January 22, 2012
Banning booze big boost for Flames' Jokinen
By Eric Francis, QMI AGENCY
In the back of Olli Jokinen’s mind, he knew for years the drinking would have to stop.
He knew the toll his binge boozing was taking on his body and, ultimately, on his career.
Happy to tie one on with his teammates when the opportunity presented itself, those nights out with the boys no longer seemed worth it the next day or two when hobbled by debilitating hangovers.
Both the throbbing in his head and the weakness that stems from being dehydrated were cheating him, his teammates, his coach and his organization out of what he knew he could bring on night’s the game had his full attention.
The Tylenol intake mounted, as did the guilt.
So he quit.
“I’ve been sober six years now,” a candid Jokinen told the Calgary Sun, sharing his alcohol issues publicly for the first time.
“I don’t want to be one of those guys who sits in the bar after I’m done playing and says, ‘What if?’ I don’t like to use the word ‘if.’ Whatever the length of your career is going to be, you want to make the most out of it. You want to be in a position to look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘I did everything I possibly could to be the best I could.’ ”
And that meant changing his lifestyle in many ways, starting with eliminating alcohol from his diet — not something many athletes openly discuss during their careers.
“I think quitting drinking was more about feeling good about myself,” the 33-year-old Calgary Flames centre said of a decision that came while he was still playing with the Panthers in Florida.
“I didn’t like to have a hangover. It wasn’t like I would drink every day, but when you go out, you would get plastered up pretty good, and it would take two or three days to recover. When you get older, that gets even harder and harder — you can’t do that very often. I’d have a major headache for several days, and that was the part I didn’t enjoy.”
Blessed with a 6-foot-3, 210-lb. frame, the knock on Jokinen for years was that he didn’t take care of himself as well as most of today’s NHLers do. That began to change in 2005, when he made wholesale lifestyle changes that included the realization his drinking was a legitimate problem.
“You have to be honest with yourself and make decisions on which way you want to go,” said Jokinen, who quit cold turkey and without the aid of Alcoholics Anonymous or any other support group other than his wife and kids.
“I tried it and felt better and better, and there was no reason to go back (to drinking). To be honest, it wasn’t hard (to quit). I wasn’t a guy who got blasted once a week — more like four or five times during the year and then also through the summer. It wasn’t like I was hung over every day. You’ve got to know yourself. When you’re young, it takes time to understand what’s good for you and what works.”
As part of Jokinen’s increased focus on fitness, he now employs a full-time masseuse he figures has done wonders to help him remain healthy. He’s only missed three games over the last 21/2 NHL seasons.
Add to that a personal sports psychologist he works with on game days, and it’s no wonder he’s evolved into one of the Flames best players this year.
He’s convinced none of it would have been possible had he not taken a stance on alcohol consumption six years ago.
“There wasn’t really one incident that made me quit — there were probably a lot more than one before, but not really one that stood out,” said Jokinen, who was second in Flames scoring with 34 points in 47 games heading into last night’s game in Edmonton.
“It was kind of a long process that I was thinking about for many years before I made a decision.”
Although he’s taken on a much more professional tone, he’s able to chuckle over his evolution.
“I have a lot more fun going out now and can be a lot more social,” Jokinen said before breaking into a grin.
“Usually after the rookie party (when everyone is drinking) is over, that’s my time to shine.”