[Continued from Part A in August, 2015]
Mekkar is a very rhythmatic person. He feels like he is at his best when he is in the rhythm of something. This applies to all areas of his life. Thus, being in rhythm is quite key to him and central to his way of thinking. Mekkar understands that most people are unable to relate to that because it is an ingrained native aspect to his character.
Anyone who knows Mekkar personally can see that his survivor fighter type personality is not an act. It has stemmed from the far north native environment and upbringing he grew up in. This was easily assessed by Mekkar’s quips and retorts on the ice toward other players. Especially ones who wanted to do combat with him or those who desired to ramp up their roughness against him. ”Hey, where I come from we have big bears and you are much smaller than a bear. So, how are you going to scare me?” Mekkar would snap back at times.
It seemed that every time Mekkar participated in any games against North Americans, exhibition or otherwise, they all wanted to test him. Since he felt that his size, or lack thereof, was like a greeting card advertising an invitation to start the rough stuff with him. Many times the cheap shots and extra aggressiveness would take place, even before the youngster would open his mouth to show that he was an accommodating adversary. It wasn’t like Mekkar was unwilling to oblige either. Mekkar sought an answer that maybe it was something in his countenance on his face or an aspect in his appearance perhaps. However, he never received a satisfactory response to these questions. Ultimately Mekkar discarded that notion due to a lack of useful information gathered on the subject. He was forced to accept things as another part of hockey environment.
The Arctic Warrior was a product of an era and time that had a different mentality. Many of the most famous big name hockey stars would fight back to defend themselves. The list included the biggest names in the sport - Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, etc. The current specialization of athletes has removed the need for this because there are enforcers who defend their team’s star players. Rarely, if ever, did anyone see Mekkar back down from a direct challenge. The native from the far north figured if the superstars can protect themselves on their own and fight back, why can’t he?
Not to mention many aspects were different in those days along with unwritten rules and conduct that applied as well. Mekkar understood this and still his on-ice demeanor crossed the line of breaking those rules on many occasions while performing for various squads. As for the whole hockey industry, Mekkar refuses to speak for it because maybe many aspects he believed were universal. In his mind, people in all fields take some things for granted whether conscious or not.
For instance, the head injury issues that many have now become aware of were as common as today. Mekkar suspects it was more so at the peak of his athletic career. However, scientific discovery and advancement in technology were not as advanced as today. Concussions were only considered as headaches and, Mekkar knows about this firsthand, some were worse than others.
There are times where Mekkar was incapable of recalling from his memory banks whole days, weeks, and matches that he was involved in. On some of those occasions he would have a portion of the info filled in by his brother, friends, and others that were present. Since they all pretty much played the sport too, Mekkar would do the same for them in return. There was an agreement that if one of the teammates had a blank bout due to head trauma the other players would collectively take care of each other by filling in the missing details.
Mekkar now experiences a consistent level of headache, along with their varying degree throughout everyday of his life due to the frequent rattling of the head. He understands that he took the risks and fully accepts the consequences. Thus, he sucks it up and deals with it in his own way. His ingrained mentality is that he is a hockey player, long after his playing days were over. Thus, don’t be a baby about it and keep your complaints to yourself – despite the deterioration of the physical issues. Everyone around The Arctic Warrior sees this outward expression and attitude including his doctors and neurologist. Yet, no one wants to trade places and endure the daily challenging circumstances that have risen as a result.
Fortunately, Mekkar was always glad that he wasn’t suited up as the backup goaltender for a live game. The backup was usually positioned, closest to the puck bucket, at one end of the bench. The pail was used for the nauseating excretion that could occur as a result of a heavy hit to the head and other reasons. Normally, the second goalie that occupied that spot on the bench rapidly adapted and later became immune to that foul smell. Similar to the garbage man around stinky trash or a plumber who unclogs pipes of human waste. Still, that scent always affected Mekkar and made him want to puke so he would try to sit as far away as possible because he never got used to it.
There were many instances, which involved Mekkar, that would be labelled as concussions today. Little was known about those issues back then as compared to now. For example, Mekkar would suffer a firm blow through contact of his head with an opposing fist, elbow, the ice surface, boards, etc. Team officials or trainers would arrive with smelling salt packets to wake him up if he was completely knocked out. A few times, according to Alf and Lasse, Mekkar didn’t even know who he was and answered all of the questions directed at him incorrectly.
On a number of occasions after regaining his senses Mekkar would then be helped to the bench. Next, vomit into the bucket and go to the dressing room to be given pain pills and commonly alcohol for the numbing effect. He would then hear, “Hurry up; you only have a few minutes for your next shift so be ready.” Ah! The good old days.
