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What it means to carry a big stick

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What can leaders learn from hockey goaltending?

Until recently, National Hockey League goalies were overwhelmingly Canadian. Then the Finns arrived around 2000. Seemingly overnight, 5 million Finns began producing one-sixth of the NHL’s starting goalies.

Their secret is Urpo Ylönen, or “Upi,” a man spoken of the same way Jedi knights speak of Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s hard to summarize Ylönen’s impact as a goalie and coach:

1. He’s calm. Descriptions of his play and protégés include “aloof,” “enigmatic” and “sphinx.” He wasted no energy reacting to bad goals, and invented his own stick.

2. He advances coaching. Every region in Finland now has goalie coaches at nearly every level of hockey, teaching principles Ylönen developed.

3. He emphasizes practice. Ylönen is so relentless about skating that goalies in his mold barely seem to skate at all. They switch direction effortlessly.

4. He prevents second chances. A hallmark of Finnish goaltending is catching (not blocking) the first shot or redirecting it at an angle, far from the crease.

5. He’s omniscient. “The Finnish goalie always knows what’s going on on the other side,” Ylönen says.

— Adapted from “The Puck Stops Here: How One Man Transformed a Global Sport,” Chris Koentges, The Atlantic.

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