Posts Tagged ‘hockey’


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.


18 years ago, 7th of May 1995, a Sunday afternoon and Finland was playing in the World Championships. That Friday before, my teacher at school had asked us to show our hands if we thought Finland was going to win gold. I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t think that the team was going to do it, given the disappointment of the year before.

On that Sunday afternoon I wasn’t paying the game my full attention. Yes, Finland was in the final, but I thought that Sweden would be the winners of the game. They always beat us in hockey, especially in big games like this.

I remember that I had my friend Hannu over at our place and that we were in my room playing computer games or whatever and went to check on the score a couple of times. It was 0-0. Until we heard my mom and dad roar. Finland had scored. Ville Peltonen had put the puck in the net for the first time. That was it, maybe Finland did have a chance.

We watched the remainder of the game and saw Peltonen score two more goals and Timo Jutila add another. It was set, Finland was going to win the World Championship in ice hockey. A sport that is engrained in so many Finn’s psyche. It was a big deal. It still is a big deal.

The country went into a frenzy, just like it would do 16 years after that Sunday in May 1995. There were parades held up and down the country so that people could greet the heroes. I went to one event in Hameenlinna and saw Timo Jutila and Marko Palo with the trophy. I remember that Marko Palo signed my hockey card I had of him (which I have since lost) and that he was wearing these big Ray-Ban sunglasses to hide his blood shot eyes.

One of the relics that I still have at my parent’s house is a signed team photo of that 1995 team. It’s in a glass frame and I don’t dare fly it over to my place in case it would get damaged in transit.

Since then the saying -95 never forget has become somewhat of a joke amongst Finnish hockey fans. Today will be 18 years since the nation’s expectations were changed and we started to patiently wait for gold year after year, only to come away disappointed, until 2011.

We may only have two World titles to our name, no Olympic gold, no World Cup of Hockey honours, but those two World Championships mean so much to the Finns that it’s almost impossible to describe in words, even if the value of the World Championship event has diluted a little bit, it being an annual tournament and all.


With three games played in the World Championships, Finland has shown some promise in the early going. However, where the team has won all of its games (surrendered one point to Germany in opening game), there are areas within the team that do need a bit of work before heading to big games against USA and Russia.

 

Here are a couple of great surprises to myself that I did not expect when the roster was first announced:

1)      Antti Raanta: Not really a surprise to many, but given that I only saw Youtube highlights and a the stories of his and his team’s Cinderella run to the Finnish championship. Raanta has only appeared in one game so far, but will likely carry the goaltending duties against USA and Russia which will be his biggest test to date. The shutout against Slovakia was a showing of his talents, specially during the phases of the game when Finland were helplessly lost. According to Raanta’s agent, there are as many as five NHL teams after his signature and KHL is not an option.

2)      Sami Lepisto: For the past couple of years Lepisto has been an enigma, not only to myself, but to many Finns. During the EHT in Czech Republic, Lepisto was hopelessly lost in the defensive zone. When his name was announced on the final roster and you saw him in the top D pairing, many jaws fell to the floor. The positive thing is that Sami Lepisto has responded to his critics the best way possible and has raised his game and has started playing up to his potential.

3)      The first line: Aaltonen – Kontiola – Pesonen has been what the coach wanted out of the trio. Couple of the guys (Aaltonen and Pesonen) have been part of Jalonen’s teams since taking over as a coach. Kontiola has featured in the teams as well, but has been left to a limited role. This year, he has been thrust into the fore and has responded beautifully. In the three games that he has played he has notched up 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points, which at the time of writing entitles him to the top scorer slot in the World Championships, ahead of Ilya Kovalchuck.

Things to improve upon

1)      Powerplay: Against Germany it was terrible (2 out of 9) and against Slovakia it was slightly better, but not great and against France, well it’s not really there. Special teams can be the difference maker in a tournament like this. The Finns seem a bit too content to chip the puck behind the net and chip it to the slot to a guy who is surrounded by two or three opposing players. It’s not really working so far.

2)      Play-book: Finland has often looked like they come out slow from the gates. It’s like watching a Diesel engine get going. Takes a while but when it gets going, it gets going. Slow starts like this are not going to be good against Russia and USA. Finland plays a puck possession game and likes to control the tempo of the game and for some reason I see this as a weakness, specially as the teams they will be facing will be stacked with individual talent, which can lead to trouble. However, hockey is a team game and is not decided on Individual talent.