Mekkar has experienced times where he was in a blackout, non-remembrance frame of mind for awhile afterward. This happened more often than he would care to admit but the response was suck it up you’re a hockey player. Unfortunately, it also became his normal point of view by not considering the future adverse effects.
It was amazing that Mekkar didn’t miss more time by playing through it all. He rarely missed games and almost never did for an assortment of minor injuries. He feared that he could be replaced if he was out too long. All he wanted to do was play the game. The matches were rewards to him for being diligent in practice, going through the training regimes, and the other preparation activities.
In addition, there is the matter of gaining the respect of your peers, fellow players, coaches, fans, etc. Mekkar didn’t desire to be labeled a wimp, chicken, or one who couldn’t handle the roughness of the game. So, Mekkar soldiered on without consideration of any possible long term negative affects. He didn’t want to disturb his confidence level and that is such a fragile thing at times for most athletes.
That period was very much unlike today where the big money invested in athletes is so much greater and the overall physical contact less. Now, whole careers are taken into account and the athletes can retire on the salaries earned nowadays. Mekkar has mentioned it before that he felt that most athletes back during the duration of his career and before were treated many times like a piece of meat. He has even quipped, “The help was cheaper to replace when the meat was not so delicious anymore.”
Another aspect was the attitude exhibited by a few of the clubs Mekkar played for. If you are injured in any way just get back to the bench. The players were told flatly, “If you are not dead or unconscious we will not come and help you off of the ice. At the very least, be tough and get to the bench under your own power, somehow!” It was a different era. That is the reason why in one game during his playing days Mekkar broke his leg. He was unable to stand up or put any weight onto that limb. He then proceeded to crawl on his hands and knees along part of the defensive blue line while the puck was up ice. Mekkar struggled to get back to his team’s side and only then was helped to the locker room for further analysis.
Due to this inserted conviction, Mekkar feels that many individuals went beyond the call of duty. Some performed with injuries back then that wouldn’t be considered according to the current standard. He attributes it to the expendability factor of yesteryear as the Native from the Far North refers to it.
It was a good thing Mekkar was blessed with a measure of natural athletic ability but quite a few specific skills had to be learned, developed, and ingrained over time. Mekkar was in top physical condition due to the excruciating and demanding training program. Plus, he had such a low center of gravity that made it hard to knock him off of his feet. On the other hand, the lack of height made Mekkar very susceptible to opposition elbows and cheap shots to his upper body especially the head.
Mekkar has affirmed many times that fighting in hockey is preferable than the alternative, more dangerous stick work. Mainly, because there are those individuals that are reserved for that role of policeman for your team. It is a matter of being a deterrent like nuclear arsenals during the Cold War. He has asserted that if there was no fighting allowed at all the abuse suffered could be much worse.
Cheap shots to the club stars and main goal scores would increase dramatically. Injuries from evil stick work would be out of this world. Mekkar knows about these nasty tactics because he has been the target of it himself. He has suffered a host of various induced maladies as a result of opposing maltreatment from vicious hidden uncalled penalty stick infractions. Bad intentioned twig-work has caused Mekkar more trouble to his body than anything he has suffered in any tangle or fighting escapades involving one’s fists. There have been some hockey leagues around the world with the bad-stick label attached to them. Thus, top players avoid those locations like the plague.
The native young man has never lacked internal drive; some others would call it passion or refer to it with other terminology. That resilient fire is sometimes the very thing that kept him going through the bog and the mire. A toughness trait that keeps him upright and still looking forward to make a positive play or set up a prime scoring chance during a game. This all while being checked and possibly crunched into the boards by the opposition like any good hockey player, performing their duty, would do.
Ice Hockey is considered one of the fastest team sports in the world along with Jai Alai, Badminton, Bobsledding, and others. The difference is the added physical element that also makes hockey a violent game and a collision/contact sport. The players are quite aware of the speed that takes place within a game. Most fans will never be able to conceive of it without direct participation. Watching the game on television doesn’t come close to revealing to the non-player how quickly it all moves or how fluid the sport is.
Even now though he prefers listening to a match on the radio to keep his mind sharp, when Mekkar watches a game he sees it from a much different perspective. Friends of his notices when going to a live hockey game with him that Mekkar still actually shouts instructions toward the ice. On other occasions Mekkar becomes very quiet and extremely analytical of the play on the ice. Others can vouch that Mekkar even voices instructions and tactics toward the players during a game – whether live or on TV.
