Other than destroying Nik Ehlers in Call of Duty, I think the best thing to happen to me last year was falling in love with Winnipeg.
I mean, I heard some guys talking bad about the city and that Winnipeg was not a good place. What do they know? I love Winnipeg. This is my home. These are my people now. I play for them. It’s a great, great city. Everyone who lives here really cares about one another, that’s what stands out to me. We are one group, all of us. Everybody is your neighbor.
Winnipeg is bad? No. Winnipeg is good.
And my Wi-Fi — it’s sick.
But Wi-Fi is so important … it might be the most important thing. People sometimes ask me about my favorite city to visit on the road. I tell them the same thing every time: Whichever one has the fastest Internet at the hotel. Like, Los Angeles, for example. When we play the Kings, we stay downtown. I don’t know what the hotel is called but it doesn’t matter — the Wi-Fi is very fast, which is great for me and my roommate, Nik.
We’re on CoD all the time on the road. Sometimes we just split-screen and 1-v-1 against each other. It’s O.K., but, I have to say, he’s not as good me, so. Also I think he screen-cheats. You know, like, where you look at the other person’s part of the screen to see where they are on the map? Yeah, that’s how he (almost) keeps up with me. I don’t do that. I would never. Not classy. Haha.
And then sometimes we play online together. I carry him. He’s good at hockey but, like I have to be honest here … I need to teach him some things about gaming. I don’t think he is as dedicated as I am, and that’s fine — not many are. (Just a little Finnish sarcasm.)
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports
Like, my schedule on off days is pretty simple:
• Wake up.
• Eat with Mom. (Yes. I live with my mom. I will explain.)
• Go to practice.
• Practice and work out.
• Go home.
• Turn on my PlayStation, and game.
I probably play too much, but that’s fine. It helps me stay close with my friends back home in Finland and even some guys in the NHL. Like Aleksander Barkov. I used to look up to Barkie back in Finland because he was a couple of years older than me. I watched him play in the World Juniors. What a player. He’s big, and has sweet hands. And then we met during the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, and I found out he plays CoD, so that was good. I have him on PlayStation. Barkie is probably the only player in the NHL who has the same level of dedication as me. In CoD, I mean. He’s on all the time. Like … a lot. I’m not sure how he has time for hockey.
It’s pretty cool to play PlayStation with one of your idols. I wish I could play with Ovi — that would be sick. Ovi, are you reading this? Do you game?
Ovi was probably my first idol. Do you remember the goal where he, like, fell on his back and still scored against Arizona? That’s my first memory of him. I really enjoy his style of play. I used to watch him on YouTube all the time when I was 13. He was all over the ice. He’d lay a big hit in his own end, pick up the puck and be at the other end of the rink before the video had to start buffering. (The Wi-Fi, it’s not as good back then.)
When I was in the backyard with my dad as a little boy, shooting at soda cans, I wasn’t really thinking about Ovi — or anyone. I was just … me. Like, how do I want to shoot? Who do I want to be as a player? How can I score more than the other guy?
My dad was a beer league player, so he wasn’t much help. No. I am joking. He was a very big part of my life and why I became the player I am. You might already know, but I actually played goalie until he told me that I should be a skater. Good decision, I think.
My dad still lives in Finland. But he watches every Jets game. We still enjoy talking about hockey but he doesn’t give me much advice anymore. He comes and visits me and Mom a few times a year.
So, yes. I live with my mom.
But, like, be honest … you would live with your mom if you could, too.
Why would you want to cook your own food?
And she still drives me home from games, just like she did in Finland. She comes to every home game. It’s very nice. In Winnipeg, everyone looks out for you.
Recently, my cousin was visiting. He’s growing out his beard and asked me to grow mine out too. So I was like, O.K. Now the guys in the room are telling me I look like I’m Amish. I didn’t get it at first. Had to Google it. Now, since our team is doing well, I’m going to keep it going for luck. Maybe I will get some new Amish fans … but they don’t have TVs, right? Maybe they can come to games? Come to Winnipeg, guys.
Yeah, things are good in Winnipeg right now. People are happy around the rink and the season is going well so far. Last year was tough. Everyone was saying I should be happy with how I played and stuff. But, like, I don’t care about that. I want to win. That’s is the only reason I play hockey — or even CoD. I want to beat you. We didn’t do that enough last year. Now we’re winning, and I’m loving it and so is the city.
When I first came here from Finland, the Jets helped me a lot.
I owe the team a lot for putting me in a good spot for my rookie season. I never felt too much pressure. I was able to be me. I was able to be that kid in the backyard with his dad. And that kid loved to score. So I scored. And I remember every goal. Like, I’m not kidding. I can tell you who got the primary assist, secondary assist, who I scored on, what the situation was … all that stuff. For all 36 goals. But my first one was definitely my best.
Someone told me, “You only score your first one once, so remember it.”
But, like, obviously? Weird saying, I think.
Now, I am home here. Quick story. So, before I got drafted, I would play the NHL video games a lot. I knew a few teams pretty well. But Winnipeg was … really bad. Maybe like an 80 overall. I never wanted to be the Jets, nobody did. So I didn’t know any of their players. When I came to camp with the team in 2016, and I met the guys for the first time, I didn’t know anything about who they were. I had to make mental notes.
Mark, center, likes to pass.
Nik, winger, sneaky.
Buff, defense, hits hard.
And then there was Blake. And the first time I was on the ice with him … he blew me away. He was so good. I thought, O.K., this guy is the superstar of the team. He is the big deal. I assumed he was like the biggest star in the NHL. But when we started going on the road and people weren’t really talking about him. Even in Winnipeg he doesn’t get that much attention. I don’t get it. He’s as good as anyone in the league.
Debora Robinson/NHLI/Getty Images
I thought that might change this year. He’s, what, top 10 in NHL scoring? Pretty sick. Actually, I don’t think people pay enough attention to our entire team. So let me give you the quick scouting report on us:
Best skater: Nik.
Best passer: Blake. (He told me I have to say this because he’s the center on my line now.)
Best chirps: Buff.
Best shooter: Me — lol.
I also can’t talk about our team without mentioning Connor in goal. He’s been so good. And I know how much he wants to win, too. He was good last year, but we didn’t help him as much as we could have. This year, I know I score much less on him in practice. So … he must be better then, right? I am not worse … right?
So why are people hating on Winnipeg? I think maybe I know why they don’t like coming here. Maybe guys are too cold? Maybe this is a hard place to play because of our fans? I’ve only been to each NHL building a few times, but I know for sure — our rink is the loudest.
Our fans give us so much confidence.
And I know that they get even louder in the spring. I remember I was on YouTube the year before I was drafted, and I found this video — “The Return of The Winnipeg WhiteOut.”
It was really cool. Like, I got … what are they called … the goose pimples?
I didn’t know anything about the team or city then, but I knew that was awesome.
And that needs to happen again.