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60 minutes with Rock McKenzie


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RM: What does it take to play in the toughest league in the world? How much does the business side control things? Can hockey be just a job for some? We will get an answer to those questions and to few more today. You are watching 60 minutes with Rock McKenzie, I'm Rock McKenzie. With me in the studio is a professional simulation league player Jim Bob, welcome!


JB:Thanks for having me.


RM:Let's start with a trip down the memory lane, why did you start playing hockey?


JB: That is a good question, when I was younger I played a lot of sports. I grew up in Albania, so naturally football was big, but basketball and volleyball were something I remember playing a lot with my friends. Hockey came into the picture only during the wintertime since we had no ice rinks where I lived. The feeling of skating on ice was something special, I loved it. That is how it all started, long and rocky road from a small town in Albania to playing in VHL, but one little kid skating on a little patch of ice - that is where it started.


RM: When you think about that hard and rocky road, was it worth it?
JB: It was well worth it, fairly safe to say that I would have not gotten this far in life if I stayed in Albania. Big thanks for that goes to my family who took a massive leap of faith when they decided to come with me on this journey. I'm in a position now where I can pay back and help my parents as they helped me, they do not have to work as hard anymore, that is something that warms my heart a lot.


RM: Players like yourself who come from humble beginnings and finally make it, how hard it is to keep motivated? Can hockey be just a job?
JB: There is no denying the fact that we get paid a lot of money. Some players are so good that they do not have to put in the maximum effort every game and day. That is not directly a motivational question as teams sometimes try to save energy for the upcoming games or try to reduce the injury risk by taking their foot off the gas, that is normal and might look like players do not play as well as they could.  If you play hard and get injured in a 6-0 game that is almost as good as over, the coaches are not going to be pleased.


That is still different than doing the absolute bare minimum to get by. Usually, the players who do that do not last that long in VHL. There is always someone who wants your job if you do not keep going, in that sense it's easy to keep motivated and make sure nobody can question your commitment and professionalism. There is no way you can coast it week after week and expect to stay in VHL.


I can only speak from my experience and If I'm completely honest, sometimes I do wonder what is the point of it all, I have all this money that I can use to do things I could not even dream about as a young kid living in Albania. Sitting hours and hours in a plane and sleeping in a hotel is not fun after some time, that wears some players down faster than others. There is no simple yes or no answer to anything motivation related in hockey, it's a complex topic, you need to look every player as their own case to judge whether someone is motivated or is there something else going on.


RM: Let's talk more about money, you mentioned how the players make a nice living, does that side put pressure on players? Money speaks loud after all.
JB: It does, especially the suits who run the shows at the top of each organization are not usually huge fans of losing games, if things are not going well you as a player won't be sitting in the stands with a minor injury, you are going to play. That is not always the smartest decision, but the player has very little say on it. Coaches feel the pressure coming from the top and the players do as well, coaches want to win to make sure they have a job and the owners are happy. That puts the players into an awkward position, especially those who earn a lot every year.


It's a bit of a myth that owners are not involved, they watch games and follow the reports, if a player who has a massive salary does not perform well for longer periods of time, you can be sure that your sorry ass in the trading block or at very least new contract won't be on the table after the season. That is not maybe directly money talking, but it's the big elephant in the room, owners want to see the value for their investment, players who end up signing a lucrative deal are under constant pressure to play well, having to play while carrying a minor injury is just one example of that.


RM: How do you see your future in the league, most players usually play around eight years in VHL, you are currently playing your fourth year, is four more going to be enough?
JB: That is the plan, eight years is a lot of hockey in the best league in the world, VHL is a demanding league, the game keeps getting faster and faster. By the time you reach years six and seven in VHL you are already pretty worn out, what I mentioned previously on having to play even if you are not completely healthy plays a part, but you play hundreds of games in VHL in over five years, some are luckier than others, I'm hoping to be one of the players who are lucky and can play their own game as they enter the latter stages of their career in VHL.


I have enjoyed my time in Finland and in Helsinki Titans, we came close to winning big last year and we have another chance again this year. I'm fully focused on this ongoing year, if I end up playing a good year and Helsinki as a team plays well, I think my future looks rather nice, but I'm also in the point of my career where I'm one of the players who gets paid a lot, if I can't play on the required level the future plans are quite comfortably out of my hands. Helsinki has a demanding owner just like every other team in this league, I'm not going to get 5m+ salary just by hitting alone, I must play well in the offensive end. That is all I have to say about the future for now, I'm healthy and playing in a good team, so things are rolling on smoothly.


RM: Unfortunately this is all the time we have, thank you for coming in today and giving us an insiders perspective on what it's like to play in VHL. We should do this again sometime, the 60 minutes went by flying.  I got a program coming up on how commercials are so loud nowadays if that interests you and more so if that is something you know about? But we can also do another hockey one at some point. I want to wish you the best of luck in the future.
JB: Thank y..

RM: You watched 60 minutes with Rock McKenzie, my name is Rock McKenzie.





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