Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Throughout this blog I have been discussing my goals and aspirations as a hockey player. Where the last post ultimately dwelled on the some times negative feelings and insecurities that you face in the game, it is important to reflect on your goals that you have set for the season. Thing I realised from yesterday’s post was that it is a tool that I can use. Winners and successful hockey players use everything around them for motivation and success. At the end of the day, I played a strong game with good stride and had a good time playing my position and my role.

I thought that by revisiting and reiterating my goals, I will keep them fresh in my mind, rather than as a lip service thought at the back of my mind. This way my goals will become clear to me and help me find extra motivation to bust my ass for greater success.

When I started this blog, I was very much focussed on trying to get back into shape from a knee injury that had ruined my season before. That goal has now been achieved and I have been able to remain (relatively) healthy and train without any pain in my knees what so ever, so that is one goal that I can tick off from my list straight off the back.

As a team goal, I have set my sights for the playoffs and I hope that everyone else in the team would be working to that same goal. There is a lot of work to be done, but looking at the width and breadth of our roster, we have all the tools to go far. We have had some great players come into making the roster even stronger. I am confident that we will be able to turn tight game to our advantage and that our season will carry on until August.

Individual level I have set the bar high. You can only reach great heights if the sky is your only limit. My personal best has been 13 goals and 5 assists, which equals 18 points during the season. Now that points total has to rise up by an additional 13 points.

Those are just three of my goals. Winning is the most important thing and winning those all important games away is even more important. I know I am faster than most of the defensemen I play against and I can out skate them with ease. But how do you do it? By confidence, by having belief in yourself that you can do it and knowing that you are a great hockey player. That is half the battle. I am sure that my confidence will grow with the new line I am playing on and with the opportunity to move the puck.

These goals are not lip service goals or something I say half heartedly. These are goals that I think about every waking moment of the day. Objectives that are achievable and manageable, that make life worth living for and all those long nights on the rink. 90% of the hard work is done off the ice and I find that often the things that go on the ice is the most easiest part of reaching those goals, but it is still hard work.

To finish I can only describe my mentality by Sisu or by quoting the great Don Cherry: “Remember, it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.”

Monday, 30 March 2009


One thing I have found of great use in my preparation for the season has been Saul L. Miller’s book Hockey Tough. Basically the book goes through sports psychology procedures you can run through in your head. Some of the things he has said in the book have become a part of my inner mantra that now resonates to my life off the rink. I suppose the greatest lesson I have learnt from the book is that a players’ mind is their greatest weapon and their worst enemy.

If harnessed and managed right at all times, players can remain more focussed and are able to energise themselves through repeating simple breathing exercises and visualisation exercises. What I have found of great use is visualising. I now dedicate five minutes of the time before we hit the ice to visualising the plays and other teams and playing with my line. Making good solid passes and taking shots on net.

However, one thing I learnt of my mind over the weekend was that it can be my worst enemy and a greater opponent than any other team ever could be. In a recent game and the heat of the action one of the players took a slap shot, which hit my blade and ricocheted straight into my mouth. I remember the puck hitting me and falling to the ice holding my mouth and trying to feverishly feel whether my teeth were still intact or whether my gumshield was the only thing holding them in. After I realised that there wasn’t any blood dripping from my mouth I skated off to the bench to re-group.

I suppose the expression on my face was comparable to the 1000 yard stare often talked about with war veterans. I was staring blankly into space with my feet and hands shaking from all the adrenaline that had been released into my body. After I had calmed down and gotten back into the game following the old Finnish proverb: Akkia uudestaan ennenkun tulee kammo (transl: Quick, get back into it before you get scared).

What I quickly realised though was that I was not focussed as I was at the start. I was hesitant to go and battle for the puck and I was generally shying away from sticks that were higher off the ice than my knee and I wasn’t driving the net with the same kind of force.

I was utterly lost and I knew it. I had started to squeeze the stick, I was tense and none of the breathing techniques seemed to work on me. I played at maybe 25% of my full efficiency in a tight game. If it wasn’t for a short bench I would’ve asked to be benched, and I’m sure the coach would’ve done the same.

However when we went into the 3rd period a tem mate gave me a good pep talk which really helped. I was playing a lot better in the third despite still being scared. Fear is something that I cannot carry with me to the rink. Despite my parents’ and wife’s concerns for my safety I must accept that these bumps and bruises are part of the game and part of life as a hockey player.

A piece of preparation that I need to work on beside my physical strength is the strength of my mind, so that small bruises such as these don’t hurt me. I’m OK being hit on the boards, that does not phase me, but a minor incident like a puck in the face seems to cripple me. Though I know it was a freak accident and something that I would normally block with my legs, it won’t slow me down. If it had slowed me down, I would’ve cried off from the game.

