Thursday, 23 April 2009


I’ve talked a lot about commitment, dreams and other things that I think make a successful player and how I integrate these things into my daily training, whether it is strength, cardio or mental. But hockey is not an individual sport. It takes 15 guys to suit up for a game and take to the ice, but that does not guarantee you a win. People often forget that the two things you need to take to the ice with all the skills you have are passion and belief.

You can never win a game or a championship unless you have a team that believes in themselves and has the passion to fight for every opportunity and for every loose puck. Belief doesn’t necessarily mean believing in a higher power, but it is believing in your team and your teammates. Herb Brooks said that All-star teams fail because they rely on the individuals’ talent, which I have become a great believer of. A weaker team can stage upsets when they believe in themselves.

Miracles in sport are not uncommon. Everyone remembers the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid when a bunch of College kids took down the Soviet hockey team, possibly one of the greatest teams and dynasties ever to exist in the sport. 1995 Finland wins the World Championship, without icing any NHL players and after being regarded as an underdog in the whole competition. I remember when the team made it to the final, no-one believed that they would win. No-one except the team themselves and that is what makes a winning team. Those are just a few examples, though I could list a number of others from the NHL, perhaps the most notable example of a team believing in themselves was the Rangers when they won their last Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Cannucks.

Personally I have witnessed what believing can do. The most notable example is from 2006 when we won the national championships with the Spitfires. We had decent team, by no means the best team, but a decent one. What kept us together when we faced bigger and stronger teams was that we believed that we could win as long as we focussed on our game and played to our strengths. We had a great coach who made sure each of us believed that we could skate away with the title at the end of the day. And we did. He kept us all calm and collected when we had guys whimpering and thinking that we couldn’t play a team that was physically bigger than us. I remember a London team we faced had a load of Slovakian players playing for them all notably bigger than us. We had guys scared that we would be out-hustled by the bigger players, but what our coach told us was that ‘Look, they’re big and slow and rely on big shooters. We are fast, smooth passing team. We can beat these guys!”

That is the type of believing that is required for a team to pull together and win. On the flipside of this, I remember playing for a few teams who always, during the first intermission said: “Good first period guys, keep it going. Remember that our second period is always our weakest one!” That automatically reflects on the team’s confidence and the belief it has in itself and amongst its ranks. Needless to say, because of the way we were forced to think about the game our second periods were our weakest and it cost us alot of games. Once we understood that we just needed to stick to our guns and BELIEVE that our second periods could be just as good, if not better, as the first we went on to win a significant number of games and being crowned Champions once more.

It’s funny what an affect a few words can have on the success of a team. Few wrong words here or there, repeated many times over can have a damaging effect on a teams’ performance. Teams who come out the gate believing in themselves for every training session and game will be the one who will go far, even if on paper they look weaker.

I believe that if the dedication I have put in to the game will warrant success. I believe that the team who has the most heart and belief in themselves that will go far in the season. Most of all I believe in my own abilities and my passion that I will make a difference every shift. I believe that if I have a strong season, I will have a shot at making it.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Dream the dream

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past week, you would have by now heard about Susan Boyle. Susan has literally dropped jaws to the floor around the world. Susan came from obscurity and sang her way to our hearts. Literally. What makes Susan so exceptional is that the minute she walked on the stage, people wrote her off. I know that in show business appearances count for something, but talent is all the more important.

So how does a 46 year old singer from Scotland have anything to do with sport? Well she doesn’t really, but her story does. Where I am not one for reality TV, talent shows, or hype, I have to admit that there is something awe inspiring about Susan Boyle that everyone of us can relate to, whether it is her talent, her decision to go for it, or the song she sang (I dreamt a dream from Les Miserables).

Where my last post was about commitment and the overall theme of the blog, the underlying story with Susan is something that inspires me. She probably has been waiting for a chance to come her way to see whether she had what it takes and she does.

My motivation is to find out whether I have what it takes. I think that I have few of the elements that it takes to play the game at the sharpest edge and where I am not the complete package, I have to play to my strengths, which are passion, mental toughness, speed and dedication to mention but a few. There was an interesting conversation I had with a hockey enthusiast playing at the same level as me, which was quite interesting and I forgot to mention in the last post.

We were talking about the levels of play where we have played in the past and this guy has the package to go far, but he said he didn’t want to commit to the long seasons of tough hockey. It is ultimately tough to manage work and hockey at the same time. I remember back in the late 80’s early 90’s when a few of the professional players in my hometown team were working second jobs to keep themselves afloat financially. That is dedication and commitment. I was faced with the question would I do it if I had the chance? The easy answer: Yes. I would be willing to sacrifice just about everything for that chance.

