Had they not rebuilt the Joensuu rink the way they have, I’d be able to show you exactly where I was when I realized I wasn’t going to become a hockey star, down to an inch. It was the middle of the night, and my team had just got back from a road trip to the west coast of Finland. I had probably not played a lot so for me, it had mostly been a 12-hour bus ride across Finland, with Twisted Sister playing in my Walkman.
I got my hockey bag from the trunk of the bus, and as I lifted it on my shoulder and started to walk towards the arena entrance. And that’s where it finally dawned on me. I wasn’t going to be the next Gretzky, or even Matti Forss, my big idol in the Finnish league.
“Maybe it’s time for me to move on to the other side,” I muttered to myself.
I had quit hockey at least once before, so when I sleepwalked to school six hours later – because I made it a point never to miss class after a hockey trip – I had no big plans for my hockey future, or any other future. But I had had a moment of clarity, and during that moment, I had made two decisions. One, playing hockey was a hobby. Two, I wasn’t going to quit the game, I was just going to move on, “to the other side” of things.
It took me a couple of years to figure out what that other thing might be, but by my second year in the university, when it was time to pick my major, I had a half-baked plan. I was going to become a hockey agent. And so I majored in marketing, and minored in law, a combination I had decided was perfect for an agent. Back then, it was a new idea, because there weren’t many real hockey agents in Finland.
When I had thought about that combination, I had forgot about one thing: That the most important product I’d have to market was myself. I realized that fairly quickly when I graduated from the business school three years later, and had no clients. I had no job, and no money. No clients, and no plans on how to get clients.
After graduation I had moved to my Grandma’s attic, and after two weeks, upgraded to an apartment upstairs of an old house in the countryside, with the downstairs being used as a kindergarten. I didn’t have a shower in the apartment, nor a real kitchen, and I had to do my dishes downstairs after the kids had been picked up. But I did do my dishes, and on weekends, I was allowed to use the sauna in the main building – a former piggery – in the same courtyard.
One day, a former teammate, a former linemate, and a former best friend – that’s all the same guy, and still a good friend – called me. It was early afternoon, so I had just barely got up and had played Civilization 2 only for a couple of hours, but when I heard his voice, I was wide awake. He had played a couple of seasons in the Finnish league, but now he felt that he was treading water. It was time to shake things up. He felt he didn’t get the respect he deserved – so he asked me to represent him.
“Sure. Sure thing,” I said.
I pushed the Olivetti keyboard a little farther away, and then got up.
“So, like, what do you want me to do,” I added and started to walk around the apartment, thinking. Thinking hard.
“Aren’t you supposed to tell me that?” said my friend, and I could feel the blood rush to my head. I was quiet for a second, and just looked out the window. The kids were playing in the playground. It was a nice spring day.
“Well, I was just wondering if you’ve had any talks with them,” I said, and then my friend told me that yes, and then he asked me to take over.
The GM of his team was one of the most famous GMs in Finland. He was the GM of the biggest club in the country, and he was also the manager of the coolest hotel in town. All in all, that made him the most intimidating GM to deal with.
Never in my dreams and half-baked plans had I come across the situation of actually negotiating with somebody. In my vision, I was talking to the players, and I was walking around carrying a light brown stylish briefcase, or sitting in the stands, deep in my thoughts.
The only thing that matched my vision was my phone. It was cordless. That alone made it cool in the early 1990s.
I had no idea of how much a good player should get paid. I didn’t know how I was going to get paid. For one of my previous hockey business gigs – writing copy for brochures of a hockey software and showing demos of it to coaches – I had got a set of golf clubs.
None of that mattered, though, because I had a client, and I had a job to do.
A couple of days later, I put on a shirt and a tie, and sat down at my desk next to the window overlooking an empty country road. I looked at my white mailbox that looked like a Moomin, the one that I had built and painted with my cousin, and I thought the world was a pretty fantastic place when I – a kid – could be pulling major strings from the upstairs of a piggery.
“If they only knew,” I said to myself.
And then I punched in the GM’s number.
The phone rang once. Twice. I coughed. Third ring. “Hi, this is Risto Pakarinen…,” I muttered. Four.
The GM answered. I introduced myself.
“… And the reason I call you today is that I’m actually calling for J,” I said.
There was no reply.
“You know, your player,” I added, thinking that maybe he was preoccupied with something or hadn’t heard me.
The line was silent for a few seconds, and just as I was about to say something else, the GM spoke.
“So, what are you, some kind of a fucking agent?” he said, spitting out the last word in disgust.
Then he hung up on me.
“I guess not,” I said.