An Eye Opening Experience

Posted: March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

As I was watching my team play against our rivals, Oxford City Stars, it was somewhat of an unfamiliar setting for me. It was one of the first times since signing with my team that I was participating in it as a spectator.

 

As I lived each moment of the game as if I was on the bench, there was one very eye opening experience in the whole “being a spectator” business. It was the first time that I really knew how much our supporters and fans live and breathe the team’s successes and the triumphs and tribulations.

 

I’ve always known and been comforted by the fact that we have a strong following, particularly over the past two season, as we have “enjoyed” a nomadic existence. But maybe, after meeting the fans in the pub or bar after the game hasn’t given me the full picture of what the team means to them. After a game, there’s usual jokes and banter with them, regardless of the result, but seeing and living each moment of a 60-minute game was something that I didn’t know could stir such emotions.

 

On the drive back from the game, I was disappointed of the result as we lost the game and lost our chance to win the league honours, but it really hit home to me to see the fans’ reactions. There were people with heads buried in their hands, vacant looks of disappointment on their faces and some punched the wall in frustration as the final buzzer sounded. It was weird seeing that, as a player you are so focussed on the game and the thousands of situations you deal with game-in-game-out. You never tend to see or gauge the reaction of the fans during those situations. (and if you do, you aren’t focussed on the job that you’re doing)

 

Where I’ve always held our fans in high regard thanks to the support they have always shown the team, maybe I didn’t fully understand their reactions when they watch us play. Which is weird, since the emotions and reactions they go through are the same that I go through when I’m watching the Habs, HPK or team Finland.

 

I consider myself lucky to be part of a team that has such a huge and die-hard following, as there are teams in the league that play to nearly empty rinks. What’s great – and weird – about it all is that a team with no real home rink to play out of is still attracting new faces coming through the gates game in game out.

 

Without too much droning, the experience has given me so much extra motivation for the remainder of the season. We often talk about how much the team and these games mean for the fans, but seeing it first hand was an experience that really brought all of that home. This is not to say that I take the support for granted, but like said, maybe after the games the emotions the fans go through are not as visible and as raw as they were in the stands. I’ve often said that I’ve made some great friends from the teams I’ve played for, but I’ve also made some great friends from the rafters.

So thank you, fans, for the eye opening experience. I know the team will do its damndest to make you proud before the season is over.


As everyone in the hockey world knows, Finland lost to Sweden at the men’s hockey semi finals in Sochi.

A loss that ended an unlikely dream for the Finns, but a dream that started to look like a possibility as the games went on. A dream that was not meant to be. Not at these Olympics. Not for this team. Not for its veterans.

The Finns were never considered a top team on paper. They were weakened as two key forwards were sidelined by injuries and furthermore its number one centre being ruled out early in the tournament.

The Finns were close to repeating what it had done in Turin eight years prior. Alas it was not meant to be. For few of the players on the roster, the ultimate award in their national team career is in tatters and is something they can’t achieve as players.

Teemu, Kimmo, Sami and Olli will not have another chance to win Olympic gold. A group of players that have laid everything on the line for the Lion crest, often withstanding criticism of an expectant nation, hungry for success.

It was so close, but yet so far. Just like eight years ago. It was not meant to be. However empty the players must feel right now, there is still hunger there. The old guard will not want their last memory of their national team careers end on a sour note. Bronze, in hockey is always a med that is won. It is a sign that you left the tournament as a winner. Perhaps it is not the win you were after, but every self respecting hockey player wants to win.

The old guard will rise to the breach once more. The team, that has become to play like a team will sacrifice one more time, before passing the torch to the next generation. A generation that is poised to lead the nations’ hockey to success. It may not happen right away, but for the first time it looks like the dawning of a new day in Finnish hockey brings forth a brighter future, like the first light of a crisp winters morning.

As tomorrow will be the last time we see some of our nation’s hockey legends wear the national uniform, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for all the triumphant moments. For those moments when a nation dived into fountains. For the moments when the guards of Buckingham Palace didn’t want a lion statue to wear the Finnish jersey. For the moments when a young man got angry at the losses, for the times when that young man was moved to tears by the tears you shed on the ice, for you were not alone in your disappointment. In essence, thank you for all the wonderful moments you have given us. Thank you for teaching me how to be a player at the time of victory and at a time of loss.

