Talks to Peter Collins
SOMETIMES it takes a traumatic incident to put life into perspective and for recent signing Arttu Kayhko (pronounced Cow-ka) it happened last summer, it was something that made him not only take another look at his hockey career but also life in general. When asked whether he had any long term plans to stay with the Storm, Arttu said he took every day at a time, but it was no glib "I'm ducking that one" reply, it was a true reflection on the new outlook circumstances have forced him to adopt. "During the summer I was working out, I had a spot fixed up back in North America but in late August I was diagnosed as having a cancerous tumour in my left tricep and I had to have it removed. I was working on improving my upper body strength and I began to notice this huge growth. At first I thought, 'Wow, that looks good, now all I have to do is get the other one to look the same!' But my father saw it and made me go to hospital to get it checked out and I'm glad he did. I managed to get back to fitness and was playing on a game-to-game basis back in Finland with Lahti Pelicans, but things didn't work out and I was looking around for another club when along came Manchester. "Something like that put things into perspective, I mean the doctors didn't know if I would ever play again, my career and my life was on the line for a while. Fortunately for me it looks as though they got in time. I have to undergo check-ups every six months and I've just had one that showed I was clear, so now like I said I take every game as it comes and enjoy life to the full.'
The 6ft 4ins, 27-year-old blueliner presents a formidable presence to any forward but it's not just the sheer size of the man that is impressive, there's also the high skill level. "Here in Britain it's still pretty much the North American game only played on the bigger ice surface and my main asset is that being Finnish I'm comfortable on the puck anywhere on the ice and that's the way I think I can help the team most, by passing, making good passess and using my size." No one can argue with that so far (if they are crazy enough to do so in the first place, because Arttu really is BIG) as he's used his vision to set up play after play from his own zone, claiming two assists on his debut in the 4-2 defeat of Ayr, followed by another assist in the 4-2 win over Cardiff.
But what about his size, does it work for him or against him? "They tend to respect size in North America. Coming from Finland I'm not all that aggressive although North American guys my size usually are and it doesn't hurt to be big. You always get the ones who want to prove themselves by having a go at a big guy so you have to give back straight away what they dish out to you, and that's what I did over there and they soon left me alone. I only got involved in one real fight and won it pretty quickly." So what does he think of Manchester and the Storm so far? "I wouldn't mind staying here, but like I said I've learned not to take anything for granted and that the best laid plans don't always come about. You never know what the next day is going to bring. It's pretty early to say either way, the team might not want me once the season is over, and I might not want to stay, but from what I've seen so far the team is great, the city is great also, and the people are very kind - they gave me the man-of-the-match award on my first game even though I didn't think I deserved it - so we'll just have to see."
Starting out with Kiekko-Karhut, FPS Forssa and Kiekko-67 Turku in the Finnish first division, Arttu then spent two seasons with the NCAA's Northeastern University before returning to Finland and the SM liiga with TPS Turku. But disaster struck, after only two games he broke his leg and after recovering he iced with TuTo Hockey Turku and Hermes HT Kokkola in the first division as well as Lukko Rauma where he played another 10 games in the Finnish top flight. But it was enough for him to get noticed by the Calgary Flames who invited him over to North America and placed him with their AHL affiliate, the Saint John Flames. Despite being tipped as a future NHLer things didn't work out with the Flames and he moved on to Jonathan Weaver's new club, the ECHL's Mississippi Sea Wolves, before rounding of the season in the IHL with Kris Miller's old outfit, the Orlando Solar Bears. If it hadn't been for the tumour he would be back in North America now but like he said, he's not bitter. "North America was fun but you have to be prepared to move at literally a moment's notice, you just get to know the guys on one team when you have to start all over again. I think that's why there are a lot of older North Americans over here with families, they've done their share of moving from team to team and they want a bit more stability. I really wanted to come here from the first time I heard from my agent that there was interest from Manchester. Apart from the hockey I like being in places where there are other things going on, I mean last season in Saint John all there was was hockey - you got up, went to the rink, played the game, went back to your hotel and that was it. There wasn't much to do, but coming here I knew it was a very professional organisation, an awesome arena, loud fans and Manchester is a city with a lot of history and culture."
So if you're a culture vulture you may bump into Arttu and girlfriend Kirsi in some of the city's museums and art galleries, although he likes to make out he's just a 'dumb hockey player' there's more to Arttu Kayhko than meets the eye, a lot more.