Like the above example of Ms. Boyle, I just need that one shot to see whether or not what I perceive to be good, is really good enough. It is the dream that I dream and life is yet to kill it. This up and coming season will prove whether there is a chance for me.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Commit and dedicate

Commitment is something some of us are afraid of. Whether it is a relationship, work or sport we are required to commit our time and efforts into this element and make it work for us, rather than the other way around. Commitment is what makes champions and winners out of us and the time we have dedicated to our goals will have been rewarded.

In sports, specially a fast paced contact sport like hockey, commitment and dedication are the keys to success. It takes a lot of commitment to be successful and even though some of us may never achieve the stellar levels of Alex Ovechkin, Martin St. Louis et al. it is commitment that makes us thrive and succeed in our own plateau of competition and it pushes us forwards to higher levels of competition.

I came across a comment a hockey dad told his son on the internet a few days back and I think that if I ever have kids and they pick up any sport (preferably hockey) and want to make it as a pro, I would tell them to model themselves after and follow the best players in the team and commit to their sport 100%. To live it and breathe it.. Truth is that 90% of the guys in junior levels will never make it as a pro because they see it as a bit of fun and don’t necessarily have the mental toughness and commitment levels required to make it to the top flight in sport.

Commitment in sports is something that takes time and can put a severe strains on your family and friendships. I remember when I played in the Dutch first division that during the long and arduous season, all the weekends and the daily activities were modelled around my schedule. There were foods my mom would make to ensure that I would take on the appropriate amount of carbs and proteins. My parents were committed to both mine and my brother’s hobbies. My brother had acting and whenever he was in rehearsals we would arrange our family diaries according to his comings and goings. That is the type of commitment required from your parents at an early age. I was blessed, even though I didn’t make it as an NHL pro, that I had parents who were committed to catering for my desire for hockey. It was a big ask on the family and meant that my dad would spend considerable time on the road with me as the team didn’t have a bus to get us to our games.

Commitment from an athlete means constantly thinking about plays and how you can improve yourself. It is putting in the hours at the gym during the post season, pre season and in season periods. It is working back from an injury and making yourself believe that you can do it and that you are the best that there can be. It is making sure that things are OK at home and that your relationships with your partner and kids are in good order. At this level, we spend a lot of time away from home during the summer and the commitment to both our sport and our families is put to the test. It takes a lot but most of the guys turn up week after week to trainings and spend their weekends away from home on back to back road games. As Don Cherry would say; “It takes guts!”

Commitment to me is working my ass off on the ice and at the gym. I want to make sure that I have good wheels, good shot and good eyes for the game. For me that is my commitment. I want to be the fittest person on the team and make a difference every shift and I have to commit to the goals and to the work that will make it happen. Where I would like to be able to dangle like Robbie Schremp on Youtube, I have made a conscious decision to ignore the flashier plays that guys practice at trainings, but rather work on the skills that I listed above. It is unlikely that I’ll have a chance to pull a move that would involve me shooting from between my legs, and if I did that in a game situation, my coach would most likely have my head on a silver plate.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Spring is in the air

There is a saying that says: ‘spring is the best time for a hockey player’. The playoffs are here, various European leagues have wrapped up their seasons and the champions are celebrating and those lucky (or unlucky enough) will have to cut the party short due to a call up to the National team for the World Championships.

Spring really is the best time for hockey players and for fans. There is enough action going on both sides of the pond and it is the most exhilarating time before the dust finally settles from a 9 month battle and the best of the best have been found and champions are crowned and those fortunate enough will ascend to immortality by achieving something as simple as a trophy, but it is yet so coveted that people would probably be willing to sell their souls for it. I think hockey is one of the only sports where you have a chance to become a true icon. The season is more gruelling and demanding than any other sport, which makes it interesting to follow.

Spring, it is indeed the best time to be a fan and a player. The spring sun has come out and rather than laze in the garden, the sun really has energised me further. The gruelling and often depressing training during winter time has been successful in the sense that I managed to stay relatively healthy except for the latest minor set back, but I have been able to use the injury to better myself as a player and as a person.

The games are about to begin and I can’t think of a better way to spend a summers day than to play hockey. Sure it feels awkward to be playing a winter sport in the summer, but never the less. It is the time of the year that you really wish that would never end. It is almost like a summer camp or a pro-longed hockey road trip. A chance for a bunch of guys to talk crap for a few hours and go home and display a few bruises here and there.

Spring is also known as the time for love, if you are the romantic type and believe in the image Disney and others try to sell us. So in a way spring is a time of love for hockey players as well. For the competitions I mentioned above taking place and the fact that the game that I love is really getting started.

