Back It up, Baby

Finnish Training

Finnish men are evil. Particularly, the Koivu brothers. I pulled my hair into a bun as I waited for my turn to do the tire flip, glaring at the back of Mikko’s head. He was the one who suggested the tire flip after an already 2 hour workout with his and Saku’s personal trainer. I, personally, was dying and couldn’t wait for the day to end.

About 3 weeks prior, my mother had flown me out Finland, like she has done the last 2 years, to train with Tuukka Rask and his Finnish training group. Mom always sent me under the pretence that I needed to train with professionals to get a competitive edge on the rest of the OHL but, after a fight between my Dad and Mom a year ago, I had overheard her tell Dad that she sent me because I was “much too hard to handle for that long over a summer”. Whatever that meant, because mom was never home over the summer, or ever, really.

Tuukka and I became friends a couple years after my mom started representing him. I was still much too young to leave at home alone, so Mom worked from an office in our house. It started with her asking Tuukka to watch me while she negotiated. Our age gap, his very thick accent and lack of English left me mesmerized with him. He liked watching me because I was patient and didn’t care that he couldn’t understand everything I was saying, I would just speak slower. I would teach him English and he would teach me bits of Finnish.

Slowly, he started to agree more and more to watching me over the summers. Then, once he started playing in the NHL, he’d invite my father and I to come see his games. By that time, I was 13 and he was 21 and we were becoming real friends. It was Tuukka who inspired me to become a goaltender. Then when I was 16, he asked my mother to let me come to Finland for the month of August. That must have been a relief for her.

I put my hands on my hips, enjoying the sun on my face. It was, after all, a beautiful day. I looked over at Tuukka, smiling to myself. He had his hair pushed out of his face in one of my purple headbands and was staring daggers at the tire. I could tell he had just enough of this as I had, goalies didn’t need this shit. Our work out crew consisted of Tuukka, Saku, Mikko, Pekka Rinne, Niklas Backstrom, Olli and Jussi Jokinen and Valterri Filppula. Occasionally, Mikko’s best friend Tuomo Ruutu would stop by as well as Mikael Granlund who I thought was beautiful and tried hopelessly to get Mikko to set me up with.

“Laila, you’re turn,” I looked up at Elias Salonen, the trainer and groaned. Laila was the Finnish equivalent to Lily and, since he didn’t speak English well, that’s what he always called me. It caught on with the rest of the group as well. My groan was met with a chorus of laughter from the guys. I just stood where I was and pouted.

“C’mon, Laila, get in there,” Saku chuckled from beside me. He tried to push me towards the tire but, I just dug my heels and looked up at him.

I raised an eyebrow and smirked, speaking in perfect Finnish, “not all of us have to work to stay in the NHL, Old Man.” The grin on Saku’s face grew as the crew burst out into laughter.

“Yeah but, none of us have to work to get on a roster,” even I had to laugh at that. Throwing my hands up in defeat, I stepped up to the tire. Just as I reached down for the tire, I heard a cat call whistle from somewhere. I looked up to see a bunch of guys watching through the chain link fence, cheering at me.

“C’mon, baby, show us what you got.”

“I like the way you bend, baby!” I rolled my eyes. American tourists were the worst. They all assumed none of us understood English and could say whatever they wanted without consequence. This wasn’t the first time I had been heckled by tourists and usually it didn’t bother me. Standing in my sports bra and work-out shorts with the sun beating down on my shoulders though, I got pissed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Pekka and Tuukka start towards them but, I held out my hand. In one movement, I bent down and aggressively flipped the tire meant for the much stronger Jokinen brothers, lifting it off the ground for a second. I then picked up the lightest tire and hurled it at the fence, scaring the tourists. Before anyone could catch me, I stormed over them, screaming, “you don’t think I understand you, do you? Don’t think that I can comprehend English, eh? Well, fuck you guys, I’m Canadian. So fuck off and leave us alone, thanks.”

I didn’t realize how loudly I was panting while I watched the tourists sprint away. It was Pekka who got to me first, his arms instantly wrapping around me. I turned so I could press my face into his chest and squeezed my eyes shut. I could feel him press his cheek to the top of my head, “you’re done for the day, Laila. Stop taking temper lessons from Tuuks.”

