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Koskinen raising game for Oilers with help from Kobe Bryant's trainer

-foot-7 goalie feels he has more speed, power in movements thanks to offseason work

by Kevin Woodley / Independent Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- When Mikko Koskinen went looking for a trainer to help him get stronger this offseason, his first call was to a man perhaps best known for his work with Kobe Bryant when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Marko Yrjovuori, a Finland-born trainer, helped Bryant get ready to play in the NBA for more than a decade with his work as a massage therapist.

"I wanted to do something different this summer and I knew that [Yrjovuori] was back in Finland and he used to work with big bodies, like really tall, tall, tall guys in basketball," the Edmonton Oilers goalie said. "I heard a lot of good things about him and I called him and asked him if he would work with me and he did, and it was really good.

"It was a lot different from what I was used to doing."

But it was perfect for Koskinen (6-foot-7, 202 pounds), a native of Vantaa, Finland, who shares the distinction of being the tallest goalie in the NHL with Ben Bishop (6-7, 210) of the Dallas Stars. There are 10 goalies in the League 6-5 or taller.

The project was exciting for Yrjovuori, who may be known as "Kobe's guy" from his time with the retired Lakers superstar, but who also prides himself on having worked with a variety of athletes from different backgrounds, from boxing to X-Games, and of course, hockey.

In fact, Yrjovuori got his start in North America as a massage therapist with the Los Angeles Kings from 2000 to 2003 before joining the Lakers for the next 13 years. He also works with Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen in the offseason.

Yrjovuori is based in Helsinki, where he works as a performance specialist and athletic trainer, certified biomechanics coach, certified speed coach and certified strength conditioning specialist at the Mehilainen Neo Sports Hospital.

Though he had worked with a variety of athletes, training a goalie was an unexplored frontier, but a welcome task for him.

"Because of basketball, he thought, 'This guy knows how to work with long limbs,'" Yrjovuori said. "And the multidimensional movement that Mikko does is kind of also similar to basketball. His position is very unique in hockey; he has to go up and down, side to side and he has to be very fast and explosive, plus coordinated with the hands.

"So that was a perfect challenge for me. I really got excited."

Video: DAL@EDM: Koskinen rebound for stellar glove save

The early results have been exciting for Oilers fans as well.

Koskinen is 10-3-2 with a .917 save percentage for Edmonton, and he's confident his newfound core strength and the in-season exercise routines designed by Yrjovuori can carry him through the entire season.

Koskinen was 25-21-6 with a .906 save percentage last season, his first season back in the NHL after seven years playing in Finland and Russia, but the 31-year-old was 10-10-4 with a .903 save percentage while playing 24 of the Oilers' final 26 games last season.

There's no concern on Koskinen's part that he will wear down as he appeared to do last season.

"If it happens again that I play that much, I feel that I'm really good shape now and ready to play more games," Koskinen said. "It was tough last year sometimes, especially in the end. I felt like I was not in balance anymore."

In their work together, Yrjovuori paid close attention to recovery. He made Koskinen wear a sleep monitor at night to learn about how he rested and how much he'd recovered from the previous day.

"I'm very big into load management," Yrjovuori said. "No ability gets better if you don't rest enough."

Beyond durability, Koskinen believes his offseason work is paying off in terms of the speed and power of his movements, making it easier for him to beat lateral plays without committing down to his knees too early or sliding across as often as did last season.

Their work focused on maintaining tight, compact, "one-piece" movement, which allows Koskinen to keep his hands active and in control above a more stable base, helping quiet the glove-hand criticism of last season.

Video: EDM@DET: Koskinen denies Athanasiou on the break

"Mikko said, 'I want to get my body more under control, plus I want to be faster,' " Yrjovuori said. "I am also known for my speed and explosive programs, so basically we started reeducating his body, trying to find that center-body control."

Yrjovuori began studying the movements of various goalies on the ice. He also consulted with Oilers goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz as he began working with Koskinen five days a week, starting in June.

Two of those days were dedicated to strength training. The other two were purely about creating speed. They used resistance bands, stability balls and a VertiMax machine, a small platform with attached elastic cords that can be attached to athletes in a variety of ways and stretch up to 45 yards.

Much of their work was performed in smaller spaces, mimicking the confines of a crease, focusing on posture and hip control while building speed.

"The principles are always the same, but you have to consider the space where people move, so we created a goalie space and we try to limit movement inside that area," Yrjovuori said. "We do really fast movement, side-to-side, different degrees, going on your knees, going up quickly, but they all stay in that little area. So that way you not only control your movement, but you control the area as well.

"We started building that speed into those long limbs. We were looking for explosiveness, that first step, quick, side-to-side, multi-dimensional movement."

Other activities, including tennis, were mixed in on the fifth day.

"You have to be really quick side-to-side, and that serves a goalie well," he said. "It's fun and at the same time, it's very effective when you challenge your body differently that way too."

The early results are promising, but there's more work to be done.

As they learn more from each other, Yrjovuori is confident he can help Koskinen keep improving.

"First of all, goalies are crazy -- but it's pretty amazing too how they move," Yrjovuori said of learning about the position. "Even though he's so tall, my goal was to get him to move like a little guy and I think we accomplished that speed, at least from what he tells me that he can go side to side way faster. Both of us know this was just the beginning, we are going to continue."

Maybe before long, "Kobe's guy" will be known as "Koskinen's guy."

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