Besides, isn’t Purple the ‘IN’ colour of the season?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

... And So We Learn

With April and the season just around the corner, preparation is ramping up. Pre-season training is slowly being turned to in-season programmes and training intensity is higher than before. We are also getting used to the rigours of playing games, which is something that I must admit we’ve all been aching to do since our last game a year ago.

We haven’t played that many games yet, two to be honest, and preparation could be a bit more demanding, in terms of getting the appropriate readiness and read of situations. Our latest effort was against Oxford Bulls, a team that we had always had great success against and I think to a degree we were all looking for a relatively easy night and a high scoring affair as those games of the past had been. We took to the ice realising that there was only one player from the roster we once knew and everyone else were completely new and spoke with a strange central European or North American twang.

We drew the game 5-5 after being two goals up at the final two minutes of the game. What caused the unfortunate turn of events was a few defensive lapses where our goalie was left high and dry. Bit of a shame to such a strong game he played. A player who has just started to play again and hasn’t been on the ice for 4-5 years caused one of the defensive lapses. I spoke to the guy after the game and undoubtedly he was disappointed to have cost his team the win. I was disappointed to have drawn the match, after all I go out there every night to fight for a win.

But what I found interesting when I spoke to the guy, was that I was actually encouraging him, rather than giving him whippings for his mistake. It was quite clear that he was in enough of a distress over his lapse that his team mate adding to it would do him no good.

Mistakes are something we make throughout life and they are made to be learnt from. Just as in my last post about building a solid base fitness and learning from your past mistakes, mistakes are ultimately what make us better as people and as players. The only true concern is that if we make the same mistakes again and again, which would show people around you that you don’t take any notice of your actions or how they affect those around you. This approach has devastating consequences in sports, specially team sports where sometimes the success of a team depends on an individuals’ performance and whether they have learned from past mistakes.

I remember in my youth days I had a coach who would hand pick me as an example of how not to do things. Bit embarrassing to be called upon time and time again, but it was an effective way of learning from my mistakes that I made in training. This ensured that I would carry what I learnt into the games and would not make costly mistakes there.

When we learn from mistakes, whether it is in a game situation, training or at the gym, it makes us stronger individuals and stronger as a team. Sure it is frustrating and like said many times before, hockey is an adrenaline filled sport so tempers do flare up if things don’t always go the way you plan. I don’t want to sound like a new age hippy or a tree hugger, but eventually once you get over the initial reaction go back to the guys and explain why you reacted the way you did and how they can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Hockey, more than any other sport is about making the right reads and being able to make decisions in a few fractions of a second. Players must have the ability to make a play when a guy is baring down on them and before being laid out on the board. It is about reading and anticipating and taking the hit.

I’ve learnt from my mistakes on the ice and life in general. I think last summer’s experience with HPK revealed my one true mistake that I didn’t learn from on time or pursue hard enough as a kid was a pro hockey career. I am now training hard for making that dream a reality and time will tell, whether I have learnt from that mistake enough to push for that ‘spot in the sun’.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

When Rome Was Built

Our ancestors have taught us a lot. Maybe the most important lesson we could have learned is to learn from their mistakes and not fall foul to the same ones they did once upon a time. If only we were that wise to take heed of the teachings they left us. There is a saying that was used of ancient Rome, which was “Rome was not built in a day”. I am slowly starting to see what they meant by this and what people should learn from those that have passed.

Patience has never really been one of my true virtues. I always lived life with the mentality that I want everything and I want it now and if it wasn’t done 5 minutes ago I would start fretting and worrying things weren’t going my way. Same with hockey; I wanted results and I wanted them instantaneously. I wanted that every shot I took went in to the net, I wanted that every play I made would finally break the opponent’s back and us win the game. It was same with preparation and pre season work out. My mentality used to be that I relied on my speed and skills to carry me through, I soon realised that passion and skill alone aren’t enough.

Whilst I’m approaching the end of the most gruelling pre-season preparation (6 months) I realise that endurance and strength are not built in a day, just like Rome. It takes time to achieve perfection and even then there are flaws. Flaws that you will have to work on to improve. The truth is that the minute you are happy with what you have got, your empire will crumble down. You need to be on the edge and be that little bit uncomfortable to seek consistent improvement, day in day out.