Love is a powerful feeling and it is essentially something that we as human beings live off of. We love our wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, kids, pets and so on, so you can really say that love is the single most powerful feelings a human being can experience. Hockey is a game of love. If you don’t love the game you will grow hating it and you will not be able to play it or watch it with full intent. If you do not have love for the game you will not be able to succeed or achieve success in the game. Despite hockey being an aggressive, fast paced collision sport and despite the rivalries between teams and individual players, all of us share one thing in common; Our love for the game.

Like any loving relationship, there will be bumps along the way, where you will question whether you truly love the game or you will have times when you feel at an utter loss with the sport and question why you are doing it. But for true love, it will always prevail.

Hockey players, no matter how tough they are, or what level of professional play they are at will almost always say that they love the game and love playing. We all share that same love that we had as kids playing on out door rinks and then developing it further.

That child like love for the game and being part of something is something every player can feel proud of. I doubt that if there were players out there who didn’t love the sport, or at least like it, they would still carry on playing.
So what will I take with me to the up and coming season then. Without sounding like a new age hippie the one thing I will carry with me through out the season is my love for the game. But love isn’t enough to succeed or carry me and my team along this season. We need to take things like pride, passion, aggression, identity, grit, determination and contentiousness into every training session and game and act like those training sessions or games would be the last ones we could ever experience, before the world ends.

That’s why hockey is a game that will make you a better person and will make you more susceptible to accept others and will help you succeed in life. All because of the one core element of love.

Saturday, 11 April 2009


Injuries are an unfortunate, but an everyday element of being a hockey player. Whether it is on ice hits or working out at the gym, players have come to expect that they will be injured at some stages of their career. Some more often than others.

What most people don’t realize that injuries are actually hidden opportunities. To recover from an injury, you require a certain element of problem solving skills and mental toughness. It is also an opportunity to rest yourself and get back to the game fresh compared to your team mates. It is also an opportunity for you to carry out mental rehearsals on your mind to visualise things that you do well and visualise the plays.

As you might have guessed when you started to read this, I am currently injured. I have a tear in one of my muscles in my hip and as a consequential result of that, I have managed to bugger up the ligaments that join the hip to the leg. Needless to say it is a tad bit painful. But for some reason, where in the past I have been disheartened by injuries and gotten back way too soon, I have managed to maintain a positive attitude towards this one. I have decided that I will use this injury, rather than let it use me. This way I believe that I will be a better player and a better person. Specially as the injury happened before our season started, so I am confident that I wont be losing any games.

What I have established is that by resting the injury will get better, though things like sitting hurts and sudden movements, such as muscle jerks hurt during sleep, the injury has gotten better already. It is not good enough to skate on just yet, but it will heal soon and in good time so that I can rehab myself and regain some of the strength that I am bound to lose during the healing process.

When I spoke to my parents about the injury their initial reaction was, well parent like. They wanted me to give up the sport, but then again, that is what they have said in the past as well on every injury that I’ve sustained. I am only using this as an example of the types of thoughts I can’t let take over my mind. This is letting the injury use me. I have all the confidence that I will be back from this injury, stronger, as a better player and most importantly a better person.

I have to tip my hat in admiration to one of my friends who is currently battling an injury, more severe than mine. He has been sidelined with a broken leg and the spirit he has shown is something that I can only aspire to. In many ways his attitude has been inspirational and convinced me that I will be able to bounce back by keeping a positive focus on things while i let the hip heal to a standard where I can start skating again.

Monday, 6 April 2009

One final look back/ Forwards Now...

With the season around the corner, I felt that it was apt to cast one last look back into the past to leave it truly behind. From this point forward, those things that have happened are put to rest and will be used as lessons for better playing, for better living. Though I will not write about the seasons gone, I will be using them as a resource to better myself as a player.

When I have been reflecting on the past two seasons I realise that I have had a number of factors that have made me a better player and a number of factors that inadvertently affected my performance. Rewind back to 2006. From the outset I had set a goal to win the national championships with the Spitfires, a dream that came to fruition from the end of that season in June I headed straight into the Summer Cup 2006. Before the Spitfires national title, I had played over 30 games in the regular season and I was looking at another 14 with the Cougars.

With the national title behind me I had set my sights onto the Cougars’ season, which proved to be successful in terms of team success and personal success. Bar the injury that I sustained, it was a great season on all fronts that just lacked the crowning moment of skating away with a medal. This was late August when I finished the season. From there I went into try outs with an ED1 team and made it to the roster, whilst already starting to train with the Spitfires. Though my ED1 plans didn’t pan out because of ITC issues, I was happy that I had proven to myself that I was good enough to play at that level.

