wound down, that it wouldn't be the worst thing if Kimmo's team won and maybe he did something to make that happen.
"I've gone through a lot of games and things throughout my career," he said afterward. "Won a lot of medals and all-star games. But that's one of the coolest things as a player you can experience. So I just want to say thanks to the fans. That was awesome."
The Blackhawks, weakened by the loss of Kane at least until the playoffs, did not play like the offensive machine that has won another Cup and reached the seventh game of the conference finals over the last two postseasons.
Chicago lost, 4-1, to Kimmo's old, dead-in-the-water team last night. Timonen played more than 17 minutes and was not on the ice for any of the goals scored by either team.
In 10 games with the Hawks, he is averaging about 13 minutes a game, is minus-2 and has yet to score a point. But the Hawks have won seven of those 10 games as they try to keep pace in the Western Conference and, as captain Jonathan Toews said, "There's frustrating moments for everyone here. And guys have to make sacrifices and guys understand that."
Timonen gets that, especially as he struggles to rediscover his game. "I have to remind myself the reason I am here is not to play 20 minutes. It's to help this team as much as possible. The playoffs and the Stanley Cup is the biggest thing."
A point of which that life-sized photo at his practice facility reminds him. Every day.
"I've talked to them and asked, 'Can we take that picture out of there?' " he said. "At least for 2 or 3 months?
"But it's been there for years. And you look back now, it's a great memory for me. Great run. We fell a little bit short, but when you look back, it's a great memory."
You know what would be a better one? A newer picture of a Stanley Cup-winning goal at that facility, this one with his hands raised above his head, and not folded underneath him.
One that rewards Kimmo Timonen's Sisu.
And melts away any stab at stoicism.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon