Day: December 22, 2016

Koivula’s connecting, people

By Risto Pakarinen World Junior 2017

After all, they both have come up through the Tampere junior system, Laine in Tappara, Koivula in Ilves. Also, they’re both big forwards – Laine is listed at 194 centimetres and 91 kg, Koivula at 190 cm and 100 kg – who like to score goals. And they’re about the same age. Laine turns 19 in April, Koivula next September.

It would be easy to make those comparisons but it’s also unnecessary because they’re two different players. However, it doesn’t mean it’s easy for Koivula to not wonder where he may be in a year or so.

“Maybe I do look at Laine and [Jesse] Puljujarvi and compare my career to theirs, but it’s also true that we’re different players at different stages in our careers. Having said that, it sometimes makes me a little desperate, being here in smaller circles… but at the same time, I love seeing them do as well as they are, and it gives me hope that someday I can be [in the NHL], too,” he told IIHF.com.

While Laine was voted Finnish league playoffs MVP and was named to the Finnish team for the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Koivula was the Finnish junior league playoffs MVP, having scored 26 goals and 58 points in 49 regular seasons, and adding 5+7=12 points in seven playoffs games as his Ilves won the title. Koivula scored the championship clinching goal with 20 seconds remaining in Game 2 of the best-of-three series.

This season, he’s taken the step from the junior team to the Ilves men’s team and hasn’t looked out of place. He’s played all 29 games before the U20 camp, averaging a little over 15 minutes per game, and has six goals and 16 points, third on the team. Koivula is on pace to score 27 points in 50 games which is line with what some of the recent top rookies have accomplished in the Finnish league.

The 2016 Rookie of the Year, Laine, scored 33 points in 48 games, finishing 37th in the league. The 2015 winner, defenceman Otso Rantakari scored 29 points in 56 games, the 2013 rookie of the year, Artturi Lehkonen, collected 30 points in 45 games, and the 2012 top newcomer, Teuvo Teravainen, 18 points in 40 games. (In 2014, the rookie was goaltender Juuse Saros).

All three forwards in the above list are now in the NHL and that’s where Koivula, the New York Islanders’ fourth-round pick from 2016, has set his goal as well. And while he may sometimes get discouraged, he knows he’s heading in the right direction.

“I’m pleased with the first half of the season. After all, it’s my first season in the top Finnish league and while I have high expectations for myself, it’s good to be realistic, too. It’d too much to expect me to score goals or points in every game so I have to learn to play consistently well in other ways as well,” he says.

It may be unrealistic to expect him to score at a point-per-game pace in the top Finnish league, but it’s not unexpected that that’s where his mind is set. That’s exactly what he’s done in the juniors.

“Scoring is what has taken me here and made me a pro player now, but the Finnish league is a tough league. What has surprised me the most is to see how hard it is to win games. In the juniors, we could play poorly for most of the game, then score a couple of goals and win,” he says.

That won’t do in the pro league, and it’s definitely not going to be good enough at the World Juniors.

“Everything goes up a notch, and while you can mentally prepare for it, and get ready to skate faster, shoot faster, and pass faster, that there’s less time to do anything, the adaptation starts when we hit the ice there,” he says.

Finland enters the tournament as reigning champions, and Koivula thinks that gives the team a boost.

“I hope it gives us positive energy. I don’t think we feel any pressure, anyway, it’s a new team, but of course it’s exciting to try to win another championship,” he says.

The native of Nokia has his feet on the ground even if he still allows himself to dream. And if he needs proof of how quickly things can change, all he has to do is look back at how his own life has changed in a year.

Last year, on a regular Tuesday, Koivula got up at six, and started his moped car at 6.30 to drive it to the rink for practice and then to his high school. Today, he has a real car, and the Ilves Finnish league team practises later so he can sleep until 8 am. And, he’s put school on hold for the time being.

“I’m still registered, and haven’t dropped out, but I wanted to focus on hockey this year. It’s a big year for me,” he says.

Ice hockey teen duo hopes to do Singapore proud in 2017

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/image/3384084/1482331927000/large16x9/768/432/ice-hockey-pic-3.jpg

By

At the tender age of four, his mother took him to an ice rink in Singapore to dabble in figure skating.

After watching ice hockey players who also happened to be there, Singapore-born Richard O’Brien, who has American parentage, instead chose to master the stick and puck on ice.