Skill and dedication is what champions are made of. If hockey would be an individual sport I think I would be contending for championships based on the amount of work I put in. However hockey relies on 35 individuals pulling together for any team to win. There are individuals in a team that are stronger and skilled and there are those who require guidance. When I look back on my ‘career’ I realise that I have been an arrogant player. I set everyone high standards, my standards, and if they didn’t play to those standards I would disregard the player. Whether it was that they weren’t as skilled or fast or just plain arrogant, I thought they would not have a place on the team and that they did not serve a purpose. Not a very positive way of thinking from a player that needs to stay focussed and positive through out the season, even when the odds are against you.

Instead of guiding and advising the players my nature and personality flared up and I threw my toys out of the pram on more than one occasion. I’m sure that my former team mates from the Spitfires will have fond memories over my tantrums that they will laugh over pints. What I realise now is that I need to take a positive focus on every shift and focus on the things that my line does well and ignore the negatives. Kind of like managing a TV, if the programme that is on is not to your liking change the channel. I think I’m experienced enough to give some guidance to those who need it and let them tune into my TV and the way I see things on the ice. After all it takes time to build a team and for guys to gel together, remember, Rome was not built in a day, neither are winning hockey teams.

That goes for me as an individual as well. Instead of thinking that I will miss the net with every shot I need to think that every single fucking shot is going to hit the target and is difficult for the goalie to save. Through this thinking the puck will find the net and I will be able to help my team more. I suppose the same attitude and mentality can be applied to all aspects of life. If the channel on your mind’s TV does not please you, change it I.E change your way of thinking.

A good friend of mine has been a great help to me on staying positive and has generally been a source for true inspiration. I think the success that I achieve this season and during the next few are largely due to his positive attitude and for spurring me on when I wanted to give up. Still following the Rome analogy, he has been like the Caesars’ right hand man, but in this case off the ice. I hope I can re-pay him and my wife back one day for being there to guide me and managing my mental TV when all seems lost.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Head game

As the NHL GM’s meet, one of the hot topics in the sport at the moment are fighting and hits to the head. Not too long ago we learnt of a tragic death of Don Sanderson. Don shot from obscurity to being recognized by the hockey world at large. Don died following a fight in December 2008 and his death sent shockwaves through the hockey community.

Where I take grievance in the fact that a young life was lost in a hockey game and to my knowledge he is the first one to do so after Bill Masterton. Sure there have been instances where players have passed away due to heart or other health problems mid game, but not from a physical altercation like a hit, or a fight.

The other hot topic at the moment is hits to the head, which is obviously concerning, given that the rates of concussion went up last season. Hits to the head are concerning because the consequences are life threatening. Where I find these types of injuries and concerning and I have been at a receiving end of a few hits to the head during my time, I have grown to accept it as part of the game.

Hockey is a high intensity contact sport and it requires players to stay alert at all times. Every time you lace up the skates you try and put it at the back of your mind that you might get seriously injured. You put your trust in the fact that you keep alert and you keep your head up and you will skate out relatively unharmed. Sure there will be a few bumps and bruises, but as long as you escape without serious injury you will be fine.

Injuries are something that happen and where they are annoying and undoubtedly painful, you can always heal ligaments, broken bones and muscle sprains, you can never fully heal a brain. Hockey is about being fearless and being brave to go to the corners. Hits hurt momentarily, but they are essentially quite fun and a core strategic part of the game.

I just hope that the NHL doesn’t strip away the essence of hockey in fighting. There is no other sport in the world where aggression and adrenaline are allowed to flow as freely as it is in a hockey game. But at the same time I hope we have all learnt a lesson from Don Sanderson and I wish that his family and friends find peace and that Don’s death is not forgotten.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Winning Ways

Many times I am asked about why I play hockey and I always, for some reason, struggle to answer the question coherently. I suppose there is no one word answer for it and we often go into length explaining why it is we do it. Recently I watched my wife play a game and it was her first ever win in ice hockey and it was at the moment of the final buzzer that I realized why we play this game.

Hockey is about goals and achievements. Achievements are what we cherish and find strength to carry on. Rather than analyse the deeper meaning of achievement again, I decided to remind my self of my best hockey achievements. These are the memories that help me strive forward and push on another day. These are the achievements that make me want to achieve more and to experience that feeling of winning and accomplishment.

