Between Two Worlds: Book Excerpt on Finnish Goalies
Last summer, I went on a transcontinental quest to discover new realms of goalie development. Through my Between Two Worlds book project I traveled over 24,000 miles and scouted 250 goalies in less than four months in order to do extensive research on what really separates Finnish goalies from North Americans.
It’s impossible to summarize what I uncovered in a few short paragraphs, but you can dive in completely any time by purchasing the book here on Amazon. You can also view the book’s online photo gallery on my website: Between Two Worlds Photo Gallery.
Amidst my travels, I submitted stories to InGoal Magazine, including a four-part recap of the Warren Strelow Goaltending Mentorship Camp and an interview with Thomas Magnusson, director of goalie development for the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. But the main focus of the book was to educate readers on what I learned in Finland at the GoaliePro Coach Mentoring Program owned and operated by Jukka Ropponen.
During my time in Helsinki, I was fortunate to meet and befriend Hannu Nykvist, director of goalie development for the Finnish Hockey Federation. Combined with what I learned shadowing Ropponen and his GoaliePro staff, Nykvist’s insights on the inner workings of the country’s goalie development program has sparked me to try and initiate the formation of a goalie coaching certification program sanctioned by USA Hockey
Below is an exclusive excerpt of Chapter 7 of the book, where I sit down with Nykvist and discuss some of the cultural differences between goalie development in Finland and the United States:
Goldman: I know you briefly explained this to me the first time we met at Storytime, but can you explain to readers what your role is with the Finnish Hockey Federation?
Nykvist: “My role within the federation is that I’m in charge of the whole Finnish goalie program. I’m not creating everything myself since we already have 40 years of history behind us, but I’m one part of the chain that keeps things new. Since the beginning of when we started our goalie coaching, the core has always been there. When we started, the core was very technical. Then later on we’ve been adding and refining some stuff. One of my jobs is to be the junior national team goalie coach. My job is also to make sure that we have good youth training programs all over Finland. I have under me nine regional goalie coaches. Finland is divided into eight districts, and the Helsinki region is the biggest, so I have two guys working here. So these guys are responsible in their region for organizing a basic level of goalie coaching clinics, plus scouting the regional goalies for the first national team camps, plus they make visits to their clubs and organize federation goalie schools in their region.”
Goldman: How do you go through selecting the goalie coaches for each region and club?
Nykvist: “Actually, it’s basically finding someone who wants to be involved. They’re part-time workers and we’re so much smaller than Canada, so a lot of it here is based on the personal network. You get to know almost everyone here in Finland. The clubs work independently, but we’re there to support and help them. But I choose who is in charge of each region, and they have to renew contracts every year. I think the longest guy has been around for almost 20 years. There are some changes on average every two or three years.”
Goldman: Besides the fact that you guys are such a tight-knit operation, what would you say is the biggest advantage that young goalies have when it comes to developing into professionals?
Nykvist: “I think it’s our influence and policy program in the club since Day 1 when they choose they want to be a goalie. We feel every goalie in the club, same as players, have a right to receive proper goalie coaching in their club. We feel that they shouldn’t be paying an extra fee for that. They are a part of the team and they should have quality, certified goalie coaching. Whenever they choose to be a goalie, they have quality support on a daily basis.”
Goldman: The biggest thing that Americans notice when it comes to the strength of Finnish goalies is their active hands. Can you briefly talk about how you instill this trait in the younger goalies and why it is recognized as one of the Finnish goalie’s best traits?
Nykvist: “It’s a funny story actually, because I’ve had a few American coaches ask me this question. But in the beginning, I didn’t exactly know what this term ‘active hands’ meant because in our program, from the beginning, when you go on the ice at eight years old, you start to teach those most basic saves, and if there’s a high shot, you are taught to catch it. I think we prefer to teach catching first, then blocking the puck. I think the blocking is for the close-attack situations, when you can’t control the fact that you don’t have any more reaction time. But as long as possible, you try to catch the puck.”
