The months have turned to weeks and soon the weeks will turn to days as we continue to count down the days to hockey season. If you have been following my work you know how close I hold Finnish hockey near and dear to me thanks to the supporters of Tampereen Ilves. From the players to the supporters and even the front office, the team makes you feel like you are right at home, even if you are a fifteen-hour flight away.
With Liiga and the CHL kicking off sooner than the NHL, the team has already reported back to Tampere to prepare for the upcoming season. I was fortunate enough to catch up with returning defenseman Les Lancaster as he settles back in and starts to focus on the next campaign.
Fink: How was your offseason? Did you get in a few rounds of golf?
Les: My offseason was great! Spent much-needed time around my family and friends. After not having much time off last year and being so far away during the season it was great to spend quality time with them all. Haha definitely got a few rounds of golf in. I was lucky enough to go on a golf trip to Wisconsin and Chicago with a buddy and play some amazing golf courses.
Having been overseas for the first time in your career, did that force you to adjust your regular offseason plans?
No, not really. Just with the European schedule compared to the American one the timing is a bit different. In the US I’m used to reporting to camp in September rather than late July.
What was your most memorable experience with Ilves in your first season?
My first season was a memorable one simply because everything was a new experience. Coming over was really eye-opening but in a good way. It’s a scary thing to move halfway across the world not knowing anybody, not knowing the language, not knowing anything in the city. But the way my teammates, staff, fans, and the city embraced me was great. They made my transition a lot easier which helped me focus on my play on the ice. It may not be one particular moment but it’s something that is appreciated and memorable.
How do you feel you performed overall and what are you looking to improve upon in your second season?
I’d say my first season in Tampere went great. Overall I am very happy with how I performed throughout the year. If there is something I want to improve on it would be my consistency. Last year I got off to a really hot start and then fell into a bit of a slump. Especially towards the end of the year and into the playoffs I didn’t feel like I was playing awful but certainly wasn’t my best like in the regular season. If I can find some consistency I think I can build on the year I had last year and take another step in my game.
Having a full season of Liiga under your belt, how much more comfortable do you feel moving forward with Ilves?
Yeah, it’s crazy what one year can do for you. Since I’ve been back the transition (besides the time change) has been flawless. This year I haven’t had to stress about anything. I know how our team operates, I know where to find things in the city, able to figure out the grocery stores, and just able to finally relax and not feel so on edge.
Did you get a chance to brush up on any more Finnish in your time off?
Unfortunately no! There were a few words/sayings in Finnish that I would say on the golf course when I hit a bad shot but that’s about it! Besides that, I still don’t know much.
What are you most excited about heading into the season?
Well, this year will be interesting. With a lot of stuff and controversy going on with the KHL, most Finnish/European players have come back to play here which has impacted our league tremendously. The caliber of players and competition this year I think is going to be very high. I believe every night will be an absolute test and I think if we can take the correct steps Ilves should be around the top.
Second, I am really excited to participate in the Champions Hockey League this year. Being able to compete against other leagues in Europe and travel to other countries will be a lot of fun. I think it will also be a great test for our team.
What message do you have for the Ilves supporters this upcoming season?
Keep bringing the energy! I truly think this is one of the best atmospheres to play in. The Ilves faithful are awesome and show up game after game. Whether it’s a CHL game or a Liiga game hopefully we can pack Nokia Arena because it definitely helps us players playing in front of you all.
Ilves will take part in the CHL as well as Liiga in the coming months, stay tuned to The Morning Skate for Ilves updates and a ton more! As always, kiitos!