The 19-year-old, fresh off his first NHL season with the Canucks, was looking for ideas on how to use his gobs of free time. His daily routine (for all but a week since the Canucks season ended mid-April) has been relatively cookie cutter: workout in the morning, grab something to eat and then see what’s up.
The afternoons began to drag for Virtanen, leading him out to Abbotsford in search of ideas.
“My parents were full of them,” laughed Virtanen, who turns 20 in August. “My dad suggested I take up golf with my free time, take some lessons and really focus on my game and see how good I could get.”
Virtanen pondered the plan and decided against it. He loves to golf, just not enough to give Jason Day a run for his money.
Workout more? Sleep? Read? Movies? Shop? Board games??
“My mom and I were on the same page and we started talking about how I have a bigger responsibility now, especially being from here. A lot of kids look up to me and we agreed I should act on that. I decided the best use of my time was to get out into the community.”
A meeting with Vancouver’s community relations team and Virtanen had five community appearances booked over the following two weeks. Excited, nervous, you name it – Virtanen dove in headfirst and he hasn’t stopped smiling since.
First up was an afternoon at the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Coast BC where Virtanen coloured, signed autographs and channeled his inner Patches O'Houlihan: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”
A trip to Ronald McDonald House BC two days later featured an afternoon of arts and crafts, alongside Canucks forward Emerson Etem.
A week later and Virtanen was at BC Children's Hospital seated beside seven-year-old Josh, an X-Box controller each, playing NHL15. He visited with Elayna, Denis, Audrey and many more during a three-hour stay, one with too many heartfelt moments to count.
Edmonds Community School in Burnaby was next on the agenda, as Virtanen dropped in as part of career week, speaking to the grade 6 and 7 students about his path to becoming an NHLer.
Last, but certainly not least, was a surprise stop-in at Britannia Hockey Academy, which the Canucks for Kids Fund has been providing grants to for more than six years.
Virtanen practiced with the players, sharing the secrets of his potent slapshot, while having some fun with the coach in the Oilers helmet.
“This has been an amazing experience,” said Virtanen, reflecting on his community visits. “I’d done some community work before, but never like this. The more you do, the more you want to do because the kids are incredible. They’re truly inspiring and knowing that I can help inspire them, or even just put a smile on their face or make them laugh, is a great feeling.”
The only downside in all this for Virtanen will be his inability to stay on the fairway this summer.
He's just fine with that.