So onto the Spitfires season 2007-2008 another 12 games from August to June that clashed severely with my Summer Cup 2007-2008. So managing 14 games of ice with the Inline took its toll. Not to mention getting married in the Summer of 2008, so there was a lot going on. My knee injury came back twice as bad due to my ignorance of not wanting to rest it. I played the whole summer period with every stride feeling like I had something stabbing at my knee. I was playing each game under heavy pain killers to try and make the skating as comfortable as possible. I was unable to do any leg exercises and I put on ridiculous amounts of weight because I wasn’t able to train at the same level of intensity as the year before.

So the summer finally came to an end and I was looking forward to a rest. I was mentally quite exhausted from two years of hockey straight. I know that the game is fun and I love the sport (something I will explore at another post), but there is a time when enough is enough and you need to take a breather.

I went into the new season in a new team pretty much at the end of August and where I enjoyed the chemistry with the team and the coaching, I was physically tired and nowhere nearly motivated enough to be fully prepared for the season and the intensity that was required to compete in the rinks. Though I had to give up the game because of money issues, I still think that in some cruel way it was a blessing in disguise. Where I still want to get back into the team, I am in a position where I can’t commit to it financially. Though it has allowed me to focus my energies and set some goals elsewhere. So with this extra time, what have I done with it to make myself better?

I have rested. Since giving up I have dedicated Wednesdays as a day of rest to allow my body to recover from the hammering I put myself through in training and the gym.

What I am getting at is that rest is important. No matter how much you love the sport you need time away from it. Hockey is one of the most demanding sports known to man and if you keep going at it non stop for three years, your body will be tired and your focus isn’t as sharp as it used to be when you were at your peak. Therefore, it is important to find the balance of work and rest in the game to make sure that you are able to recover and respond at the next game. A tired mind and/or a tired body is a dangerous combination and can lead to severe injuries or losing love for the game.

But like said, this is the last look into the past and dwelling on bygones. This is the final wave for goodbye. The direction is onwards and upwards. There’s only a quote that I can use to finish this post and this time I’m citing a Finnish band called The Lighthouse Project: “Forwards Now...”

What do you want?

Do you want to play hockey or do you want to be a hockey player?

A question that will separate the men from the boys and the pros from the ‘Joes’. Too many times when that question is asked, people aren’t able to give a straight or honest answer, or they answer the question to make sure that they give the answer they think is right for the team and not to them selves. If I sat in a changing room with my team, I could possibly point out which guys are there to play hockey and those that are hockey players. Sure, over 90% of the guys would say they were hockey players, but the statement wouldn’t be true to themselves, nor would it model their approach to hockey.

Do I want to be a hockey player or do I want to play hockey?

I can categorically say that I want to be a hockey player. I am willing to do everything that is required of a player on and off the ice. Whether it is sweating it out at the gym four times a week and then do the required on ice training. I have set myself goals that I am working to achieve and I have began using a variety of new techniques to perfect my game. I have found routine and things that make me comfortable. I can go into the corners knowing that I am strong on my feet and I will come out with the puck and still be able to hustle for it and get it on the net.

Hockey is about being confident with yourself. My mantra has been adopted from CCM (as sad as it sounds) when they first brought out their Vector range. I think it personified my identity as a hockey player really well. Now however, that mantra still being my backbone I am expanding my horizons to different elements of being out there.

If you asked what type of player I am from any of my team mates both past and present, I think adjectives like competitive, contentious, hard working, dedicated, loyal, trust worthy might come up. Those are the qualities that I model my self around.

I have recently also been reading a book and one of the exercises in the book was to discover your identity and who you aspire to be. Where it would be easy to listen to the sound of names drop, I can’t say that it would be my own identity. It would be the identity of the pros and wouldn’t truly reflect on my own commitments and how I want to be perceived on the ice. My identity, I suppose to a greater extent is expressed by my tattoo I have on my left deltoid. I have the Finnish coat of arms (or the Lion) which I suppose personifies my fighter’s spirit and the ‘Man can go through the grey stone’ attitude and Sisu I spoke of before in this blog. A lion is the king of the jungle, an elegant, fast and a smart animal that will ferociously defend its own and its territory. I feel that this personifies me really well and it is my identity and what I bring out in me every game, training and the gym.

I’ve often said that the stuff that goes on the ice is the easiest part of hockey for me. If you truly want to be successful and achieve greatness in the sport, you need to be willing to make sacrifices in your own time off the ice. Specially at this level where you are paying to play and invest a great deal of your time to the game. Those of us that take things seriously enough are willing to sacrifice time after work for runs, work outs and other activities that help us with our hockey skills will be the ones better off. Those are the guys who want to be hockey players. The ones who say that they are, but don’t quite fit into the description are not doing themselves any favours and only have a negative impact on the team by their lacklustre lip service words.

These guys want to be hockey players, but lack the willingness to take advice on board and the drive to do the extra bits that are required from each member of the team during the season. After all it is all about winning and not about taking part