Fast forward to 2016, and the 18-year-old is now a member of the national squad, training together with players who are mostly 10 years his senior.

“I’ve been playing in the national team for two years now. A lot of my friends are surprised that I play ice hockey, especially in Singapore,” said the Catholic Junior College science student. 

Before he enlists for National Service after completing his A-Levels next year, O’Brien is hoping to help Team Singapore win a medal at the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, when the sport will make its debut appearance at the regional competition.

He said: “Next year will be quite tough to balance everything, since the SEA Games will be held right around when the prelim (exams) will be.

“Our training sessions are quite late at night, so I use most of the day to complete my school work and do my studying. It’s been okay so far.”

The elevation of ice hockey to a SEA Games event comes at a time when there is growing interest in the sport in Singapore, although most players are foreigners.

Drop by any ice hockey league game at JCube on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights, and one would notice a majority of American and European expatriates playing the sport. But as O’Brien observed, more Singaporeans are beginning to take it up.

He said: “Currently, I would say that the sport caters to a lot of expats, but there’s been a much larger increase in the number of Singaporean players playing the sport from the time I started venturing into ice hockey.”

He added: “(Back then), there were very few Singaporeans playing and most were of mixed-parentage like I was, with parents who were from overseas and played ice hockey as a child. Now though, there are a lot more Singaporeans who are joining and taking up this sport.”

Having a diverse membership in the national team is an experience in itself for O’Brien, with players of various ages and backgrounds coming together to form the national team: “It’s a very lively locker room. There’s a lot of Singlish and Hokkien being spoken, which makes for an interesting mix.”

He added: “Initially when I joined, I felt like the little kid in the national squad, but I feel like I’ve earned my place in the team. I definitely still feel like one of the younger players, but I think I’ve earned the respect of my team, especially since I’ve been with the squad for two years now.”    

USING SPEED TO MAKE UP FOR LACK OF SIZE

Just like O’Brien, team-mate Ryan Tan is also preparing for his A-Levels. At 17, the Raffles Institution student is the youngest member of the ice hockey national team.

Although he does not possess O’Brien’s height, what Tan lacks in physicality, he makes up for with guile: “One of my assets is speed. Being light, I’m slightly faster but I also have a disadvantage when it comes to size and experience. That’s where we help each other out on the ice.”

“Being smaller may be a disadvantage, but it also means I can squeeze out of a situation more easily. Also, being aggressive isn’t just about physicality but it’s also a mental trait as well which makes me do well in international games,” he added.

Noting how ice hockey is an extremely fast-paced team sport, Tan said that it is not enough to be good at a single skill in order to be a useful member of the team: “The sport is very dynamic as you need a combination of attributes, and not just speed or size.”

NEW TALENT TO HELP DEVELOP THE SPORT

Developing new talent is essential for the growth of ice hockey in Singapore, according to Singapore Ice Hockey Association (SIHA) president Alphonsus Jude Joseph, and introducing younger players like O’Brien and Tan to the national set-up will help achieve that. 

Joseph, who also plays for the national side, said that both teens are key to the future of Team Singapore: “Both of them will be the main building blocks for the national squad. They’ve got a good 10 to 15 more years ahead of them, in terms of playing international games.

“(Having them in the squad) is all part of bringing in the next generation into the national team. It gives them the clearance to play in high-level competitions from young and be able to lead the (other) youth players once they grow older.”

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Despite the physical and technical demands of the sport, O’Brien insists that ice hockey does not solely rely on the stamina and pace of its younger players, and appeals to a wide cross-section of people.

He said: “I wouldn’t say (ice hockey) suits younger or older players more. It’s just the kind of player you are – if you’re the kind that enjoys fast-paced action, then this is what will suit you. It’s also more about having the kind of stamina where you’ll have to make constant short bursts, like for example in a 400m runner. That’s probably the closest equivalent to the kind of stamina you’d want to have.”

SIHA’s head of coaching development, Kevin Tan, hopes the teen duo will inspire more youths to take up ice hockey in Singapore: “The current senior squad grew up playing together, and are now starting their own families and advancing in their respective careers outside the sport.”

He added that the sport is at a transitional phase of grooming players (like O’Brien and Tan) to take over from the present batch. “(Hopefully), they can be role models for our youth to pick up the sport, and someday represent Singapore on the international stage.”