Posts Tagged ‘professional sports’


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The move made yesterday by the NHL, NHLPA and You Can Play Project is ground breaking in professional sports. For those that don’t know, the You Can Play Project has been around for little over a year now and promotes support and education of LGBT  issues in sports. The project’s message is simple; If you can play, you can play.

 

Personally I’ve been a fan and a supporter of the cause since I first heard about it on Twitter about a year ago. To me it doesn’t matter what anyone’s orientation or sexual preference is. As far as I’m concerned, they will be treated like any other team mate and performances will not be judged on the premise of their sexual orientation.

 

The project took a massive step forwards today when it announced official partnership with the NHL and the NHLPA, making it the first of its kind in any professional sports and its players. In fact, since inception, NHL players and other sports teams have been supportive of the cause, which is evident of the project’s video testimonial page.

 

You Can Play Project was set up by Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of Brian Burke, to honour his brother Brendan Burke. Brendan, a student manager for the Miami University Redhawks hockey team announced he was gay in 2009 and had worked to eradicate homophobia in hockey. Brendan was tragically killed in a car accident in 2010.

 

“Our motto is ‘Hockey Is For Everyone,’ and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.” Said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in an official press release from NHL.com

 

The partnership between the organisations will include significant commitment to education and training for teams, players, media and fans. You Can Play Project will also conduct seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium to educate prospects on LGBT issues. Additionally, You Can Play resources and personnel is available to each individual NHL team as desired.

 

The NHL and the NHLPA in turn will work with You Can Play Project to integrate the project into their Behavioral Health Program, which allows players to confidentially seek counselling or simply as questions regarding matters of sexual orientation.

 

“NHL players have supported the You Can Play Project since its inception, which we are pleased to formalize and expand upon with today’s announcement,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “The players believe our partnership with the NHL and You Can Play will foster an inclusive hockey environment from the grassroots level to the professional ranks.”

 

Where the You Can Play Project has been hugely popular, it did encounter a bump in the road in July last year when Cam Jansen made disparaging comments about homosexuals during a radio show. However, the issue was handled candidly and Jansen has since been in constant contact with Burke and the You Can Play team, according to a story on NHL.com.

 

One can only hope that You Can Play Project will be seeking to extend its partnerships outside of hockey and strike up similar partnerships with other professional sports organisations not only in the US and Canada, but across the globe. As said, If you can play, you can play.


As the NHL season is finally under wayt, we wanted to visit the dark days of the lockout by chatting to someone who makes his living from the NHL and hockey. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Antti Makinen, a Finnish NHL sports caster for NelonenPro. Makinen has become well known in the Finnish hockey media, mainly due to his active Twitter use and his enthusiastic commentary during games. One of the memorable moments came during the New Jersey Devils – Philadelphia Fylers series, well words wouldn’t do it justice, so you can watch the clip here.

 

When the lockout first started did Makinen feel like he didn’t have much to worry. “When (the lockout was announced, it didn’t bother me. I was sure it would only last a week or so. After the first couple of weeks, it started to disturb my thoughts.”

 

At the start of the lockout there was a lot of optimism about the length and many pundits and analysts thought it would be something the league could get sorted out before the season started, or at worst, it wouldn’t affect most of the season.

 

However, as the lockout continued, Makinen says it started to affect things. “My employer (Nelonen Pro) had to do a lot of rescheduling. NHL is a big thing to our channel and they had their hands full to reschedule. For me personally it was a bit of a 50/50 situation. I had all the time in the world to play with my two year-old son, but on the flipside, the worry was on the finances.”

 

For a play-by-play professional, the job is similar to a professional athlete. There’s a constant need to keep up with your skills and hone your craft. Makinen didn’t fall on empty for the lockout as he found some sports casting work for Finnish SM-Liiga games. During the SM-Liiga gig, many of Makinen’s Twitter followers regularly tweeted him asking which game he would be calling. “Calling the SM-Liiga games helped me a lot,” Makinen says. “It was a job that helped pay the bills and it also helped mentally as I had something else to think about than the lockout.”