It is not surprising considering Mekkar did later coach a younger championship squad, while he was still playing himself. That team roster had a couple of future pro stars, but Mekkar’s implemented system and training was considered too exhausting for all involved. However, he liked the teaching aspect but not the overall aspect of coaching too much. The main reason is that you can do everything to prepare your team but there is only so much control the coaches can exert in regards to the execution of the game plan.
After all of this time, when Mekkar views a match live, or on television if the cameras are in the correct places, it is in an unequal manner to those around him. Despite all of the head trauma, he presently sees the play in, what he describes as kind of slow motion. He scopes the activity as it develops on the ice, through recognizable patterns, particularly around the net area. There is his early distinguishment of possible scoring chances and resulting goals as they happen in real time. Those observing the match right next to him might only hear an oh! Sound from Mekkar before a goal is scored. Yet, there are other occasions where he has trouble remembering who he is – all inside the same skull.
Parts of the processing center inside Mekkar’s head are much quicker than he could ever describe with his mouth and his trap is pretty fast. Mekkar has what Alf and Lasse describe as an almost non-stop motor mouth with constant yammering. Part of Mekkar’s was being a disturber, or a pest, and he was good at it by chirping away at opposing players. In many cases, he would descend into the realm of uttering similar comments at teammates as well.
References to a player’s error-prone mistakes, how they looked, odd individual traits, regarding their talent level or lack thereof would be capitalized upon. Nothing was sacred and no topic or subject was out of bounds or off limits for use by Mekkar when he was in the provoking mode. Sometimes he was assigned by the coaching staff the purpose of getting inside a specific player’s head so they might take a stupid penalty. This ploy was applied to throw the opposition player off of their game, well at least for that particular tilt. The idea was to positively affect the results in the rink for his own team. Of course, Mekkar was not an expert at this technique or in the same high trash talking stratosphere level as some other players. There are masters of confusion that came along later such as Finn Esa Tikkanen who even invented his own language Tiki-Talk. [Wikipedia; Livestrong.com]
Mekkar has heard the following statement a few times and from a variety of sources in the form of, “Eventually you will get knocked on your backside and it will happen a lot. If it hasn’t happened yet, it is because you are not playing hard enough or not at a high enough level of play.” This was a positive aspect for Mekkar as he saw it. Plus, the Northern Native already had a never give up philosophy and never surrender character no matter what the circumstances he faced or what the scoreboard read. In addition, Mekkar had an extreme level of mental fortitude and toughness. All hockey athletes are aware, as Mekkar was, they could suffer a crushing blow or a career ending injury at any time. Yet, at the same time have a high pain tolerance or be able to bear a continuous level of great discomfort; to a degree that most individuals can never relate to and possibly would drive many to constant wailing. Mekkar just accepted it as part of the sacrifice for the love of the game.
The emerging young man had exceptional hand-eye coordination and instantaneous mental faculties working at top speed together. It was required for Mekkar to endure the rigors of his position such as throwing his body in front of a 90 mile per hour + (144.84 kph) slap shot to block it. [Livestrong.com] Mekkar thought that a person had to be a little bit crazy to do that without hesitation. Certainly, he qualified in that psychological aspect. Even more so, in an era where the protective equipment was nowhere near as good as today. Mekkar would make jokes about this saying that he should be committed to a nuthouse for these types of reactions and on-ice behaviors.
The teenager always tried to give his best effort every day and night, during practices and live games. He is aware that is how you win the respect of your team and the fans. Mekkar accepted the fact that anybody could be observing him at any time. The realization of being in a fishbowl where everything is visible and out in the open. When he could not do anything without an entirety of people seeing it placed added pressure on Mekkar. Eerie similar to some of the lyrics in the song Somebody's
[by Rockwell, 1984] Watching Me.
Mekkar discerned that there were other off-ice areas he needed to markedly improve upon such as humility, approachableness, and conducting himself appropriately when engaging the media. He had a plan of good intentions in not swearing too often (which is common with hockey players) around reporters. Not only that, the Native From The North attempted to show respect to various team officials, along with on-ice officials. The results did not quite pan out as well as he hoped. Mekkar tried to keep, his displeasure at times, inside. However, it was difficult because of his growing lack of trust in any authority figures in general.
Fortunately, scouts and other hockey people saw this as a trait of youth that could be corrected easily with proper teaching and more exposure to a variety of environments. Those in charge focused on Mekkar’s physical abilities such as being a strong skater and his fearlessness. Also, those same individuals admired his ability to maneuver his way through tight windows on the ice due to his compact, low-centre of gravity, stature. Not to forget Mekkar was normally prepared to take a hit, just to make a good play with the puck. [Livestrong]