1.)Pee-wee champions for the Hame region. Rewind back to 1992, it was my first ever hockey season and our team, the Parola Chicago Blackhawks was a team that no-one hade real expectations for. I enjoyed playing the game and as funny as it may sound, I asked to play as a defender to begin with, because I was afraid that I didn’t know how to score. However the coaches realised that I was a fast enough skater so they planted me as a winger. My first game I probably spent more time off-side than doing anything really useful for the team. What made the team exceptional was that we were all friends and we wanted to have fun playing. We went the whole season undefeated and the only time we didn’t win was when we drew 1-1 against a team called the Flyers. I can’t remember where they were based, but we got our re-match with them at the finals. We won the final and I can’t remember the final score, but I remember like it was being on top of the world and I wanted to celebrate the win like I’d seen the pros do it on TV, but I was a tad too young to empty a keg of beer and champagne bottles.

2.)Dutch Hans Bruck Bokaal. My first senior win and title. It was a long and arduous season, we found ourselves winning a team we’d played close games against before. On both occasions in the regular season we had lost and the overall feeling was that we were going to drop the final games as well. However something inside me changed when our team captain gestured the hoisting of the cup that I realised that we were actually going to win it. That realisation and the little bit of a buzz that I knew was the win was something I wanted to hold on to. It was something that I drew strength from during the finals and I didn’t want that feeling to escape and the season end with 25 guys holding their heads in their hands at the end. I can’t ever remember playing a tougher game in my life, but in the end all the hits that I took and all the dirty work I did at our own defensive zone paid off. I suppose this time I got my TV ending and celebrated like a pro on TV. Man was I ever sick and nursed the hangover of a life time, which carried on for a quite a while as we gathered our kit and drank Bacardi and Coke the day after. What makes it funnier is that I had my Chemistry final, which I royally bombed on the Monday after. I think it was a small price to pay.

3.)BUICH 2006 National Championships. Playing a series of 8 games on the hottest day of the year in a rink where there is hardly any air-conditioning. I can’t remember ever being as nervous as I was at the start of every game on that day. I wanted to win so bad as it was my goal at the start of the season and the last year of eligibility. The season before was a complete disappointment with the team crashing in the tournament. Sure I have fond memories of the losing trip, but still. The ending couldn’t have been better. We beat the ‘arch’ rivals Portsmouth in the final, which was easier than beating Sheffield whose roster included a lot of good talent. I’m not saying that Portsmouth was a terrible team, but Sheffield were a bit more talented, specially their own end. I remember scoring a goal and making a terrible giveaway which allowed Pompey to score, though I did redeem myself by setting up two goals. I think the reason we won the title was because of our coach who made sure we were all level headed and did things the right way. At the end of the day we walked away with the trophy and despite me hogging the trophy. I weighed myself the day after and I had lost 5kg of weight just through liquid. Though I didn’t celebrate by drinking alcohol as I was T-Total back in those days, it took me a week to recover from those games and the heat. Again a small sacrifice

Those are my three finest memories that I look back on. Though there are more occasions I get more motivation from the list would grow too long to list here. I am fully aware that there are probably more disappointments along the way to achieving these successes, but without sticking your nose into every possible situation, you cannot win. If you are not willing to lay it all down on the line you can’t expect to achieve and live these types of moments of glory.

So what does this have anything to do with my wife winning a game. It was seeing the joy on her face and her team mates, that I realised that these are the moments we play for and achieving that moment of jubilation is worth going through hell again and again. It does not matter whether it is a regular season win or a championship, but when you have been down on your luck even the smallest of wins can uplift you and turn your life around.

I can’t think of another way to end this blog than by quoting lines Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘The Wrestler’: These things have comforted me, My only faith’s the broken bones and bruises I display’ and of course, the memories and achievements that fulfil my playing life and my personal life.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Worth so much more

Looking at the picture I chose for the header of this blog, I feel an immense longing back to my childhood. I remember when the highlight of the day was to go play shinny with my friends on an out-door rink they used to freeze at the school. You would get everyone there, the pre-schoolers, high-school kids, adults, I mean everyone. Normally the rink would be full and people would take slapshots and what-not until someone plucked up the courage to put up a shinny. Everyone would line up and equal teams were picked, regardless of your ability, skills or age. Everyone got to play.

What was great about it was that you really got to meet people and have a good hearted competition. There was no trophies handed out in the end, no stats held of who scored the most goals or man of the match awards. It was all good clean fun, just as it was intended to be. When the weather was too cold and that 5km bike ride to the rink was a bit too much, you would put up a game of street hockey with the kids from the block. There were no goals, you would just build two piles of snow that would act as posts and off you went. Sure the cars that would drive past would ruin the game and the posts, but it was a minor nuisance.

I think one of my fondest memories is me playing on my own against my dad and my brother. It was a new-years eve and we had a best of seven series going. Needless to say I was outnumbered and outscored, whilst I was juggling to play outfield and goal at the same time. It was a great experience and it didn’t matter whether you won or not, it was all about taking part and having fun.

