As a kid growing up in Canada, it’s inevitable that hockey will become a big part of your life – whether you want it to be or not. Being from a country that has produced stars such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, I remember imitating these national heroes when playing street hockey with my brother and the neighbors after school in our cul-de-sac. We would watch local Junior A games on Thursday nights, play floor hockey during gym class, cheer for our beloved Vancouver Canucks while waving our white towels during playoffs and scream at the TV during the World Championships or Olympics when Team Canada was battling for gold. Members of the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team were Gods to me when in elementary school. Hayley Wickenheiser was a role model for all young girls, especially when she had success in men’s pro leagues in the off-season. I remember begging my dad to let me play girls hockey, even ringette – but he wasn’t hearing it. “Too dangerous,” or “I don’t want you to get hurt” was always the response. Looking back, I realize he was probably worried I’d twist a knee or hurt my shooting hand and basketball would be out of the picture ☺. I have memories of proudly wearing my yellow, black and orange Canuck t-shirt, trying to find the Russian Rocket’s (Pavel Bure) house on Marine Drive with my cousin while she was crying (literally crying) with happiness when she thought she saw it, showing off my Bure, Kirk McLean and Trevor Linden trading cards at school, how the NHL Playoffs always brought out the best in people and united the city. Canuck flags would be waving out car windows, people wearing jerseys everyday of the week – even to work, pots being banged or random car horns honking in the early evening, signaling a Vancouver goal. Even though my brother and I never played organized hockey or attended many live NHL games, following the Canucks on TV or sipping hot chocolate at the cold ice rink while supporting our friends who played on the local teams like the Richmond Sockeyes or the Sefair Islanders was a big part of our lives. I wouldn’t label myself a hockey fan (as I don’t really follow the NHL), rather a Canuck fan and someone who reps Canada hard when the National Teams are abroad protecting Canada’s reputation as the best in the World. Hockey is a huge part of Canadian culture, and even though it’s not our national sport, I’m very thankful it was a big part of my childhood growing up. Living in this type of atmosphere as a kid, you’d think I’d seen it all when it comes to hockey. Wrong! Finland continues to surprise me with its uniqueness. With the West Coast rarely receiving snow during the winter, it’s hard to find an outdoor hockey or skating rink (except if you count the big frozen puddle at Garry Point!) Due to the freezing weather in Finland, it's no surprise they are a dime a dozen in this country. Outside my apartment, across the street from the entrance you can find 2 huge man made hockey rinks and a skating track. There are no boards, but lines are painted on the ice. Big stadium lights surround the area, where people of all ages play hockey and speed skate all hours of the day. Organized games are played on the weekends. The lights turn on at 6am and off at 9pm. (This gets slightly annoying when you hear slap shots at 6:30 in the morning on a weekday or weekend!) And it doesn’t stop there. Kids of all ages routinely tote their hockey sticks to school with their backpacks. There is a hockey rink attached to our gym (along with an indoor track) where we see the hockey players run daily outside, work on plyos at the indoor track, and lift in the weight room. If there’s a hockey game at the arena that night, it is best to avoid the area, as traffic is insane with street patrollers directing cars in this tucked away area of Jyväskylä.
And it gets better with 2 words: floor ball. Ever heard of it? Neither had I until I started to witness it everyday after basketball practice and to my astonishment, see it on Finnish TV almost nightly. Floor ball is basically floor hockey. It’s played in a gym with players wearing runners and jerseys. And these aren’t little kids, these are teenagers and guys well into their 20’s. The goalies are all geared up, minus sticks and bulky pads. And get this - there are boards that connect around the gym to create a regulation oval. The game is played with plastic sticks and a wiffle ball, with the physical part of hockey still intact. The stick handling is very impressive and player’s jerseys are adorned with as many sponsors as ours – the game is serious. This isn’t like killing time in gym class for fun, these guys are playing to win and take no mercy even when going against their teammates. Mikko told me that the players who play floor ball are the ice hockey rejects and scoffs at it being called a sport. In my opinion, it’s definitely a sport – more so than golf. But it’s hard to believe something like this could be so popular that people are charged to attend games and that some gyms are specifically designed for floor ball and are broadcasted on television for viewers to watch in the comfort of their home. Crazy! You’d think with all the hockey that’s going on in Finland, they would be challenging the Canadians and Russians for gold every year. Notable players from Suomi (Finland) include Saku Koivu, Teemu Selänne, Miikka Kiprusoff and ex-Canuck Jaarko Ruutu.
Anyway, I’m starting to get uncomfortable as I’m sitting on the bus heading for game 1 of 2 this weekend. Time to turn off my computer and relax. I have to mentally prep for my pre-game Soulja Boy dance with Charlee…it’s a routine that has proved to make us both play well when we rock the beat!
Click play to watch the video above!
Sidenote: Thanks for the peanut butter and jam Kat – you rock!