Penguins rookie defenseman Olli Maatta might be getting a taste of NHL life in Pittsburgh, but his native Finland has another calling that he’ll need to fulfill.
A hitch in the Finnish military.
In Finland, every able-bodied male must serve a term in the military sometime between the ages of 18 and 28. While there hasn’t been a war on Finnish soil since 1945 and the nation hasn’t had any involvement in a military conflict since, the duty must be served. Athletes are not exempted.
“I’ve got to arrange some time for it for sure,” Maatta said. “It’s something I have to do.”
Maatta, 19, isn’t sure when he will fulfill his obligation but has applied to join the navy. While athletes are not excluded from serving, arrangements are made for training and playing games. Maatta has the option of breaking up his six months of service in order to avoid any scheduling conflicts for games in North America.
“I’m pretty sure I can figure out something,” Maatta said. “I could do it in like two summers. That might be possible. They’re really good at [making arrangements]. If you play abroad, it’s not like you have to stay there for six months and miss the season.”
Maatta’s teammate Jussi Jokinen fulfilled his obligation to Finland in the early 2000s.
“I started the general army right after the World Junior [Championships],” Jokinen said. “I was able to get a couple of days off here and there when we had playoffs. After that, it was a straight three months.”
Jokinen, 30, admitted serving in the military can offer challenges to maintaining a training regimen as a hockey player.
“It takes lots of time when you want to be able to practice and work out the way you want,” he said. “[I spent] eight days in the forest and living in the tents in the winter when it was cold. That was the most challenging part of it.”
Maatta said he sees the benefits of serving.
“I think of it as growing toward an adult. It teaches you a little bit about life. That’s how I feel it is important.”
Seth Rorabaugh: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @emptynetters.