Now all those years have passed and I have a different take on the game. I am more serious about the way I look at it and prepare. It is all about winning now days, but I look back at those games and the cold nights spent falling in love with the game and I realise that it is that child’s innocence and enthusiasm every person has for the game, no matter what level and how much they are earning to play hockey. Maybe taking part is not the main priority anymore and the goals are set higher, but it is still that same passion that keeps me going. After years out of the game I am now, again, madly in love with the sport that has been such a big part of my life and has given me so much. If you really want to get to the semantics of it, I met my wife because of hockey and I’ve met some of my best friends through the sport.

Friendships and achievements go hand in hand. I will always cherish the memories of hockey/poker nights at people’s houses where we could be spectators once more and have a good laugh over a few beers. Maybe the most important thing that hockey has given me is not the trophies and medals I have on my bookshelf, but the memories and friends I have garnered through out the years. I wish one day, when I am old and wrinkly, I can sit in my rocking chair and look at the photographs I have from those days and reminisce these days of glory that I am now living through.

Monday, 2 March 2009


I mentioned this word in my last post and I thought that this word, or rather mentality needs to be explored a bit more closely for it to make sense in the previous and how it ties into hockey.

Sisu is an expression that Finns use quite regularly and is internationally recognised in the world of sport due to commentators often (mainly in motorsports) referring to Finnish competitors of having Sisu. Roman Schaz described sisu by: "It is the ability to finish a task and get things done" in his book From Finland With Love. The word Sisu itself is closely associated with courage or bravery, though it doesn't mean the same thing. Sisu is something else, which I suppose embodies my whole existence in one way or another.

Sisu means getting things done and defeating obstacles no matter how hard they may seem. There is also a saying that goes "Suomalainen mies menee lapi harmaan kiven" or translated "A Finnish man will go through the most solid of rocks", this is Sisu. It means relentlessness and not giving up under any circumstance. Sisu means being able to overcome ones' inhibitions and rise above your very being.

So how does this relate to hockey? Hockey is a game that requires Sisu. When you look at the athletes or the professional Finns like Saku Koivu, who demonstrated great amounts of Sisu by defeating cancer and a severe eye injury or Teemu Selanne, who inturn demonstrated Sisu by being the only player to score back to back 40+ goal seasons while he was over the age of 35 and winning the Stanley Cup after 13 years of trying. That is Sisu! Koivu and Selanne are just a few examples of guys who demonstrate Sisu, there are others equally note worthy like Jere Lehtinen, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Tuomo and Jarkko Ruutu to mention but a few.

To me Sisu means that I am able to do things that I discuss in this blog. To go and lace up the skates, fight for every opportunity to score a goal, to take a big hit and give a hit back. Most of all to me it means that I will never give up no matter how bleak a situation looks like.

I try and apply this 'methodology' to other aspects of life as well. In other aspects of my life Sisu has helped me through tough times and I use it to help others, to try and carry some of the weight they bare on their shoulders, or atleast make that load feel lighter.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Time Draws Near

It is now March, which means that I have effectively come to the last stages of pre-season preparation. The so called 'off season' is now effectively behind me and I'm into the pre season training, which effectively is a six week intensive conditioning programme to get all systems going.

As I look at the calendar on the wall, I realise that it is almost getting to the stage where my work will be put to a serious test. What I started in late September is going to be scrutinised in every sense come April. There will not be a harsher critics than me, myself and I. Coming from a personally dissapointing season, I have a yearning to prove my capabilities and really show that true dedication will make winners out of people. September 2008 seems an awfully long time ago, but my road isn't even half way there. Through this blog and those of others have helped me put things into perspective and gain a new appreciation for the sport. I still think that I am the same fiery fighter inside I was a few years ago. The type of player who will drive to the net and sacrifice everything for the team. This season has to be the one where I step up my game. My on ice performance will be analysed by myself after each shift, period and game.

I am deliberately setting the bar high formyself, because if you don't reach high, you can't achieve anything. If I would have a modest goal I would probably reach it and be happy about it for a while, but not now. Now is the time to raise the performance,preparation and everything that goes on and off the ice.

I can't be gimicky like those professionals that I look up to, but I must be myself. I need to show that Finnish fighting spirit, Sisu as they call it, and bring that to my game more and more. The problem with trying to imitate a pro from the NHL is that you will end up looking like a twat. It is best to find your own personality and what works for you. I am not an Alex Ovechkin, Vinny Lecavalier or Saku Koivu. I am Janne Virtanen, but most importantly, I AM a hockey player. That is all that matters.