But for now, once more unto the breach friends.


The Sochi winter Olympics have provided the hockey loving folk some great games, and for the NHL GM’s a stack of grey hairs as the injury ninja sweeps the games. So far, the losses (NHL only) have been as follows:

  • Henrik Zetterberg – Sweden/Red Wings: Left the games with a herniated disc and flew back to Detroit to be evaluated. Season potentially in jeopardy.
  • Aleksander Barkov – Finland/Florida Panthers: Injured his knee against Norway. Team Finland doctors said that it is unlikely that Barkov will need surgery for the injury, but is sidelined for 4-6 weeks. There’s roughly 8 weeks of the NHL season left for Barkov as Panthers are not going to make it to the play-offs.
  • Tomas Kopecky – Slovakia/Florida Panthers: Got hit in the head against Slovenia. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • Mats Zuccarello – Norway/New York Rangers: non-displaced fracture in his hand. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • John Tavares – Canada/ New York Islanders: Leg injury, no timeline for return announced. Edit: It was announced that Tavares would miss the remainder of the season after it was revealed that he sustained a torn MCL and a torn meniscus. He might avoid surgery, but should he need it he is ready for training camp for 2014-2015 season.

Those are just the players that are out of the games and potentially from their respective NHL club games. The list does not take into account small nagging injuries that players may have carried pre-Olympics. The Sochi Winter Olympics came at a time in the NHL season – and hockey season in general – that there is not a single player that is 100% healthy.

Zetterberg is possibly the biggest loss to his club team. The Red Wings’ captain is due to undergo exams if his back requires surgery straight away or if it is safe for him to carry on to the end of the season and potential play-offs. Tavares is another big loss as he is a huge part of the Islanders’ offense. Where Islanders have an uphill battle to get to the play-offs Tavares is a loss that will be felt in the line-up (depending on the severity of his injury).

The NHL and IIHF have a contract in place for the NHL to be part of these Olympics and then it is up for review. Could you imagine if some one like Sidney Crosby suffered an injury that would sideline him for a long time at the Olympics? Where some of the above players have been injured in ‘meaningless games’ (apart from Tavares), the NHL GM’s – specially those in Florida – will be tearing their hair out. A point on the frustration that the international competitions provide team executives, is when Barkov was injured and it was announced that he was out. He received a call from his GM, Dale Tallon, which was described as (Tallon being) frustrated. Barkov is one of the rising stars of a young Panthers roster and has struggled with injuries before and during the season (he underwent shoulder surgery before camp).

Similar concerns are always shared by GMs during the annual World Championships and many players are looking to go play for their national teams. At the end of a gruelling NHL season, every minor injury is examined and NHL medical staff is often reticent to let players go if there are signs of injuries. Sometimes, players’ desire to go and play for their countries is going to over ride the doctors. Alex Ovechkin, for example, played a few games for Russia in the 2013 World Championships with a broken foot. Speaks volumes of his toughness and desire to play, but I bet it caused some grief to GMGM.

So all in all, when the IIHF and the NHL sit down to talk about the NHL’s continued participation at the Winter Olympics, there will surely be questions raised as to whether teams will want to let their assets go and risk injury at the Olympics stage. In my opinion, the NHL will continue to be part of the Olympics as it is a stage for it to market itself and compete the ever expanding KHL. The risk the NHL has is that some of the more patriotic players may defect to leagues which allow them to compete in the Olympics and World Championships.

It’s going to be another four years before the South-Korean Olympics so there is time, but having said that, there was time to avoid the last lockout and I’m sure IIHF will want the contract in place well in advance for the 2018 Winter Games.

Should Gender Matter?

