I must admit that my second NHL season with Florida Panthers has been tough, but fascinating experience. It was challenging to come back from a nasty injury and long break from the action. The season did not start the best possible way for me and I struggled to regain my confidence on the ice. I was trying my best, but was not getting much result, especially in the offensive zone.
Looking back at that time now, I must say I have learned a lot about the game of ice hockey and about myself. Of course with a huge help from our coach, my team mates and my family, I learned to organize my life and schedule so that it allows me to maximize my concentration and energy level during the games. I have learned to better prepare myself mentally and physically. I discovered new types of routines that help me during the game days. Finally, in my view, one of the crucial factors in athletes` preparation is the free time management. I learned to clear my mind of the stress and pressure that occurs during the games by doing some fun leisure activities whenever we have a day off.
I used to play tennis when I was younger and actually still actively follow ATP Tour and try to play tennis myself when there is a chance. I haven`t been to any of the ATP World Tour arenas yet, so one day my brother suggested that we should go see the Tennis Center located at Crandon Park, Key Biscayne. My brother used to play Junior Orange Bowl there back in the day and knew that the Center Court is huge and amazingly beautiful. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it, because it was almost as huge as some ice hockey arenas. Right away I had a thought in mind that it could have been awesome to be a professional tennis player, but it would have been surely very tough as the tennis players travel much more than we do and constantly struggle with crazy jet lags.
Besides Crandon Park, there are several other extremely beautiful locations on the Key Biscayne Island. We went to see the Cape Florida Lighthouse that is located in peaceful Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. The lighthouse apparently has quite an intriguing history and I definitely recommend visiting this area if you have a chance. The park is also very convenient for family picnics and bird watching. In Finland, bird watching is actually quite popular hobby among some slightly older people. However, it is not necessarily my cup of tea, at least not yet. The bridge that connects Down Town Miami with the Key Biscayne Island is also worth seeing. It feels as if you were driving straight into the ocean when you pass the toll booth. I have heard that Key West is even more amazing and exotic attraction, but haven’t had a chance to visit that area yet.
Once we crossed the Key Biscayne Bridge back to Miami, I found out that there is a lively restaurant area right in the heart of Down Town Miami. From the music and vibe, one could easily tell that this area is something similar to little Havana. The area was filled with an amazingly tasty food and rhythmic live music. Such areas always seem quite exotic for people who live in countries with long and cold winters. We are not used to dining outside apart from some barbecues during our short summer.
On the way back to Boca Raton we took the Ocean Blvd through Fort Lauderdale and Deerfield Beach to discover beautifully decorated palm trees with sparkling lights and lots of nice looking restaurants. This area in Florida is one of my favorite spots. I prefer restaurants that are located near the beach with a terrace and an ocean view. My favorite type of food is actually my mom’s cooking. My mom is a gifted chef and can easily spend hours in the kitchen preparing amazing salads, Russian delicacies or one of my favorite dish, baked cheese potatoes. If I must choose some other food than my mom’s, I would go with the good ol’ chicken wings with chili sauce or a nice steak with mashed potatoes. As an athlete I have to carefully watch my diet, so such meals are only possible during the off season or a long break from games. Usually I`ll have a portion of porridge before the game and few bottles of raw coconut water to clean my stomach and get energy for the evening. Then, I rest for few hours, take a shower and go to our arena where we usually start the warm up process couple of hours before the match.
For me personally, the game usually starts couple of hours before the actual puck drop and ends 1 hour after the final buzzer. The warm up process and mental preparation is almost as important as the game itself. Once the puck is in play, there is no more room for the error and every small mistake or a wrong move can cost you a game or can lead to an injury. As a result, I take the warm up procedure very seriously and recommend the same to all ice hockey players.
Every time I step on the ice, the feelings and emotions are different so it is always a unique experience to play an NHL match. In Part 3, I will let you in to the Panther’s locker room and tell about my experiences during the games and during the intermissions. Stay tuned and keep it cool!