The highway between Turku and Naantali is a dark place, as if the road takes the traveler somewhere completely unknown. That highway came Anrei Hakulinen become familiar at the end of 2011.
Those were the times when Hakulinen, who was in his late twenties, was really struggling with his life.
The ice hockey player was not qualified for the crew of the Tuto Mestis team, after which he had to find even a place to play somewhere, anywhere.
The place to play was found in Naantali’s VG-62, who played in Finland’s third highest league level, the Suomi series.
Ice hockey had never been a serious thing for Hakulinen, but drifting into Naantali’s hockey teams began to take a toll on the young man’s soul and mind, especially when he had to work on buildings during the day.
Hakulinen swam in deep water while driving late at night from Naantal to Turku in November-December 2011.
Life lacked direction and, above all, joy. Playing ice hockey felt almost like a chore, working on buildings in the freezing cold ate a man up.
Hakulinen made his decision. Playing in the lower leagues without any goals should be enough. The time had come to put the skates and game gadgets into storage for good.
– I was on the verge of breaking down. I called my mom and said that this is my last season in hockey.
One phone call and an unexpected chain of events later changed everything.
Anrei Hakulinen, 32, is the Finnish ice hockey champion and a player on the men’s national team.
The captain of Rauma Luko is currently one of the biggest stars of the ice hockey SM league.
Hakulinen’s background is tough. Father’s suicide is still a sensitive topic.
In a way, it’s no surprise that Hakulis became a top hockey player. Ice hockey is in his blood.
Anrei is the vassal of the Hakulinen discus family. The player’s genes come from the father’s side.
Markku Hakulinen were well-known attacking stars of the SM League of their time. The efficient skill player was known in the league locations all over the country and the path of “Huojuvan Hakulinen” led all the way to the Lions’ Olympic team in the winter of 1980.
In the dressing room, Markku was a quiet, withdrawn person who was mostly comfortable in his own circumstances. In the opinion of his contemporaries, he was a somewhat mythical figure, a sensitive soul by nature.
Father Markku’s fate was tragic. He committed suicide when he was only 34 years old. Anrei was less than a year old.
– It was made clear to my brother and me in early childhood that our father is dead. I haven’t thought about the things that led to my father’s fate in my life. Only what could be different if my father was a part of my life, says Anrei Hakulinen.
Although Anrei doesn’t remember anything about his father, his feelings have surfaced when he has been thinking about his father in the late hours of the evening.
– When I used to look at scrapbooks of my father’s games when I was young, a drop came to my eye. It has been a sensitive place for me. It is still a sensitive place if something bad is said about him.
In his career, Markku Hakulinen played 272 SM league matches in the shirt of Kiekkoreippa, Koovee and HPK.
Markku’s hockey career ended in 1986. He died on October 9, 1990.
Markku Hakulinen’s black and white photos: Etelä-Suomen Sanomat.
Even though his father was absent from his life, Anrei was not left without an adult model in his childhood and early adolescence. My mother’s family has been very close and especially the uncles who worked in hockey helped in the upbringing of Hakulinen’s brothers to the best of their ability.
“Mother has been a pretty tough bitch”
The mother’s role as the head of the family has always been irreplaceable for Anrei Hakulinen. The single mother, who worked shift work as a nurse, had to throw herself into the world to secure Anrei and his brother’s chances for a good childhood and youth.
Sometimes the mother even did extra work to earn money in order to be able to pay her son’s monthly payments of 300 euros while he was playing in the Turku Palloseura B-juniors. The equipment was not compromised either.
– Mother has been a pretty tough bitch. A husband dies, you become a single parent and yet you raise two boys under the age of two to be good citizens by showing them a direction in life, Anrei Hakulinen becomes sensitive.
– It would have been a tough place if my mother had announced at the junior age that she would no longer play hockey. He always took care of things in such a way that it was possible to practice the sport.
The mother’s hard investment in her son’s hockey hobby did not go to waste.
At times, though, it seemed that Anreista would not be a top hockey player.
Anrei Hakulinen’s path to becoming a national team player is completely different from that of other players. He was not Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Ahon or Alexander Barkov like a youth star. He never played a match in the junior national teams.
Just the thought of becoming a professional in some SM league was a very distant thing for the boy from Turku.
For Hakulinen, playing ice hockey had primarily been about having fun, playing in a good junior team, both in Turku Kisa-Veiki and later in Tuto. He was a gambler by nature and a free soul. Dry training with hill runs didn’t interest me at all.
When Hakulinen was in his twenties, quality time was spent among a group of friends from the hockey circle.
In my mother’s shaken apartment, the console games were in heavy use, and the relevant water was found in the refrigerator before it was time to leave for the attractive night of Turku.
A good amount of beer and tentacles could be consumed on weekends. That is, anything but the recovery drink of an ambitious young athlete.
In the early years of adulthood, Hakulinen’s thoughts were completely elsewhere than investing in hockey. The young athlete’s disciplined lifestyle and goal-orientedness were not part of his vocabulary.
