Friday, 22 June 2007

What It All Means

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 fiancĂ© 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.