 

Riding the highs and lows

 

So for someone whose livelihood depends on the NHL having games what are some of the emotions that you go through? Mid October was probably the toughest for many fans as it was the first time of that infamous ‘cautious optimism’. “I had a couple of rock bottom moments during the lockout,” Makinen admits. “The toughest one was in a middle of October when my own sources told me that the deal is close. Then of course Bettman came out and said that they (NHL and the NHLPA) were speaking different languages.”

 

But for someone who is active on Twitter and also a fan of the game, Makinen didn’t resort to outbursts that many fans (like myself) resorted to in desperation. “I tried to maintain optimism publicly, but it was really hard,” Makinen says. “I have to that my wife for all her understanding. She really supported me through the lockout.”

 

However, the end of the lockout meant a big relief to those whose livelihoods depend on the NHL. As Makinen points out he doesn’t have to worry about the summer months as the NHL Play-Offs are likely to go on long into the summer months. “(The season) will be a busy one, but I think it’s a good thing,” Makinen says. “It’s a bit weird to start the season in January as normally this is the hardest part of the season for me. However, our batteries are fully loaded and we are ready to go.”

The world of sports casters

 

For me personally, the sports caster world and work has always been interesting. It has puzzled me to think how someone can keep up with the changes in a game as fast as hockey. If you ask my parents, they would say that as a child, I was always pretending that I was calling a hockey game, ski jumping event or a rally.

 

It felt only natural to ask Makinen about his career and how he got into sports casting. “I used to play hockey and I won two Finnish championships in the junior levels,” Makinen says. “I was also a member of the Finnish U17 and U18 team. My career came to an end when I was 18 and I broke my back. After my playing days were done, a manager of a local radio station called me and asked if I wanted to try to work with them on their hockey radio. I had no plans after everything had turned upside down, so I tried and as they say, the rest is history.”

 

However, Makinen didn’t get to always work on hockey, even though his knowledge of the game. “Hockey has always been my thing, but I had to prove myself in TV before I got to do hockey,” Makinen explains. “I have done colour commentary for football from all over the world, I’ve done Superbikes and a lot of other motorsports. I’ve also called some basketball and floorball games.”

 

Stats:

 

As hockey players, what we wanted to find out was how many games per week Makinen does. According to the man himself, he does five to eight games per week. “I just counted that between 2010 and 2012 I did a total of 407 games,” Makinen says. “I bet no one can match those numbers back here.”

 

Impressive statistics, given that Finland is seven hours ahead of the Eastern Conference, which means countless of sleepless nights for a man who calls Tampere his home and does many of his games from Helsinki (approximately 70-80 mile trip).

 

Statistics form an important part for any commentator and Makinen is no exception. His preparation includes looking at stats and stories about past meetings of teams. “When the game is on, it’s just a free-fall to me. It’s my thing to go inside the game and live in the moment.”

 

As mentioned at the start of the article, Makinen has come up with a few living legends in terms of things said on the air, during a game “They’re just things I’ve said. I’ve never planned what to say and just say what comes to my mind,” Makinen explains. “I think it’s impossible to plan what to say in different games and situations. If you have to worry about what to say and where you say it, it will destroy the broadcast.”

 

Indeed, a good sports caster can add so much to a game and the experience that the fan receives and where not directly employed by the NHL, sports casters add so much value to the overall product that the NHL sells internationally. Fans who live and breathe their teams’ trials and tribulations already live in every stride of their team, but a sport caster such as Makinen can add enthusiasm and a new level to the game.

 

Makinen, who lists 2011-2012 first round Penguins vs Flyers series as one of his favourites along with Blackhawks’ cup win as his friend goalie Antti Niemi won the cup, parts us with some of his wisdom to people looking for a career in sport casting and play-by-play commentary. “It’s a long way, so be patient. Give it your best every time you are working and there are no shortcuts. Most importantly, don’t try to be someone else, be yourself and find your own way of doing things.”