Posted: February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

This is something that started to bother me when it Noora Raty announced that she was going to retire from international hockey, perhaps hockey in general if she can’t secure a professional deal. Raty, a meagre 24-years of age with her best years still ahead of her, both in life and between the pipes. I don’t wish to knock women’s hockey, but while there are talented players, there is not a professional league in north America where the best of the best could compete against one another, which is a shame. There is a professional women’s league in Russia and I only heard about it when Raty went there to play a few games before the Olympics.

 

Raty could potentially be one of the best goalies at the moment (regardless of the gender tag) and is vying for a professional contract with a men’s team. She had a stint in the Russian women’s league, but feels that the level of competition would not push her forward as a player. The obvious stigma is similar to what Hayley Wickenheiser faced when she signed played with Mestis and Suomi-Sarja teams. Can women be competitive in a men’s league? Where an outfield player might be out muscled, or sized by a man, if she is skilled enough, surely they deserve a shot?

 

Signing Raty to a professional try out contract or a professional contract would not be a PR stunt from a team. Signing Raty means that the team is serious about her and the opportunities to succeed Raty would provide the team. 

 

The way I see it is that regardless of gender and if a player is capable of meeting the demands of a league and competition they should have a shot at playing at the highest possible level. In case of women -  and I don’t wish to sound sexist – they have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to meet the physical aspects of the game. Surely a player that is committed to make those levels of sacrifices for a professional career deserves a shot? Obviously there are arguments for and against women’s role in men’s hockey,  but from my point of view I don’t have a problem with it. I have played on teams and against teams where we have had women in the roster. The women I have played with have been equally treated. Some changed in the same room as the guys, even if they were offered a private room. They felt that way they were part of the team.

 

Few summers ago I was skating with a women’s team in the lead up to the season and I tell you, they really put me through my paces and during scrimmages I had to fight for every puck.

 

Women’s hockey doesn’t matter” – I call bullshit! 

 

That was a comment by some irrelevant mouthpiece that considers himself as a mouthpiece for hockey, that said that women’s hockey doesn’t matter and usually I let things slide, but this really struck a chord with me. Mainly because my wife plays and as a Finn we have enjoyed success on the international stage in the Women’s game.

 

The comment may have been attention seeking, but when you think about it, women’s hockey does matter. I have seen some great women’s games on the international stage and on the grass roots level. In another ‘golden nugget’ from this mouthpiece said that he had held this view for 25 years, a clear indication that said person has not gotten on with the times.

 

Women’s hockey has some of the most fierce rivalries, just as the men’s game. While there are nations that are still developing their women’s programmes and there are skills gaps between nations, given the time things will develop. Look at countries like Slovenia in the men’s games. Through dedicating enough resource to the game will ultimately lead to a balanced competition. Just because there are few countries stronger than the others is not a valid reason to say that the women’s game doesn’t matter. Some of the top women’s national teams could give a men’s pro or semi pro team a good run for their money.

The women’s game has as big of a place on the hockey map as the men’s game.

 


Probably one of the biggest blows to the Sochi winter Olympic hosts was to be knocked out by Finland today. A day before the quarter final I made Facebook post that read as follows “Reason why Russia won’t win Olympic gold? Russia doesn’t have a team, Russia has a group of individuals.” Of course that was met with some glee from friends, but it turns out that the prediction was right.

 

Russia didn’t win gold, because its players played as individuals and its biggest individual stars failed big time. Alex Ovechkin scored one goal in the opening game against Slovenia and that was it. Yevgeni Malkin never got going. In fact Russia’s best player was Pavel Datsuyk. Some might argue that Ilya Kovalchuk or Alex Radulov. Both players played well and posses incredible amount of skill, but their commitment to a team system imposed by the coaching staff, is questionable.

 

Further to the point, if a guy turns up to an Olympic tournament with customised skates, and a custom stick (that is different from the Bauer Olympic stock) chances are he is placing himself above the team and he can do whatever he wants. It’s not the reason why, but it plays a small part in the grand scheme of things.

 

When I said about Ovechkin’s lack of production I got some pushback on it, but judging by his international presence over the past few years, there’s a case to be made that Ovechkin isn’t that effective in short tournaments, specially if he is a late addition. From the start of the Olympics, Ovechkin was a big part of the Olympics. Not just the Russian team but the whole circus.