– After the junk games, we went to our cabin, played poker, drank beer and went out for fun. That time was not at all what young people who play sports have today. The evenings sometimes got too long and you had to pay for them on Mondays, Hakulinen says.
One can wonder if Hakulinen’s doors to the SM league would have opened earlier if life had been more athletically goal-oriented in his junior years.
On the other hand, it was a normal phase of life for that age. The close-knit and lively group of friends from the junior years has since fared well in life.
Hakulinen also found his place.
Hakulinen had already decided to quit hockey when a phone call in the winter of 2012 changed the course of his life. At the other end of the line was a person known to the entire hockey community Juhani Tamminen.
At the time, Tamminen worked as the deputy CEO of Tuto, who played in Mestis, Finland’s second highest league level. Ice hockey lion number 79 urged Hakulist to think about his willingness to come from Naantal to Tuto in case of an injury.
Hakulinen, who was looking for a direction in his life, had thoughts elsewhere than hockey at that moment. At the same time, the purpose was to take a break from construction site work, which seemed even more repulsive.
He thought that the alternative offered by Tuto would bring a change suitable for a harsh stage of life.
– I thought for a while and thought that we should go there now. Let’s play for Mest for a while. If that phone call had never come, hockey would surely have stopped.
In the club’s office, a modest player contract was turned around a large mahogany table under Tamminen’s guidance. The prize was a whopping 50 euros for every Mestis match played.
– I knew his family history, the question was about the son of a talented puck family. At the conference table, the boy’s eyes literally widened at the possibility of getting back into the game properly, Juhani Tamminen recalls.
– I wanted to ignite the hockey spark in him. I wanted to tell him that you are a gambler, don’t waste the gift the creator gave you.
The first meeting with hockey legend Juhani Tamminen at the big table in Tuto’s office has not been forgotten by Hakulil to this day.
– I remember when I walked into Tami’s “office” to sign the contract. The monetary compensation was very minimal, but Tami promised a bonus of 300 euros if I play well enough in the final season.
After the season, Hakulinen received the formal bonus promised by Tamminen, and a player contract for the following season was added to the deal. The much-needed spark to play hockey was rekindling.
Quitting wasn’t topical yet.
– My life would certainly be very different today if that opportunity hadn’t come. Maybe I could be in the same construction engineering firm with my nephew, who knows.
Realization and awakening never come too late
In the summer of 2013, Hakulinen’s attitude was put to a new kind of test.
He doubted the Tuto coach Ismo Lehkonen training methods the first time the team meets. The beginning was anything but promising.
– We were around the Paavo Nurme stadium and ran around Kariko Lenkki, which was not our thing at all. The condition was what it was. I thought then, what will this be, at least a long summer.
However, Hakulinen, who has always hated side training, got a little boost when Lehkonen commanded his team on the ice throughout the summer. Hakulinen had fun on the ice, after all, playing was his thing.
So there was something good in Lehkonen’s methods.
– Ika was an excellent coach in the sense that he valued so-called gamblers. On top of all that, I got to play two of Mesti’s top names Tuukka Pulliainen and Aki Keinänen with. After all, it became a hurlumhei season in the rink.
At best, the coach has a great knowledge of people and the ability to sense different personalities that you don’t necessarily want to fit into a certain mold. The ability to work with more sensitive individuals requires an unfailing eye for the game from the coach.
– As a coach, I know players who can be put under pressure, but Anrei was from another country. I didn’t want to test her limits or put pressure on her training. That would have been the road to destruction for him, Ismo Lehkonen recalls.
Awakening and realization are never too late. Not even in Hakulinen’s case.
The 23-year-old hockey player gradually got a picture of what the everyday life of a professional athlete must be like. Hakulinen started to get a real spark for sports.
When regular physical training and high-quality ice training came into the picture, results began to appear in Mestis circles in the 2013–2014 season.
Lehkonen excited Hakulist even more by getting him an agent he had never dreamed of. With the help of an agent, we started looking for a place in the main league, the hockey SM league.
– That’s when I finally started to realize that you could even make a profession out of hockey.
The doors to professional life opened in the spring of 2014, when Hakulinen went to his first SM league club, Lahti Pelicans.
Anrei Hakulinen made his debut in the SM league at the age of 24 in the Lahti Pelicans in the 2014–15 season.
The breakthrough to Finland’s sharpest peak came in KooKoo in the 2018–19 season. In that season, Hakulinen debuted in Leijon.
In the spring of 2021, Hakulinen got to celebrate the Finnish championship in Luko in Rauma.
A memorable moment for the mother was shortly after the championship party, when the son brought home the Canada cup to admire.
– Mother took care of the coffees, sparkling drinks and servings for the relatives. It must have been an important day for him with the group photos.
The life values given by a single mother have carried Anrei Hakulist until now. He plans to inculcate the values acquired at home in his possible offspring as well.
– I want to be fair and be involved in their lives as much as possible. Attendance is the most important thing and of course I would like to guide them to hobbies.
It sounds like Hakulinen’s life has found a direction.