 

Thank you to Antti Makinen for taking part in the interview and good luck with the NHL season and hopefully the fans will enjoy every game televised this year. 

 

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I thought I’d take a break from updating the daily concussion update, because there was really nothing new to report and I doubt you want to read stuff like: “my head still hurts etc”. Everything is still slightly off kilter and I’m not feeling a 100%, though I have taken significant steps to recovery, or at least I feel I have.

 

I had an appointment with the doctors yesterday and what got told what I had feared. You might recall that I said I had 18 out of 21 symptoms listed for post concussion syndrome (PCS) and basically the doctor told me that I’ve got the condition. I had secretly wished that he would say that you’re still not fully recovered but you’re about 95% there and that it would be OK to resume normal activities.

 

What scared me yesterday was that I was told that it was likely that I had a small bleed in my brain as well that he didn’t spot upon first examination. However, the bleed was (if there was one) was minor to the point that doctors wouldn’t have done anything for it i.e. drill a hole in my head or remove a piece of skull.

 

My moods are still all over the place and I keep going from being happy to being sad to flat out enraged for no apparent reason. On a personal level this has been a trying test of patience, and my patience is wearing thin at times.

 

For the first time today, I wrote something by hand rather than by computer and here’s the difference. This picture: http://yfrog.com/h471529449j is from notes that I took on the 1st of March and here is a picture of my hand writing today: http://yfrog.com/h2qr2pxj. Spot the difference?

 

On a positive note however, I have been allowed to start doing exercise again. I’m not allowed to lift heavy weights yet (damn it), but I have been allowed to do cardio work (hockey is cardio isn’t it?) and light weights. I went for a run last night and I did OK till about 8 minutes in. After that I had to take several breaks to let my coordination get back. I’m going to attempt the gym today and use the small dumb bells that are normally reserved for women. Man I’m going to get ripped doing that.


After I posted my blog last night, I took a turn for the worse. My headaches intensified to the point I was ready to do the 3m dash to the bathroom at any second. Good thing I didn’t have to as I probably would’ve knocked myself out on a door frame or something else. My headache was so intense that I wanted to perform trephination on myself to try and alleviate the pressure in my head. Luckily the painkillers finally started to work and I was able to get some sleep. I did sleep rather well, to the point that I was woken up only at 13:00 when a friendly Jehovah’s witness rang our doorbell.

I was also overcome with a feeling of sadness and I wanted to ball my eyes out last night. I have no idea where it all came from but my mood changed rather drastically and I wallowed most the night in a mix of intense headaches and self pity. I was a seriously sensitive dude last night Otherwise, today I have been feeling relatively fine. My head is clearer than it has been for days now and I don’t feel as if I was living in a cloud. However, I’m still not 100%. I don’t think I could last a full gym work out or a jog.

There are still issues I’m trying to work through. One thing I have noticed the past week is that I don’t really feel like myself. Where I am starting to feel better, I feel as if there’s a part of me that is missing. I guess the problem with concussions is that they are like breaking a vase. You can try and put it all back together, but depending how bad you broke it, you’ll never be able to fit all the pieces back together. And I guess the symptoms and the emotions are as unique as the person who suffers it.

However, this has been the best day so far, but that’s not to say that I’m OK. I hope from now on I’ll be able to make significant progress day by day. My dreams are still weird and for the past few nights they have had a mexican theme to them. Go figure that out.

I’m also seeing the doctor again on Monday, so hopefully I’ll get some more guidance into where I go from here. Tell you one thing though, once I get the all clear from the doctors, the first thing I’m going to do is have an ice cold beer.

Also, good luck to my teammates this weekend. I won’t be able to join them on the ice, but hopefully I can muster enough focus to make the trip and watch them play.


So, I’ve got 5 days till I see a specialist for my knee. Having read back on the last few posts, I realize that if any prospective teams read this they might think that I am a wreck of a man that can’t cope with it.