Goldman: When I was out on the ice with the older and the younger group, right away, it was the first thing I noticed. Regardless of age, their catching instincts were clearly engrained in their minds and bodies from a young age, and it was really awesome to see. Shifting gears, with this coaching certification program you have, what is your goal over the next few years?
Nykvist: “I think now we have to build up a good program for ages 14-to-19. We’ve made a very solid program for the younger ages. I think a huge goal and role for the Finnish Hockey Federation is to support the clubs and the club goalie coaches, because that’s where the success comes from. You could say our national teams are a result of the work the clubs are doing.”
Goldman: What do you think is the best path for Finnish goalies that want to play pro in North America? Should they stay in Finland and stay in their program as long as possible?
Nykvist: “I think generally, because it takes longer for goalies to develop compared to players, they just need to find their games and make their mistakes, and if you have a solid technical and athletic base, you have the chance to be a good goalie as time goes on, no matter where you play. I believe that European goalies shouldn’t rush over, because it takes time to develop. I also think it’s a question of personality. A more independent goalie who can carry the responsibilities of what he’s doing can go over there a little earlier. But I think as long as you have a good club where you can play and get proper coaching, then the environment guarantees you can be successful in the future.”
Goldman: If I were to ask you to define a Finnish goalie, how would you do it? I know it’s a tough question, but I’m always curious how guys like you answer this question.
Nykvist: “Well, I can tell you what we’re looking for. We want our goalies to be really top athletes with a solid technical base. We also want them to have good game-reading skills and strong mental character.”
Goldman: I’m really humbled that you took the time to read The Power Within, which is what I had been working on for the past few years of my life. So in terms of the mental game and having that whole balanced approach, what are your thoughts on having that instilled in your Finnish goalies?
Nykvist: “I was actually very happy to read that book, because you and Mike Valley and I, and basically the whole Finnish federation, we are all on the same page. I think that’s where everything starts; how you coach as a human. That makes up who you are as a coach. Then it’s how you approach another human and coach the humanity of a player. That’s something that you can really build on. But my philosophy is that your mind, your body, and your spirit, they are always there. You can discuss those values like independence and responsibility, but still at the same time discuss the weight training and technical training, so they are all together at the same time, and that was the good message from the book. I’d like to get rid of this old view of seeing a player only as a biomechanical tool. I think that’s really old-fashioned.”
Goldman: Many goalie coaches out there are so narrowly focused on technique and winning that they never realize how important it is to instill some of these core values in their goalies.
Nykvist: “I also think when you talk about this mental side, when you start to coach a kid who let’s say is 16 years old, he already has maybe nine or 10 years behind him. I think as a coach, my responsibility is to study what he has done before, his background. Then start to walk with him in one direction where I’m guiding him. We always carry our history with us, and I think that’s one huge part of what the goalie coach needs to take into consideration. Because what you’re doing now is always a buildup of something we have done in the past. If we can open some new horizons and new ideas for the kids, then we can advance the history, but from this foundation we’re going somewhere together.”
Goldman: The thing that bothers me in the USA is that kids don’t learn how to manage their own mental game until it’s too late, so the book was a way for me to help goalies learn how to process and understand a lot of the mental pressures on their own.
Nykvist: “I think the main question is, should the goalie coach increase independence or dependence? There’s an idiosyncrasy. In my mind, my job as a coach is to make myself feel unnecessary. If you think about the goalie, you have to practice so much moving and basic saves that, in a game, you have to do minimal thinking.”
Goldman: Yes, and I also want to teach goalies how to be creative and think for themselves and figure out how to problem solve when situations occur.
Nykvist: “I also think it’s really interesting how you explained things in the book. The Finnish language is so unique, it has nothing to do with Russian or German languages. These terms – how we think of these things compared to Americans – are very different. You’ve already seen in some discussions how we use so many words to describe the same things, and I think that sometimes creates a misunderstanding when North American goalie coaches are speaking with Finnish coaches.”
~ Thanks to Justin for sharing part of his new book. You can find more of these great insights from him and top goalie coaches from all over the world by purchasing Between Two Worlds on Amazon with a click here.