”Why would you ever go to Winnipeg?” ~ ”Don’t go to Winnipeg!” ~ ”It’s freezing there!” ~ ”It’s so dangerous!” ~ ”I hate Winnipeg!” ~ ”There’s nothing to do in Winnipeg!”
Those were some of the exact words that I heard over and over again back in 2015 when I was trying to make my decision about moving to Manitoba. Against all odds I decided to pack my bags and made the move from my native Finland to the city of Winnipeg.
As soon as I arrived, people began treating me as one of their own. Soon enough, I realized that I had moved to a city called ‘Finnipeg’, and my background was highly celebrated everywhere I went. It must have been a result of all the great Finnish hockey players like Teemu Selänne that had made their mark on the hearts of Winnipeggers.
Don’t get me wrong, I struggled with many things periodically. I missed the proximity of beautiful nature back home and the endless forests and lakes that can be enjoyed year-round within walking distance from home. Winnipeg also felt very old-school and my way of living changed quite drastically. Biggest stress came from the lack of a functional transit and bike system, and I realized how people didn’t sit down for coffee to take the time to chat with their friends. People had ”to go” cups. Everyone seemed so busy, stuck at home or simply stuck in traffic. But I embraced every bit of positivity around me and there was a lot of it.
Playing for the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team was something very special. Even though my teammates were younger than myself, I will never forget the support and friendships created within that team. Our journey together all the way to the 2018 National Championship meant the world to me, while watching my teammates grow as student athletes was also a very rewarding experience.
Those teammates went above and beyond to push me to be at my very best as an athlete representing my country in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Coming back home to Winnipeg from PyeongChang with a medal around my neck was certainly an emotional rollercoaster ride. That journey back and my quick return to the Bison lineup to help the team move towards the National Championship is yet another memorable story that I could tell another time. I hope the girls know just how appreciative I am of each and every one of them.
On top of my Bison teammates, I could never thank my strength and conditioning coach Shawn Preston enough, who put endless extra hours in with me, creating a unique program that allowed me to stay healthy and strong. He listened to me on a daily basis, supported me mentally and created a highly positive and encouraging training environment.
Same goes to our Bison head coach Jon Rempel, who treated me equally with the other players and was able to understand the demands of my international playing commitments with Team Finland. Jon has become an important mentor for myself during my post-playing career. I highly respect his work ethic and determination to develop himself on a daily basis. I was very fortunate to have been able to coach with him for a year.
I also want to thank the Jets Hockey Development staff for my coaching experience with them. I learned so much from everyone involved with the program there. The support shown during one of the most challenging years in my life will never be forgotten. Moving on after playing hockey for 27 years was definitely a challenging journey, but the JHD team played a major role in making that step easier for myself. Coaching became my new passion and I was able to stay in the game. The way my former colleagues at JHD approach hockey instruction and how they share their knowledge and passion with the players is inspiring. I will forever be grateful for my time with them.
In the end, I want to thank all of Winnipeg, including the people, and my Wolseley neighbourhood for my four amazing years living there. Despite what people told me at the beginning, moving to Winnipeg was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Even though it was time for me to take on another challenge and move to British Columbia, Winnipeg will always remain one of my many homes.
Thank you, Winnipeg!