3)      Scoring: Most of the scoring relies on the top line at the moment. Where the Finns have received some scoring assistance from the other lines, majority of the scoring responsibility has lied on the shoulders of the first line. Finland needs secondary scoring in-order to compete for a medal.

 

So there, a few thoughts on the Finns and how they are doing so far. There are big areas for the Finns to improve on, but given what the team has, many have been impressed by the team’s determination and guts. Are the Finns on pace for a medal? Time will tell. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and book the market square in Helsinki for the celebration, but it’s a long tournament and where the toughest games are still yet to come. 


When we walked back to our locker room after a bitter one goal defeat, and with Queen’s “We are the Champions” blaring out to the Oxford City Stars team, there was somewhat of a sombre mood in the changing room.

 

However, as we shook hands and I was watching the Oxford team celebrate on the ice, I was taking that whole scene in and thinking that next year that would be us. Whilst Oxford were definitely deserving of the title this year, it didn’t change the fact that it was painful to watch them celebrate. It always is when you set your goal at the championship and not quite achieve it. BUT, no matter how painful it was, it served as fuel for the summer and for our remaining games.

 

The image of the team celebrating on the ice is  branded on to my mind and I will no doubt use it for energy and motivation this off-season to make sure that the hunger grows to go out for the title hunt once more next season. I’m sure that it will be helping me in the midst of deadlifts, squats, bench press and speed & agility training sessions.

 

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It’s bound to be a gruelling off season for sure, with new challenges in terms of time management in the family front. I will be making an announcement here shortly about a feature that will run throughout the summer about the off season work that I’m doing and the challenge I’ve set myself, but more about that later.


 

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I’ve recently seen a huge uptick in twitter and facebook accounts that promote hockey life style. There are legitimate companies out there, like Gongshow, Bardown, Sauce to name but a few, that have made a business out of the hockey life style.

 

Some of these ‘hockey life’ accounts are actually quite funny, but some of them are just downright terrible and sometimes give a totally different view of hockey than what the players actually go through. There are accounts out there that think that hockey is all about parties and wheeling. Yes, that does happen, but players these days are some of the most fine tuned athletes. Given the rules of the team and the intense schedules, partying is not the first thing guys do when they finish a game. Like said, parties happen.

 

As a result of all these accounts I thought that I’d give an insight into what the ‘hockey life’ is all about.

 

As mentioned on the blog before, I have a regular day job that is the main breadwinner for our family. My hockey life revolves around my job, weekly off ice training, on ice training and games. The only time that I have for drinks is to have maybe a beer or two after games and then a few more at the end of season party before I start the off season training.

 

Hockey life to me is this: it means late nights in the car, driving to training and games. It means lonely nights in the gym when you’re working out trying to maintain a decent level of fitness throughout the season. It means getting up early in the morning before work and going for a run. It means sacrifices and accommodating attitude from the family so that the ‘head of the household’ is off most weekends chasing his dream.

 

Hockey life means that hockey doesn’t stop at the last buzzer of the last game of the season. It is a process that takes 12 months. It is far removed from the glamour that sometimes gets associated with the game. But the fact of the matter is, despite every sacrifice that I make, I wouldn’t change it. The locker room is like a sanctuary, where all the days’ worries and troubles wash away. The minute you step over the threshold, you feel like you are with brothers. It is through thick and thin with your teammates. Sometimes tempers flare on the ice and among teammates, but once you are over that it is back to normal.

 

So yes, hockey life isn’t all about wheeling and girls. It’s about hard work and brotherhood with a bunch of guys who come together for a common cause. That is essentially what hockey life is about. 


Grind of the years and the mileage throughout it. Maybe not the best body mechanics , but it has never slowed them down. Maybe not the best skilled players, but still there every training, every game, despite the aching joints and busted knees  and so forth. The body might be older than the person, but the mind is forever young.

 

The mind is the only thing that sometimes keeps these guys going. The feeling of being in the changing room and around ‘the guys’ is something they wouldn’t trade for anything. The war horse has been through it all. Bitter losses, big wins. The works. However, he still arrives at the rink with the same enthusiasm as in the junior years.