 

Compare that with Olli Jokinen, whose morale and attitude has been questioned time and time again in the Finnish hockey circles. Before the games, Jokinen said on Twitter – via his wife – that he was prepared to collect bottles in Sochi if his team demanded it. Russian players, where stoic in their national team pride never made similar claims.

 

The reason why Russia failed, is not because of the number of KHL players, or NHL players who played for themselves. Quickly after the game was finished there were reports circulating the hockey world, suggesting that there was a rift between Ovechkin, Malkin and the head coach.

 

The reason why Russia failed is because its coach was not able to gell the team quickly enough and to buy into a system. To be honest, I don’t think I saw a system from the Russians the whole tournament. It was apparent from the opening game of the tournament, that the Russian team was not going to be a threat and would not go to the medal rounds. It has nothing to do with potential rift between the coach and players, but it comes down to not having a system.

 

There was evidence of the coach losing the players at the 2013 World Championships (granted, Russia won the tournament in 2012), but even then there were signs that all was not well in the big red Russian machine.

The only part of the Russian team that deserves a absolution of sin is the goaltending department, which was among the strongest in the tournament after Finland and Sweden. There is a sombre time for reflection in Russian hockey ranks to determine what went wrong in such a high profile tournament and the fate of the coaching staff and GM will hang in the balance.

Similarly Canada has been in a similar pickle. A star studded team that is struggling and hasn’t been firing on all cylinders. Canada was confident that it would secure gold in the second consecutive Olympics, following its triumph at Vancouver 2010. How could they not bring home the gold? With a roster like that they are sure winners. Same as the Russians.

 

Canada’s captain Sidney Crosby hasn’t been playing at his level and the reason for that is that Crosby is a great franchise player, but for a short tournament such as this and a team that is not built around him, he is finding it difficult. Sure enough the constant juggling of lines and personnel is not helping Canada’s cause either. Canada is poised for a medal, sure, but it’s not gold when its neighbour down south is having a more convincing tournament.

 

The other thing why I feel that Canada’s success is not set in stone is that Canadian players have not yet fully adjusted to the rink size in Sochi. The rink in Vancouver, where bigger than the NHL rink played into Canada’s and USA’s hands but it was not a full Olympic size surface, as that would have required a long repairs at the Rogers Arena.

 

Canada is facing USA in a replay of the 2010 Olympic final in the semi final stage of the games, and it will be a miracle if Canada makes it to the final. So far the team has done little to suggest that it has what it takes against a tougher opponent.

 

My War

Posted: January 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

Foreword:

I got the idea for this post from my personal trainer Brandan Schieppati, who authored a piece by the same title (also a kick ass Black Flag song).

I originally wrote this post in November 2013, but I have been debating whether to publish it, but I finally plucked up the courage to put it out there after realising that there is nothing to be ashamed of in talking about mental health issues and that maybe my struggles will help others in a similar situation:

MY WAR:

I’ll start this blunt: I have been battling depression for better part of 15 years.

I have more good days than bad days, though my concussion in 2010 set me back quite a bit and left me spiraling through a period of pure emotional hell. It was the last time I touched anti-depressants.

I have done a lot of soul searching to pin-point what my demons are. I’m not going to discuss them here in the interest of preserving some privacy around the topic and partially, because I’m not ready to discuss those issues on an open forum, such as this blog. All I am saying that no matter how hard it may seem, everything is beatable and it will get better if you talk about your issues! It may sound completely new-age or that I’ve read some fucking self help book, but as long as you set your mind to it, you’re going to make it.

For me the greatest release and ‘medicine’ was in sports. Whether it is at the gym, on the rink, or on the road running, that is where I found the outlet to release some of the frustrations and those depressive feelings of self loathing and hating the person you see in the mirror.

There are still days when I don’t want to get out of bed and face the world and days that I spend self-loathing and thinking that I’m a worthless piece of shit, but I have learnt that if I get stuck and not face the world head on, I will be stuck in an endless spiral that is going to be difficult to break and will ultimately be the end of me. Yes, those days are a real struggle and I’m not going to lie, they’re difficult to get through, but I’m not in the place any more where I feel like I should just drive my car off the road or jump in-front of a train.

