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Always Time For Class – Petteri Lindbohm

Petteri Lindbohm Schools Us In Fashion, Sushi and the Art of Being a Nice Guy

Educational experts consider Finland, where Chicago Wolves defenseman Petteri Lindbohm grew up, to possess the best school system in the world.

It’s also a system unrecognizable to Americans. Finland has placed such importance on a good, well-rounded education that all schools are free – even colleges. At the same time, kids don’t start formal education until they’re 7 years old and homework is rarely a thing at any age. The goal is to develop the whole person.

When students are in first and second grade, their official school day ends around noon. Then young Finns are turned loose to play outside or inside for the next several hours. Teachers follow them to supervise, not to provide strict structure.

And when they become third-graders? Lindbohm recently explained how it works while longtime Wolves athletic trainer Kevin Kacer strapped two ice bags to his surgically repaired shoulder.

“You can pick whatever school you want to go to,” Lindbohm said. “Sports school, dance school, music school and so on. If you do that, then you’ll have 3-4 extra hours of that thing in your school every week. At that time, I tried to get into a couple schools.”

Lindbohm applied to the dance school because his older sister, Emilia, already was there and school officials approved his application. Emilia grew up to become a professional ballerina who danced for a few ballet companies, which suggests the 6-foot-3 Lindbohm might have possessed the genes to develop into one of the world’s tallest ballet dancers.

“I could have,” Lindbohm said deadpan, trying to pretend his immodest statement wasn’t a joke. “But I’m happy I chose what I did.”

“I think you should have chose being a ballerina,” Kacer retorted.

They both laughed.

In actuality, Lindbohm applied to the sports school at the same time as the dance school – and opted to go the sports route. But just because he chose sports didn’t mean he was destined to choose hockey.

Lindbohm’s father, Heikki, left his boyhood home in Helsinki in the late 1970s to play college basketball in America. Heikki played forward for Dowling College on Long Island and earned his degree in Business Adminstration and Management before returning to Finland.

“He really enjoyed that time,” Lindbohm said. “It was the best time
of his life, he said.”

While basketball was his dad’s thing, Petteri and his older brother, Oscar, became nuts about hockey. Though they couldn’t find NHL games on TV, the Lindbohm boys got their fix by reading hockey magazines, collecting hockey cards and battling over pucks in their apartment.

“Mom and Dad didn’t like that at all, but we still played,” Petteri said. “I would always play goalie and act like I was Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek. Then my brother, he was always (Jaromir) Jagr, (Wayne) Gretzky, (Jari) Kurri, (Teemu) Selanne.”

And, perhaps because his father made the bold move from Northern Europe to North America, Lindbohm grew up with the dream to play hockey here. In 2012, when he was 18, the St. Louis Blues picked him in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft.

Two years later, Lindbohm signed a professional contract and came to
the Midwest. He split the last three seasons between the Wolves and the Blues – making his NHL debut when he was 21 years old — but this season Lindbohm has been a staple on the Wolves blue line.

He also has found ways to make Chicago feel like home. Whenever Lindbohm has a night off when he doesn’t need to be resting for a game the following day, there’s a good chance he’s donning something from his fashionable wardrobe and heading to a Chicago restaurant. He loves sushi (Juno and Momotaro are two of his favorites), good steakhouses and adventurous spots like The Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue.

“I’m a little bit of a foodie,” he said. “I love trying new restaurants, love going new places. It’s a good way to get to know you guys’ culture, too. It tells a lot about the people who live here.”

Conversely, Kacer has a story that tells a lot about the quality person Lindbohm happens to be.

Hockey players and trainers tend to spend a lot of time together during the course of a season, particularly players like Lindbohm who are willing to accept and administer physical punishment if it means winning games.

Over the course of his three-plus seasons here, Lindbohm has become friendly with Kacer’s younger son, Nolan, who occasionally spends home games hanging with dad in the Allstate Arena training room. They talk about soccer – or football, as the Eurocentric Lindbohm insists on calling it – and whatever else comes to mind.

“Nolan has really taken a liking to ‘Lindy,’ ” Kacer said. “Lindy’s really good with kids.”

On the day Nolan turned 12 last January, Kacer asked Lindbohm for a favor. Did he have a minute in the afternoon to call Nolan and wish him a happy birthday? Lindbohm wasn’t interested.

“He goes, ‘Can I come over?’ ” Kacer said. “And I said, ‘Well, of course you can. We’ve got some friends coming over for dinner. Why don’t you just come over for dinner? ‘

“It was a nice day and I was cooking out on the grill and we had some family and friends over. Nolan was downstairs with some friends playing and Lindy shows up. Nolan knew nothing about it. So I yelled for him to come upstairs. He comes around the corner of the kitchen looking into the den and sees Lindy and his eyes just lit up. ‘Oh, Lindy! Lindy!’ and runs up and gives him a big hug.

“Lindy was funny. He said, “I’ve got something for you.’ And he reaches into his pocket and gives him a candy bar. And Nolan says, ‘Thanks! That’s nice.’ And Lindy says, ‘I’m just kidding’ and hands him a bag.”

Inside the bag? A Bayern Munich jersey (Nolan’s favorite soccer team) in his size with KACER 7 (his favorite number) on the back.

“It was really awesome,” Kacer said. “He is such a good guy and it was such a great night. Lindy came and spent the whole evening with us and sat around the table drinking wine and eating dinner and it was like he was just part of the family. Great conversation with my family and our friends and it was a really nice night.”

“I come from a big family,” Lindbohm said. “There were always a lot of people around, a lot of kids. I always enjoy hanging out with kids so I can act like a child, too, for a second. That’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Lindbohm has made a quiet habit of helping kids whenever he can. During the offseason, former Wolves defenseman Jared Nightingale and current Wolves forward Scooter Vaughan operated the Great Lakes Hockey camps. When Nightingale confided to Lindbohm that there was a boy who wanted to attend the camp in Hoffman Estates, but the boy’s mom didn’t have spare funds after supporting her family, Lindbohm gave Nightingale the money to cover the boy’s week-long fee.

“It’s super-hard to ask for help, so I really respect when somebody does that and I try my best to help,” Lindbohm said. “When you give, you’re going to get something back. When you do good things, good things happen to you, too. I try to be nice to everybody. When you give a smile to somebody, they might smile back.”

Yep. Clearly those schools in Finland do provide a great overall education.

By Lindsey Willhite, Photos by Ross Dettman