Posts Tagged ‘lifestyle’


This is a question that I’ve pondered on and off for a long time. Maybe part of it is that during conversations with family and non-hockey playing friends I often get asked why do I still play, despite my rather lengthy list of injuries and the commitment hockey takes.

 

As a player, I’ve lived by the ethos that I will do anything that the team asks of me and commit myself 100% to the season. Before having kids it was easy to make that commitment and now, where I still make it, I always factor in the desires of the family. As long as they are happy for me to carry on playing and putting that level of commitment in, then I’ll always sign. Additionally I ask myself if I have the spark and the desire to put in that level of commitment. If I can’t give 100% of myself, physically and emotionally, then there’s no point me wasting my coaches time, my teammates time and my time. Yes, during the season there are times when you want to say “fuck it” and give up, but there’s always been a desire to give two fingers to those thoughts and battle on.

 

Hockey is a sport that takes a lot. An awful lot. Not only is there the games and trainings during the season, but there’s also the conditioning work that takes place during the summer, during the season and any functions that the team has for fans and so on (OK I don’t attend many nights out, because I’m old and ugly and need all the beauty sleep I can get). Hockey takes up your weekends from September to April. The season literally consumes you and your free time and mind.

 

But what has hockey actually given back to me?

 

I’ll try and look at this from beyond just winning and friendships, though the first thing hockey has given me are the friendships, but it has given deeper meaning to it as well.

 

There’s nothing quite like sharing the comradery of a team and the fan-base that the team has. During the years I’ve played, I’ve made friends with people I probably wouldn’t have hung-out with and have discovered great personalities through the game. This in turn has opened me to be more accepting of people and has allowed me to in greater or lesser extent let go of some prejudices that I may have subconsciously held.

 

Hockey has also given me a family. Literally. I met my wife on a team night out when I was playing for the Southampton University team. Since meeting her and ultimately marrying her, we have had two wonderful children and she and the kids have added more meaning to life. But in addition, hockey has given me another family in the community that has been built around the team I play for.

 

Hockey has given me work ethic. The game in itself is honest. If you don’t put the work in, you will find the result on the scoreboard and you’ll feel quite shitty about it and yourself. The same applies to work outside of the rink. The game has taught me a lot about how to approach challenges and how to tolerate stress and disappointment. It has taught me that you keep going until you reach the ultimate goal.

 

It has given me resilience and perseverance: I’ve had a fair few injuries and I’ve persevered through them, always wanting to come back better and stronger. At times it has been difficult, sure, but at the end of the day I’ve learnt to rise above the pain and fight my way back into game shape. Hockey has also given me a higher than average pain threshold. Being able to play a game with a severe disc prolapse, playing a whole season with a fully torn labrum and ruptured bicep tendon takes some guts but you push through it, because you want to help the team win.

 

Additionally the game has taught me about health: About 4 years ago I realised that if I didn’t change the way I trained, the way I ate – and more importantly what I ate – I would not last a year. Since then I have discovered a healthier lifestyle and have managed to cut out many habits I had in the past. Because of hockey, I am now more conscious about the dietary choices I make on a daily basis and the way I listen to my body and maintain it – even if at times it seems like I disregard the body’s warning. I’m not an elite athlete, but I would like to think that I approach training and diet from a more athletic point of view.

 

 

 

Yes, hockey does take and demand a lot of you, but if you look beyond, it does give back an awful lot as well. I consider myself fortunate to be able to play and keep learning more.


As I sat down for Christmas dinner a few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with some of the elder relatives. My injury history is storied and I was asked the question of “Why do you still play?”

 

I wish that question was easy to answer. However, during this conversation I had a chat about the elder relatives’ career in another contact sport, which I think is even more brutal and demanding than hockey (physically). Where we have been fortunate to both have had great experiences in sports, but one thing that transpired that the reason we play was relatively common.