Battling against depression has its challenges. For example, in the realm of sports, I often struggle with self-confidence and that can lead to hindrances in performance, which in turn lead to more self-depreciation, as I know I could have done things differently. Additionally, when it comes to injuries or injury recovery, there is a higher chance of a mental setback, as I know I won’t be able to do the things that keep me going, so to speak.

Where dealing with issues such as these can often seem like it is a daunting task, what has the overall experience taught me? It has taught mental toughness and a certain degree of stubbornness, in that if someone says I can’t do something, I have an urge to prove those people wrong. The thing that has helped me the most is that I have learnt to talk about my issues to people close to me and address any bouts of lingering depression early. Also, even when things seem at their bleakest, I always try and maintain a positive outlook on life and enjoy each and every day, instead of living just for the weekends (as an example), there are important moments in each day that I don’t want to miss. I find that each day is a gift and a chance to improve yourself as a person.

I guess the final bit of stability and direction in life was when my son was born. At the time I was working hard at the gym so I was mentally in a good place, but after my son was born, I felt that life had a purpose and this new life that I was holding in my hands was dependant on me and my unconditional love. Even though parenting is one of the toughest jobs and mentally frustrating at times, it has given me a lot in return. I guess in a way I don’t have time for those feelings any more.

Let me stress that getting myself to this stage in life has not been easy. There have been times when giving up would have been the easiest option and through persevering, I am still here. I understand that there are people that may be facing the same issues and I wish that I could just tell them that it does get better. I don’t wish to sugar coat it, it’s a tough ride, but it gets better.

So I guess that is it, that is my war. Lame as it is to call it a war, as there are no casualties or limbs blown off, but still. It is a struggle at times, but if you set your mind to something you will achieve it. It does require the mentality that you need to go through a fucking rock to obtain those goals. Most importantly, if you are suffering with depression, do not be afraid to talk about it. One of the biggest things that has helped me was to open up about it to people.

Sacrifice

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

I got to talking to our neighbours at the weekend about hockey and the shelf life of a hockey player. Where I told them about the training, the commitment to the game and to the sacrifices I make for it and everything else, the true meaning of the latter didn’t hit me till later. After I got back home and sat down, at an empty house, I realised that the sacrifices I make for the game are nothing compared to the sacrifices my family makes to enable me to play.

As a head of a young family, hockey is taking me away most weekends and it means that my son and wife are without me for a number of hours per game-day. That combined with the work that I put in at the gym (OK when I go to the gym, my son is usually asleep). It takes time away from the ones that mean the most to you.

Where the start of this might read like one of those “I retire” post, it’s not that, far from it. It has taken me a while to realise how fortunate I am to have this opportunity to play the game I have been in love with since I was a little boy. I get to play for the team I love with a great bunch of guys and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

What I am saying is that I am grateful and appreciate the sacrifices my family makes for me to be able to do this. I guess it adds to the humbleness of hockey players. They know that their jobs are tough and take away a lot of time from the family, but they understand that their families live the game with them. They, or rather we, understand how important it is to spend as much quality time with our respective families as possible.

When dealing with injury the support of your family is important. It’s not easy to do things around the house when you’ve got a busted knee, back, shoulder, head or foot. Yes as a player, you do take some sort of pride in the pain, but to your significant other has to carry the load. They are the ones that have to put up with our quirks and routines we like to observe for game days.

Where the life of a hockey player doesn’t end at the final buzzer of a game or the season and as the game develops, it is increasingly important to work on conditioning during the time between games and training. Summers are full of work too, but you have more time for the family and I view that it is the time to make up for the time and dedicate yourself to the routines of family life.

We sacrifice as players, for our team and for the chance to win something big during our careers, but the families (be it wives, kids, girlfriends, boyfriends, moms or dads) sacrifice the most out of all of us and we should be eternally grateful to have those special people in our lives that make it possible for us to lace up our skates.

So in short, to my family, thank you for the sacrifices that you make for me.