I let out a little chuckle and nodded, not letting go of him. I had somehow gotten Tuukka’s temper a couple years back. The first time I had stayed in Finland, I stayed with Tuukka which was disastrous. We were great friends but, terrible roommates, especially because we both had incredibly short tempers. Since then, I had been staying with Pekka and he had turned into an older brother to me since I didn’t have any of my own.

“Let’s go,” he let go of the hug but, wrapped one arm around my shoulders, pulling me along with him. I looked up at Elias, Saku and Tuukka who were standing together looking very concerned. Pekka just tightened his grip on me, “I’m taking her home. I think the sun is giving her sun stroke. She needs to go home. We’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

He kept silent until we got into his car and started back to his home. Finally, he looked over at me and sighed, “so do you want to tell me what’s going on?”

“I’m a professional athlete, not something to gawk at,” I muttered, leaning my forehead against the window. Pekka shook his head.

“That’s not it. People have gawked at you and made inappropriate comments for a long time, Laila. They do it to Blake and Kat too,” he took a second to make a left turn. Blake Jennings and Katarina Romanova were two of the five girls currently in the NHL, including myself. “It’s more than that. Are you scared?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, are you scared that no one is going to take you seriously? I mean, Blake and Kat are forwards, they earned their respect through all the hits and goals but, you have to earn it a different way and you might not even get that much ice time,” he explained. I scoffed.

“Thanks,” I pouted and watched as he pulled into the driveway. I put my hand on the handle to climb out but, Pekka gave me a look that meant we weren’t getting out anytime soon. He threw the car into park and turned in his seat to face me.

“It’s the truth. If you make it, you’ll be a back up to Vokoun or Fleury, both extremely good players. You’ll get maybe 10-15 games and won’t see any ice time in the playoffs. You’ll have to earn respect throughout the league in those games and if you screw up, you’re going to be criticized so much more than the rest of us because we are men,” he pushed my bangs out of my eyes. I hadn’t even realized that most of my bun had fallen out. “You’re leaving for training camp in a week and a half. Its okay to be scared.”

“I’m terrified. I’m terrified that everyone is going to hate me, the fans, the organization, the league, everyone,” I told him, tears welling up in my eyes. For the second time today, he reached out to me and wrapped me in his arms.

“Don’t be scared of the fans or the organization, they are there for you. As for the league, well you’ll always have Tuukka and I on your side,” he whispered in my ear while I allowed myself to cry a bit. “The only people you should be scared of are your teammates. If they hate you, you’re screwed.”

“Oh God.”


I wandered into the Penguins locker room a week later, hockey bag wheeling behind me. Everyone who came out to try out for the team were divided into two teams, black to the home locker room, gold to the visitor’s. I looked around silently, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang were catching up in the corner while Jarome Iginla was talking to Simon Depres while stretching. I looked at the name plates until I found “LILY LARCH”. I wheeled my bag over and sighed, a huge grin spread on my face.

“New girl,” I turned to face a blonde boy with a wide smile. There was a twinkle in his eye as he extended his hand, “Beau Bennett. I’ve heard some pretty gnarly things about you. I also think we are roommates. You must have checked in before I did.”

Hockey players were never my type. With the exception of Freddie, I’ve never been attracted to players. Something about having to play with them was a complete turn off but, Beau was gorgeous and a total sweetheart. I knew he was going to be trouble for me especially if I was sharing a hotel room with him.

I bit my lip and took his hand, “Lily Larch and probably. I promise to keep clean and quiet.”

“I don’t,” Beau laughed and I grinned back, subconsciously pulling my long brown hair over one shoulder. He opened his mouth to say something else but, was met with a shin pad hitting the side of his face. I slapped my hand over my lips to keep from laughing out loud. Beau turned, “what the fuck?”

“Beau!” Brandon Sutter yelled, wrapping his arm around the younger, blonde boy. “How you doing, kid? You ready to move into a big boy house yet?”

“This is Brandon Sutter,” Beau rolled his eyes and introduced the tall yet, leaner man. Brandon looked at me, furrowed his eyebrows and then looked over his shoulder.

“Sid, who the fuck is this chick and how’d she get in here?”

I glared at him as he smirked back. Fuck this guy, I already hated him.