 

For guys there are many reasons why they play hockey. It can be that they enjoy the game and want to spend some time in a team environment and hangout with guys, exercise and getting fitter, or winning (or a combination of all of the above). What drives me to play hockey is hunger to win. If I didn’t feel hungry to win, I doubt that I would put in the effort and I would seek out something else.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to play on teams that have won a couple of championships in different leagues and countries, but I still have that same hunger for some more. There simply quite isn’t another feeling that comes close to achieving your goal and winning. (Well there are a few, but this isn’t that type of blog people)

 

Winning is a moment that is shared by players, whether it is the culmination of a weeks work in training to get the win in your next match, or the ultimate pay-off at season’s end. If it is a championship you celebrate, the trophy is a nice thing to have as a reminder of that unbelievable feeling at the end, when all of the sweat and hours you’ve spent away from home have finally paid off. I actually feel quite sad for making this reference, but winning is one of the best highs you can experience.

 

Where it has been a few years since I’ve won a championship or something big, I want to win something before my time is done within the sport (Not for a while yet, but nothing is a guarantee in hockey). The something big might not be the Stanley Cup as that ship has sailed a long long time ago, but I am hungry to win. Every game, every shift. Like I said, if I didn’t want to win, why would I turn up. If I didn’t want to win, I’d stay at home and knit.

 

But what big do I want to win. As for me, in my own little microcosm, it would be unbelievable to win the NIHL title, even Div 2 south would be a big thing for me in the microcosm of hockey. I want to be able to have that feeling again.

 

Winning takes a lot of work and you have to stay hungry for it. In Finnish there is a saying of “Nalka kasvaa syodessa” (Loosely translates into: The hunger grows as you eat) and I think it’s a pretty apt description of what I feel now. After winning 3 games straight, I feel the hunger for more wins growing.

 

That is why we play; In an effort to satisfy the hunger for at least a little bit. 

 

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The air cool and cold. Should be used to it this time of year. Saturdays on the road, couple of hours in the car, prepping your mind to what lays ahead. The 60 minutes, broken into fragments of 45 seconds of explosiveness where everything you have in your body, your legs, is revved up to compete with five others who share a sheet of ice with you, fighting along with you are a group of guys that have come together for the same cause, a cause that has been drilled into our psyche for years upon years.

 

Saturdays, on the road, couple of hours in a car. There might not be fragments of 45 seconds where you explode on the ice against five other players, but with a group of guys, who have grown to be a second family. We get put through our paces in a section of drills that have been designed to improve a teams’ game.

 

Regardless of the scenario, the mentality is the same. We turn up and we leave the world as we know it, on a day-to-day basis, behind. Once we walk into the cool and cold embrace of an ice rink, we know what we are there to do, be it a game or training. It is an escape, an exhilarating ride that pushes your body to its limit.

 

What I love most about the whole hockey life style, which is something that I have grown to appreciate as I’ve become older, is the moment when you first step on to a fresh sheet of ice. It’s in that moment that you truly understand what a great game you are able to be part of, and the special group of people you share that ice with. There’s nothing quite that compares to it. Well I can think of a few things, but this is not that kind of blog.

 

The reason I started to ponder all this was after I spoke to a colleague of mine was whether I could live a life without the game. Where I eventually have to face up to the fact that this body wont hold out forever, I honestly could not see myself living a different life and I hope that I can pass the lifestyle on to the next generation of Virtanen’s when the time is right.

 

60 minutes. Funny, how we sometimes take days to prepare for 60 minutes. The preparation for those 45 second fragments, the concentration required for each shift, each different from the last. The bounces, the missed opportunities, the successes all come together for an entity that creates a wholly unique experience to the fan and the player.

 

Hockey, for the player or the fan, does not end once the final buzzer goes. Fans analyse the game, discuss the chances and the win or loss of their team, while the players gather round for the post game briefing from the coach which depends on the outcome and the way the 60 minutes unfolded.

 

The Saturday night lights finally go out, the players drive home, reliving those segments of 45 seconds and the overall 60 minutes. After all those moments, all you can do is count the minutes, hours, days to the next time you will be stepping onto the fresh sheet of ice and for the Saturday night lights to come on once more. 

 

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