It seems like every NHL player has an outdoor hockey story from their childhood.
Whether the ice surface was in a big city in North America or a tiny village in Eastern Europe, almost every player has their special tale of spending hour after frozen hour on a pond or outdoor rink.
We've seen and heard more of those stories with the advent of annual outdoor NHL games, including the 2011 Heritage Classic, which will feature the Calgary Flames playing the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Feb. 20.
Many will talk about playing from sun-up to sundown -- or even later.
Only in the case of Flames center Olli Jokinen
, he and his friends had to get a little creative in extending their outdoor time.
Jokinen grew up in the small town of Kuopio, Finland. Located about 240 miles north of Helsinki, in the central part of the Scandinavian country, Kuopio didn't offer much choice in the matter if Jokinen and his friends wanted to play hockey.
"The city where I grew up, at the time, we had one indoor rink," Jokinen told NHL.com. "You had no other choice. Once a month you got an indoor game. The rest of the time, you're outside."
Not that he's complaining, of course.
"You were usually able to skate outdoors a good six months, easily," he said. "Lot of snow. Sometimes after five minutes you had to stop the game and shovel the snow out and then keep going. It was all good. It was a really good experience going through that as a young kid. You didn't know any better. It was the normal thing."
Because he didn't start playing indoors regularly until he was 12, the outdoor rink near his home was where Jokinen spent most of his days. He and his friends would play as long as they could, but since the lights at the rink were programmed to turn off at a certain time, young Olli and his friends had to be a bit resourceful when they wanted to play longer.
"They turned the lights off at 10 p.m., but we found a way to open the electricity box, and we usually extended it for two or three hours, turn the lights back on," he said. "They were set to automatically go off at 10, but a lot of weekends we were able to get three to four extra hours."
The extra ice time evidently served Jokinen well as he has become an NHL star.
Jokinen said one of the main outdoor rinks in the city also had a pond nearby. The younger or lesser-skilled kids played on the pond, while the older, better players were on the rink. It was a rite of passage to graduate to the big-boy games.
"I was 8," Jokinen said of when he made the jump from the pond to the rink. "All the good pick-up games were with kids of all ages, but all you had to skate with were a stick, gloves and skates -- that's it. No helmets. Goalies were wearing equipment, but that was it. There was hitting and lots of action, fights -- everything."
All that early action helped Jokinen grow into the player he is today -- a 6-foot-3, 215-pound center who entered the 2010-11 season with six 20-goal seasons and four seasons with at least 30 goals on his resume.
The No. 3 pick of the 1997 Entry Draft, Jokinen has 2 goals and 6 points in 12 games with the Flames this season, giving him 254 goals and 574 points in 892 games across 13 seasons with the Kings, Islanders, Panthers, Coyotes, Flames and Rangers.
He'll add to those fun memories this February, when he returns to his outdoor roots.
"I think for us, this year when we play the outdoor game, that's going to be a great experience for all of us," he said. Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer