Christophe Archambault only played one season of junior hockey in Finland, but it was enough to fall in love with the land of saunas, heavy metal bands and northern lights.
Four years later, he found his way back again … kind of.
Archambault served as team host for the Finns at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, just as he did in 2015, helping ease them into life in Montreal, while making sure he had the answer to any question the team had.
“My role consists of making sure everything is set for the team,” Archambault said during the tournament. “It allows the team to focus on playing its games and not having to worry about all the other logistics details. From providing them with their practice schedule, to booking transportation, to making sure they have coffee available in the morning, my job is to make sure the Finns are happy.”
During the 2012-13 season, Archambault was the happy one. Playing for the Jokerit U20 team in Helsinki, the Ste-Julie, Que., native became acquainted with Finnish general manager Kimmo Oikarinen, a contact that would come in handy when the World Juniors rolled around.
But how did Archambault end up in Finland in the first place?
“As a 17-year-old, I played just three games with Rimouski [in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League],” he says. “The following summer, I went to train with Jokerit’s senior and junior teams to get ready for my next season with the Océanic.
“Jokerit had asked me to stay and play with the junior team there, but I wanted to give it another shot in Quebec. When I found out there was no real plan for me with Rimouski, I packed my bags and flew back to Europe for the season.”
Archambault immediately fell in love with Finland, a country he compares to his home province – except for the lack of blondes in Quebec, he says with a smile – because the climate is comparable, and the people love to watch and talk hockey.
But he wasn’t going to Scandinavia totally blind; Archambault’s father Yves works as technical director with Hockey Quebec and has been hosting coaching clinics with the Finnish Ice Hockey Association for many years.
After word-of-mouth led Oikarinen to work through Hockey Quebec to find a team host for the 2015 World Juniors in Montreal, he found Archambault, and it was an easy decision to reprise his role this year.
“I sort of always considered Finland as my second home after playing there,” he says. “I remember one of the hardest parts of living there was integrating with the culture. But hockey really helped me with that and gave me friendships that I will have for a lifetime.”
While supporting the team and assisting with whatever they need is something all volunteer team hosts do, Archambault went a little further, jumping on the ice with Finnish goaltenders during practice.
Oikarinen made the request, asking Archambault (who played 15 games of pro hockey in France during the 2015-16 season) to keep the puck-stoppers loose.
“When I was team host back in 2015, there were a few guys on the team who I had played with or against,” he says. “But now, two years later I don’t recognize many faces. So the first time I skated out onto the ice in practice, I saw a few players looking at me that were a little surprised. It was funny to see the goalies’ reactions when I started firing shots. They were all a little shocked that their team host was there, but more so that I knew how to shoot a puck.”
For Archambault, the experience was a memorable one in 2017, despite the Finns’ ninth-place finish. And if the tournament happens to find its way back to Quebec in the future, he’ll be ready.