VIERUMÄKI – If the players on the IIHF camps wonder about anything around hockey, they’re never far from somebody who’s been there, done that, pushed through, played and won, played and lost, and a long the way, learned how things are done.
One such person is probably right there on the ice with them and having lunch with them as each of the High Performance Camp teams has an athlete ambassador on site. Also, in addition to Saara Tuominen, Emma Terho, Delaney Collins, Isabelle Chartrand, Iya Gavrilova, and Alena Polenska, there’s also their mentor, Hayley Wickenheiser.
Former Finland national team captain Emma Terho (née Laaksonen) is the ambassador for Team Everest.
“I’m basically with the team all the time, on the ice as much as possible, and share my experiences in my career, the challenges that I’ve faced and how I got through them,” she says, as she pushes a baby trolley through the Vierumäki sport institute campus with her 5-month-old baby in a Baby Björn.
“Even if there’s not a lot of money in women’s hockey, and we don’t get paid, but there are a lot of other doors that hockey can open for the players,” she adds.
Laaksonen, 30, was a member of the 2010 and 1998 Olympic teams that came home with the bronze medals, she also has four World Championship bronze medals, made the World Championship All-Star team in 2008, and was voted Best Defenceman in 2000.
One door that hockey opened for her was the door to Ohio State University where she played between 2000 and 2004. In 2008, the Ohio State Buckeyes retired her number 3, and in 2009, she was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.
A week may not be enough for her to share everything.
“A camp like this is a good experience for the players because it gives them an opportunity to see where they stand in the world. It’s especially good for players from countries outside U.S. and Canada because they see that even if the pace is high and the quality of the practices is really good, they can keep up,” she says.
“It’s great for their confidence just like it’s good life experience for them to see they can get along with people who don’t speak their language,” she adds.
The Everest team has players from Russia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the U.S., Great Britain, and Kazakhstan.
“I think both players from the top nations and the others gain respect for each other when they get together. The players from the U.S. and Canada, Sweden and Finland see what the players from other countries do to get here,” Terho says.
A big part of the camp is dedicated to building the foundation, not only on the ice, but off it, too, with the focus on nutrition and good workout habits.
“I think we have some of the world’s best experts here, and building that foundation is key because eating right and working hard are two things that every individual can do, regardless of the programs around them,” says Terho.
“The real work is obviously done in their home countries, and we hope that these players will then lead by example,” she adds.
One thing that is obvious, is the players’ and the coaches’ love of the game.
“These days, girls can play hockey on different levels, and from juniors to adults, and when there is no money in it, many of us are in the game simply because we truly do like it,” says Terho.
And that goes for ambassadors as well.
“It’s really a lot of fun being on the ice with the team,” says Terho. “So, yes, I’ll keep on playing, too,” she adds.
Everest’s players may one day get a chance to see their ambassador in action. And learn.