Leading by example
Leading by example
Estonian captain is a top defenceman in France
During the two opening matches at the Olympic Qualification Group K in Tallinn, it has been plain sail so far for the hotly tipped favourites Estonia. After two crushing victories against Israel and Bulgaria, Lahesalu and his defensive rearguard have enjoyed a very quiet ride so far as they now enter the final day decider against Mexico.
"The big number of goals doesn’t interest me and these scores don't happen too often. Now awaits the hardest game in this tournament and we need to be ready from the outset," said Lahesalu.
Played in Tallinn's magnificent newly inaugurated hockey temple, the 5,840-seater Tondiraba Ice Hall, this first round of qualifiers has been far more than just racking up double digit scorelines for the Estonians. It has also been a much welcomed few days for the coaching staff to assess his team in training while also being on the lookout for any new blood that might be playing themselves into the fold for upcoming tournaments.
"It's hard to just jump into playing a the World Championship, so it is good chance for them to get a chance to get a feel for what is like to play for the national team," said Lahesalu, who himself was a teenager when he made a step-up in standards during his World Championship debut in the B-Pool in Slovenia in 1998.
"Senior games meant a higher level, but fortunately I had experience from playing in the Finnish top junior league and I was also lucky to play together with a very experienced player, Vyacheslav Kulpin, in my first World Championship, so it was more or less just giving him the puck," said Lahesalu of his memories of a tournament debut which also is Estonia's highest overall ranking at World Championship level, with the Baltic state finishing third in the B-Pool ahead of countries such as Norway and Denmark and 19th overall in the program.
With Lahesalu now himself being the national team's elder statesman at 36 and team captain, Lahesalu's approach as a leader is to let his actions do the talking rather than superfluous words.
"I am not that kind of person, but if I see something I don't like I will tell it, but I try to keep my box and do what I should do and that is enough," he said.
Lahesalu's pragmatic approach has stood him in good stead throughout his career. He had already been skating outdoor for a few years, when his dad saw an ad in a local paper and that is how his hockey career began in his native Tallinn at the at the age of nine. Thanks to diligent hard work he developed to become such a prospect that Finland soon came calling.
"I don't know if I would call it quick progress because it took me ten years, but all I wanted was to play ice hockey and my dream was to play in the SM-liiga (then the name of Finland's top division), so it was an easy decision for me," said Lahesalu, who arrived at Tappara Tampere to suit up for their U20 team for the 1997/98 season.
Once the junior became a senior, Lahesalu went on to do his business during three seasons in Finland's second tier before his dream move came along. Signing for Karpat Oulu in the top division he played six matches but saw his progress hampered by an injury and later fierce competition for places. He tried playing one season in Denmark in 2004/05 then returned to Finland's second tier, but when playing time started to dry out there it was time to seek a new challenge which landed him with a move to Angers in Western France.
"I didn't know anything about French hockey, but my agent asked me and I said let's go for the remainder of the season," he said.
Currently in his eleventh season in Ligue Magnus, Lahesalu has spent the bulk of his time in Angers but also patrolled the blueline for a couple of successful seasons with Rouen where he became French Champion in 2012/13. Now back in Angers since 2014 he is quick to jump at the chance of representing his country and add to the 16 World Championships he currently has under his belt.
"It has been an interesting journey and that is also the reason why I am coming back, but also to get together with my old friends I have played together with in the national team for many years," he said while showing little sign of slowing down.
"What I do know is that nothing beats being a player, but there are also players that after their careers decide to start doing something related to hockey, but that does not necessarily mean it is going to be me. I like playing so much, so I have not been thinking about anything else what I'd like to do," said Lahesalu.
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