Mikael Granlund: anatomy of the air-scoop master
Helsingin Sanomat looks into where the prodigiously talented teenager and World Champion has learned his hockey tricks
Home yard and playmates
The childhood home of Mikael Granlund, 19, is located in an idyllic detached house residential area in the heart of the northern community of Oulunsalo.
The wide asphalted turning area for snow ploughs just in front of his home is tailor-made for yard games. The neighbourhood was filled with boys of the same age, so the ice hockey goal provided by Mikael’s father Vesa was put to good use from dawn till dusk, regardless of the weather.
“We just grabbed the sticks and started playing. There were no rules”, neighbour Roni Rukajärvi reminisces.
“As soon as we got home from the kindergarten or school, we started playing. And we would not stop until the parents told us to come in.”
Even as a child, Granlund was the king of the yard games, but his friends were not exactly without talent, either.
His little brother Markus Granlund debuted this past season in the SM-Liiga, Finland's premier ice hockey league, in the colours of HIFK of Helsinki.
Rukajärvi, 17, and another neighbourhood friend Markus Korkiakoski, 19, in turn, train with the league squad of Kärpät of Oulu.
Burning desire to get better
The circumstances do not explain everything. If one is to make it to the top, one also has to be equipped with the internal desire to develop and succeed - the desire to practice, to repeat the same routines over and over, until they are second nature.
According to his former classmates, coaches, and teachers interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat, Granlund has possessed more of this desire than anyone else.
“He really enjoyed practising and the amount of training he did was unbelievable. He never complained about anything. Instead he absorbed new skills from every situation. Though his talent was obvious from an early age, he always kept cheering on his mates as well”, says Jouko Jokiranta, Granlund’s physical education teacher from the lower-level comprehensive school.
According to the former teachers, Granlund’s talent was not limited to ice hockey, but covered all the other ball games as well.
“Mike’s perception and hand-eye coordination is really good. Mathematically he is very talented. He saw the entire field and was able to read the game exceptionally well already at an early age”, Jokiranta reminisces.
Upbringing and support from home
Former teachers also emphasise the role of Granlund’s parents, Minna and Vesa, in the success of their sons.
“The children have always been put first. They have been very well looked after and they have always had all the support they need. But the limits have also been determined clearly”, stresses upper-level comprehensive school PE teacher Kari Seppä, who knows the family very well.
In school Mikael was always a model student. His grade average in the comprehensive school leaving certificate was close to nine (on a 4-10 scale), even though the ice hockey hobby had caused him to have a high number of absences.
The young ice hockey promise was also well liked in the classroom.
“Mikael was always very open towards everybody. From TV one may get the false impression that he is very serious. In real life he is a proper joker with a good sense of humour”, comments upper-level comprehensive school classmate Taiju Marttila.
From home Granlund has also inherited his modest personality, with the right kind of humility to it. He does not show off or put others down.
His focus is always at what matters.
A good example comes in the comments he made after the amazing lacrosse scoop “air-hook” goal that he scored against Russia in last Friday’s semi-final at the Ice Hockey World Championships in Bratislava.
Despite the impressive way in which he scored the goal (already a viral classic on YouTube), to Granlund it was just one goal among others, and he pointed out that on the scoresheet it counted no more than a mishit tap-in.
“Granlund always just concentrated on the game. He never loses his rag or gives occasion for others to do so, let alone engage in any kind of deliberate outright villainy on the ice. Mikke was - and still is - a real gentleman player”, emphasises Veikko Torkkeli, Granlund’s junior coach.
Granlund wants to be the best. He cannot stand losing.
“If he ever happened to be on the losing side he always insisted on another game, until his side won”, Roni Rukajärvi reminisces.
Mikael Granlund scored 2+7 at the World Championships, including that goal, and with a string of excellent passes he was instrumental in ensuring that his fellow forward Jarkko Immonen collected the accolade for top goalscorer (9+3) at the tournament. He is currently is on the roster of Helsinki HIFK, the recently-crowned Finnish SM-Liiga champions, but a career in the NHL appears to beckon - he has been drafted as a first-round pick by the Minnesota Wild. Granlund's performances in Bratislava may have accelerated the process of moving across the Atlantic, and if he goes to Minnesota, he will team up with his captain from the Finnish national side Mikko Koivu, who also captains the Wild. First, however, comes the small matter of carrying out his national service obligations as a conscript in the Finnish Defence Forces.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish Lions deliver near-perfect team performance to shut out Russia and progress to dream final against Sweden (13.5.2011)
After sixteen long years, WORLD CHAMPIONS! (15.5.2011)
Mikael Granlund NHL Draft Prospect Card
Granlund´s amazing semi-final goal on YouTube (commentary in English)
Granlund´s scooped goal on YouTube (commentary in Finnish)
Mikael Granlund (Wikipedia)
That goal again - the response of Finnish commentator Antero Mertaranta - and fans in a Helsinki bar (YouTube)