 

Sure the off season might be longer and training has to be smarter, the recovery process from games is not what it used to be, but being able to play the game is more than enough. There’s no better feeling than lacing up the skates and hitting the ice.

 

The late nights, the road trips, the stops at highway rest stops, trying to find something that’s plausible as food. There’s quite simply nothing that the war horses would trade all of these for. The body might not be the same as it once was, but the brain, the brain is still there and the smarts for the game will never leave.

 

The war horse might not beat a younger player for speed, but they will know how to make the play. The hands may not be as fast as they once were and he younger, YouTube generation, will be forever more creative.

 

But the war horse is not just someone who has the wounds to prove his career, he is there to guide the younger generation, he is there to show leadership and use his experience for the better of the team.

 

The war horse in this is not me. At least not yet. I can only hope that I will be a war horse one day. To me being recognised as a hardworking player who does not give up is one of the better accolades a player may get. Sure there are no trophies on the mantle, but the knowledge and acknowledgement that you left everything on the ice, every night is worth more than that. 

 

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The groups for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ice hockey tournament have been set after the final qualification rounds came to a close. Where the pre-qualification tournaments may not make big headlines in the main hockey media, there was one storyline that I followed quite closely (well through social media and radio). The story being the one of Team GB.

British ice hockey may not be that highly regarded in the grand scheme of things, or the international hockey pecking order, but what surprised me was that Team GB made it to the final Olympic qualification tournament. Currently GB is ranked 21st by the IIHF and went on to play against teams like Latvia, France and Kazakhstan, all of which have experience from the highest tiers of international hockey within the IIHF. In fact, all of the nations in Team GB’s group featured in last year’s World Championships in Helsinki and Stockholm.

I think this is a good juncture to make a confession: I didn’t think that Team GB would make it. However, the achievement of the team should not be disregarded or mocked. Given the infrastructure for the game in the UK, where rinks seem to be closing quicker than they are built (specially in the South), or are in dire need of renovation, Team GB pulled of a minor miracle by making it to the final qualification round.

What the team who went to Latvia have achieved, is a foundation that the powers that be should start building upon. Team GB may not feature in the highest tier of the World Championship stage, nor will we see them in the 2014 winter Olympics. However, what the success of the team shows is that the fan base is there and now it is time to build. What the UK should focus on in an ideal world right now is to invest more into the sport and adapt a junior system that is being used by some of the top countries in the world. I’m a big believer that the future of the game of hockey is in junior development and now if ever, it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.

The process won’t be easy, but done right, I can see that Team GB has a legitimate chance for the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, having been around the game here for a couple of years, I sadly doubt that it will happen due to the way things are ran and the fact that hockey is a sport that hardly receives any funding. Sure there  recently was a funding of £100k, but more is needed. £100,000 will not build a programme that would nurture the game here.

I know this opens up a debate that hockey is a minority sport and that the £100,000 is a good enough investment and why should ice hockey be invested in. Well, even though a minority sport, it was good to hear the game being called on the radio and actually hear fans chanting “Let’s go GB”. The fan support is there and my Twitter stream was filled with tweets from the games. Team GB’s games were picked up by ESPN here in the UK, a great feat for the sport. I’ve thought this for the longest time, but the local leagues (Elite League and Premier League) should be shown on free-view TV. Having them shown and (what I find) often buried on Sky sports 2 is doing the sport no favours here. But as with many other things, money talks. I would be as bold as to hazard a guess that apart from the people who follow ice hockey actually know that the sport is shown on Sky Sports 2, or that the NHL is on Premier Sport.

 

EDIT: This was something that Graham Goodman said on Facebook and I totally agree with him. British players should cast their eyes to European leagues as well and seek contracts outside of the confines of GB. There were a couple of players who did not ply their trade in the British leagues and ultimately the international experience from different leagues (and potentially better leagues) will make the standard of the national team better. Many of the teams GB played against had A LOT of players on the roster that played in countries other than their own.

While Team GB may have lost all of its games in the tournament, it is nothing to be laughed at. Though any self-respecting hockey player will tell you that the losses sting and they suck, but in the grand scheme of things, this team that went so far, have the potential to be regarded as pioneers for the game here. They have laid a foundation on which to build the sport on and the powers that be now need to strike while the iron is hot or the achievement by these guys will have been for nothing.

Follow the author on twitter: @amateur_hockey

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