The sacrifice however is that I keep the knee rested for a while, skate and then not walk properly for the rest of the week. But just like Mario Lemieux during the time when he had back problems. He did not train and needed help putting his skates on but he still excelled. That is something that I aspire to.

I recently was asked why I keep doing it and why do I keep pushing. Part of me always tries to joke around and say that ‘you gotta be dumb to be tough’, but you know the truth is, there are guys there who play with much worse injuries than I am. I don’t view that playing with an injury is a bad thing. Sure it hurts, but for my ultimate goal, playing through pain has to be part of the job.

As for the specialist meeting itself, I am feeling relatively nervous. I think the type of person that I am has made me prepare for the worst.

I know I’ve got a tough road ahead of me, whatever the outcome, but I always excell in challenges.


… I promise to take one step ahead.

When my friends first told me that I should have a go at playing at a high level of UK ice hockey, I didn’t know what to think at first. Maybe they were joking, maybe not, but interestingly that conversation that took place when we watched Jeremy Cornish and Rumun Ndur duke it out at a Basingstoke Bison Elite League match a year a go planted a seed in my mind.

After a lot of thinking and pondering whether to do it, I secretly decided that I would push for it. Go hell for leather and see what happens. Worse comes to the worse, I would’ve at least had a go at it and I wouldn’t have to sit around in my older days thinking ‘What if…’. Since then one of my friends set up a Facebook group to encourage me to do it. I think at its heyday, it had nearly 200 members. Not bad, I’d say.

However, as time has gone by, I’ve become more vocal about my dreams and aspirations and have mentioned to select few and written about it in my old blog (http://amateurhockey.blogspot.com). Given that I’ve been trying to do everything on my own, it was recently suggested that I get an agent.

The trouble is that where I think I have the skills to play and I can certainly pick things up quickly in terms of drills, I’m an unknown player, with a break from top flight hockey. So attracting sponsorship for a minority sport in this country has been tough, in fact, I’m still looking and finding an agent to work with is increasingly difficult because of the above reasons. Agents are reluctant to work with athletes like me because all they see is a player CV and see that I probably wouldn’t be a lucrative player to work with from a business perspective.

One agent told me that I should just give up on my dream, but that wouldn’t be pursuing a dream now would it. What I can say about the road and the experience so far is that it has been educating. I guess I’ve learnt new things while I’ve tried to attract sponsors and so on and probably even learnt new skills as a player and improved my work ethic.

Despite a long road ahead of me and a number of ‘setbacks’ on the way, I’m determined that I will get there. Giving up has never been my style, so I see that these setbacks only make me that much tougher and I definitely think that in the first place, the punk/hardcore DIY mentality is the way forward to get the experience I need.


So, this is it. A new start, of sorts. I have decided to transfer my blog from http://www.amateurhockey.blogspot.com to a more professional platform at WordPress (there WordPress, I’ve given you a name check).

I suppose that an introduction is inorder. I am a 28 year old Finn, residing in the UK and my passion is ice hockey. I have played on so many different levels going from pond hockey, to semi-pros and I have toured and seen some of the most horrendous rinks on the planet.
I currently play for a team in Basingstoke UK called the Cougars (no we’re not women, nor older women on the look for young men.) and some of the posts here cover the rollercoaster that is the season.

I have one desire, and that is to make it to the top flight of hockey and prove to myself and to others that hard work does pay off and that if you put your mind to it, dreams do come true. There’s no easy way to achieve my goals and it takes hard work and complete dedication.

I’m going to borrow my old blog’s first ever post to show my dedication to the game and will be building from there. You can still read my old blog at http://www.amateurhockey.blogspot.com and follow my tweets at http://www.twitter.com/amateur_hockey
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There’s always something special and emotional when a team captain hoists the most coveted trophy in hockey, perhaps in the whole of the professional sporting world. No matter what team you support through out the NHL season, the pinnacle is always that emotionally draining, best of seven series final. To every hockey player/fan, the Stanley Cup is the Holy Grail and the only way to achieve immortality.

