|Jarkko Ruutu considers himself a laid-back guy off the ice, a complete contrast to the intense attitude the Ottawa Senators forward brings to games (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images).
With a devilish grin, Jarkko Ruutu makes it clear he enjoys living his hockey life on the edge.
The Ottawa Senators forward takes a special pride in being one of the National Hockey League’s most adept agitators, a gritty sort who often knows exactly what it takes to get under an opposing player’s skin. And while it isn’t exactly an art form, the feisty Finn will tell you there is a talent of sorts involved in it all.
“The biggest thing is, you have to take their time and space away and see where they’re at mentally,” said the 33-year-old Ruutu. “When they’re frustrated, it’s easy to get them over the edge. Some guys don’t even bother (responding) because they’re not emotionally involved. Guys that are emotionally involved in the game, it’s a lot easier to push them over the edge and frustrate them.
“But you have to be smart about it. If you’re ahead in the game, you don’t want to give (the opponents) any advantage or edge or juice to do it. I guess you learn during the process of playing and getting older. Year by year, you understand it a little more. I think about it, too. It’s a game on the ice. You have to think about where their soft spots are … I guess it’s a mental game.”
It also fits right in with the nature of a player who considers himself a born competitor. Ruutu’s reputation as an agitator has been well earned through eight NHL seasons with the Vancouver Canucks (who made him a third-round pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft), Pittsburgh Penguins and Senators.
“To be honest, it’s all natural,” said Ruutu, whose Senators face off against the Flames in Calgary on Thursday night (9:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). “I never really thought about it too much. I’m real competitive by nature and I just try to go all out. You just try your hardest and I guess it comes with it.
“I like being emotional. When I’m emotional, I play my best. Every game is different, too. Some games, there’s nothing going on and there’s no use (starting something). Some games, you need that (edge).”
Away from the intensity of the game, Ruutu falls into a much lighter state of mind – especially around his teammates in the Senators dressing room.
"The biggest thing is, you have to take their time and space away and see where they’re at mentally. When they’re frustrated, it’s easy to get them over the edge. Some guys don’t even bother (responding) because they’re not emotionally involved. Guys that are emotionally involved in the game, it’s a lot easier to push them over the edge and frustrate them." - Jarkko Ruutu
“I’m two different people, on the ice and off the ice,” he said. “I don’t think I’m ever serious off the ice. I like having fun and being in a good mood. I’m pranking around and laughing at myself and the mistakes I’ve made. I think it’s all fun.”
Once he leaves the confines of Scotiabank Place, you’ll find Ruutu looking for the nearest sauna to relax – “there’s a couple of not bad places here,” he said – listening to music or spending time with his dog, “a little teacup poodle.”
“That’s about it. Nothing too serious,” he said. “Then I get ready for the next game.”
His tastes for metal music pretty much run the gamut, from one end of the scale to another.
“I’ve got some really heavy stuff, some things that are a little lighter and some Finnish music,” he said. “I don’t listen to much country, put it that way. But if it has a good rhythm and melody, I usually like it.”
Perhaps it’s appropriate, though, that the mischievous Ruutu finds extra listening pleasure in the music produced by his favourite metal band, Metallica. It’s a group he guesses he’s seen live nearly a dozen times and a genre of music that’s strikes a real chord in Finland.
“People (in Finland) just like it,” he said. “I guess it’s the darkness in it.”