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An Entirely Different Kind of Camp

by Travis Betts / New York Islanders

While most Islanders prospects participated in a week-long mini camp this summer on Long Island, learning the ins and outs of the Islanders training program, 2012 Draft pick Ville Pokka is engaged in an entirely different kind of camp – an army boot camp – back in his native Finland. This summer, he is fulfilling his mandatory military obligations while also balancing regular on-ice practices with other young Finnish players.

“We’re doing all sorts of training, including learning to use firearms,” Pokka said. “Last week we spent four days in the forest and then we had to walk 35 kilometers (approximately 22 miles) with backpacks on and our weapons with us, and that stuff is pretty heavy.”

From June through November, Pokka will train with the Finnish Army. Beginning at 6 a.m., he spends up to 12 hours a day doing the army’s training regimen, after which he usually hits the ice for hockey practice with his local team.

“Our schedule isn’t like that every day,” Pokka said. “During some weeks we actually get to skate two times a day. We’ve got almost 20 guys on the ice, so we have good practices all the time,” Pokka said.

Per national laws, Pokka and his countrymen are required to serve at least six months in a military program. Although his Sm-liiga team, Karpat Oulu, will begin play again in September, Pokka will continue his army training for the first couple months of the regular season, albeit on a smaller scale.

“As professional hockey players, we don’t spend as much time [with army training],” Pokka said. “And it gets easier the longer you’ve been doing the army training. Once the season starts, we can train full-time with our teams, and spend 1-2 days a week with the army.”

The 6’0, 206-pound blueliner says that in addition to the physical benefits, the training is sharpening his mind as well.

“We have to be ready to go at all times,” Pokka said. “We have exercises that we have to do in a short time, so we have to be quick too.”

The 19-year-old recently completed his second full campaign with Karpat, where he has been the youngest player on the roster throughout his tenure with the club. In 2012-13, he established new highs in goals (six), assists (six) and points (12) in 47 games, adding two assists in three playoff games. Pokka will continue his development with Karpat next season.

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