When I watched the Anaheim Ducks lift the cup this June, I could not have been happier. Though I am a sworn Habs fan, I was happy for the Ducks, mostly for Teemu Selanne. It was one of those moments when a grown man could openly shed a few tears of joy, even if it was for some one else’s success. Teemu’s luminous career was crowned and the sight of him hoisting the cup is a source for true inspiration.

Hence this blog. I have been trying to find a medium in which to express my love and passion for the game and accurately detail my own training and the lengths I go to, even if I will never make it as a pro, a fact I accepted early on. Hockey to me is a game of passion, and much like what Selanne has been saying is that if you don’t have the fire It is pointless to carry on playing. A bout I went through for about five years, when a knee injury got the better of me.

It took me a move to a different country and a very drunken night when I got back into the game and laced up for the first time in four years. Ever since then my passion for the coolest game on earth has been unstoppable and I have, in essence, given the game every waking moment of my free time. When I am not at work, I am thinking about hockey. When I’m talking with my fiancé or spending time with her, hockey is at the fore front of my mind. I guess you could say that it’s over doing it for an amateur, but I need to be switched on at all times. I’ve spent most of my free time training for hockey and the up and coming season and I am now possibly fitter than I ever was, faster than I ever was, mentally tougher than I ever was.

But why would an amateur do all of this? Why go through the rigours of training at the gym five times a week for an hour at a time, when you know that hockey wont be the breadwinner for you or that you are not going to be immortalised on the Holy Grail? There’s no one-line answer, but here’s what I’ve scribbled down. And I do apologise. It is long:

I remember as a kid whenever I was playing with a bunch of friends at the local rink or skating around on the rink my dad froze in our back yard, I’d always be playing the dying minutes of game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. I would always dream that I was the member of what ever team I happened to think was cool at the time, mainly Edmonton or LA Kings. But now when I am looking back at things I realise that I could never have become a pro.

Where many of my friends created promising careers in hockey I was always focussed on something else; next day of school, if ‘the’ girl had called during the time I was out. Hockey is 100% concentration. If you are not awake and ready explode you lose. That is the attraction of the game. I’ve played a bunch of games at varying levels and I suppose I have done OK in them. Somehow, in the past, I was always dreaming of something else, and I did not understand the possibilities hockey represented. As a kid I didn’t understand that the team was more important than different choices.

When I got home from training, no one had called and the maths book was open on the desk, still waiting for everything to be finished. Though my mother and father have always been supportive of my sport, they encouraged me to seek other, more secure ways of providing my self a living. The thing I loved about this upbringing was it made me appreciate hard work. Hard work that was focussed out of the dressing room and the rink. I was set a series of goals, smart goals, which were sure to separate me from the guys who did go to become professional hockey players. My goals at the age of fifteen were not smart. I was not a realist; I was a dreamer, maybe even a romantic.

What I love about the game is the spirit within a team. To all extents all the teams whose jersey I’ve worn has had a great spirit. I love the talk in the dressing room and the pep talk before the game. The sheer joy of scoring a goal from a huge slap shot. The tingling feeling in your stomach when you put your helmet on, knowing the face off was only minutes away. The selection of lines, when you realised you were put on the same line with some of the best players on the team. The stops on long away trips, so you could walk around and take a leak, or just cause general mischief with your teammates.

The feeling I love the most is that huge slap shot going past the goalie, there is no better feeling on the planet than scoring a big goal, seeing the fans and your team mates cheering. The feeling of fulfilling your role, the feeling of having played damn well.

So what does it all mean to me then after dedicating years to the game? Hard battles, big hits, growing up, monumental wins, bitter losses and injuries. Learning to fulfil your duty. Being proud of wearing your jersey, the knowledge of still being able to play the game that I fell in love with on those dark, cold Finnish winter nights.