Carson Lambos' latest adventure is a business trip, not a vacation. It has taken him more than 6,500 kilometres from his home in Winnipeg to Jyväskylä, Finland.
Why Finland, you say?
Well, with a hockey season thrown into turmoil by the pandemic, Lambos, his family and agent Mark Mackay went the extra mile to solve a problem — a lack of competition.
And so, he travelled to Jyväskylä last week to begin training with JYP of the Finnish U20 league.
The 17-year-old defenceman is coming off a stellar rookie year with the WHL's Winnipeg Ice and is widely regarded among the top five prospects for the 2021 NHL draft.
But with the WHL regular season delayed, now scheduled to start Jan. 8, Lambos felt he was losing some of his edge while training for the past seven months.
"Playing games is a big thing for me in my draft year and coming here gives me an opportunity to do more of that and so that was a big pro for me," said Lambos over the phone Monday. "Experiencing a new culture and learning hockey in a bit of a different way than I'm used to is another thing that was a motivator for me to come here."
The bruising, multi-skilled 6-1, 201-pound defenceman tested negative for the COVID-19 virus twice in the days following his arrival and required only a five-day quarantine.
He practised for the first time with his new teammates Monday and, as you might expect, was finding the adjustment to a new country and unfamiliar training methods challenging.
Communicating with his new teammates hasn't been easy, either.
"A lot of my teammates understand (English)... it's just they don't speak it as well. It's hard for them to find the words," said Lambos. "So you say a lot and they understand but you don't hear as much in return. They're trying their best, so you just have to be appreciative of that."
"It's been one practice (but) everything is done here at 100 per cent speed 100 per cent of the time. I'm more used to trying to maybe slow things down at times and get control time with the puck." – Carson Lambos
Lambos was routinely among the very fittest players on the Ice but on his Finnish team the two-a-day workouts on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be very taxing. Fridays and Saturdays are designated game days while Wednesdays and Sundays are days off.
"It's been one practice (but) everything is done here at 100 per cent speed 100 per cent of the time," said Lambos. "I'm more used to trying to maybe slow things down at times and get control time with the puck."
Lambos could dress for a game as early as this weekend if his transfer paperwork goes through on time. Last week, the WHL authorized roster players to accept playing opportunities in other leagues, providing they are returned to the WHL by Dec. 20.
High-level competition is seen as crucial to Lambos' development and if he hopes to contend for the No. 1 overall spot in the draft, a competition that includes Finnish centre Aatu Raty and blue-liners Owen Power of the USHL's Chicago Steel and Brandt Clarke of the OHL's Barrie Colts, among others.
"I think this past draft, we all noticed the amount of the European players and the amount of Russian players that were able to jump in front of North American players and one of the biggest reasons why was those kids were playing at this time and I think that was a huge disadvantage for North American players," said Mackay from Calgary.
Mackay, a former WHL player himself, spent his entire pro career in Europe and he believes Lambos will benefit from the cultural experience as well as the on-ice exposure.
"You know what, I guarantee he will," said Mackay of Lambos experiencing the European game. "There's different angles you have to take as a defender. You have to be quicker as far as getting and closing on outside lanes but yet you can't give away the middle of the ice."
Lambos' arrangement is fairly unique but Mackay said his client is a good fit with JYP.
"Having a player of Carson's talent, it was a little bit easier and they love the fact that having a player like Carson not only boosts their team but also having that level of player around all their other players," said Mackay. "So it's worked out very well."
Lambos, who is billetting with JYP's general manager Mikko Viitanen, will be able to complete his Grade 12 studies online. The plan is to play U20 games with the possibility of a promotion to the club's senior Liiga team, where budding young superstar Brad Lambert plays.
"If he picks up maybe even two or three things to add to his game that he didn't have, it's well worth it." – Steve Lambos, Carson's father
Lambos will remain in Finland for six weeks, or perhaps longer if the WHL season is delayed further.
"If he picks up maybe even two or three things to add to his game that he didn't have, it's well worth it," said Steve Lambos, Carson's father.
"He wants to play games. He wants to play hockey and he's got a vision of where he wants to be in his life with hockey. He wants to be a pro player, right? He puts his head down and busts his ass and whatever transpires will transpire."
Lambos isn't the only Canadian WHL player in Europe.The Regina Pats recently loaned 15-year-old centre Connor Bedard to HV71's junior team in Sweden based in Jönköping.
In two games with the U20 squad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft has a goal and two points.
Earlier this year, Hockey Canada granted the North Vancouver, B.C., product exceptional status, which will allow him to play a full season in the WHL a year earlier than usual.
NOTES: The Prince Albert Raiders have transferred overage power forward Justin Nachbaur to the MJHL's OCN Blizzard. Nachbaur, who hails from Cross Lake, joins P.A. teammate Evan Herman, an 18-year-old left-winger who scored on Saturday night for the Blizzard... Meanwhile, Neepawa has added a pair of 19-year-old forwards: Zak Smith from the Red Deer Rebels and Dallon Wilton of the Kelowna Rockets. Smith and Wilton have both played two full seasons in the WHL... Meanwhile, the Virden Oil Caps have added defenceman Daemon Hunt (Moose Jaw Warriors) and forward Grady Lane (Spokane Chiefs) while the Winkler Flyers have brought in defenceman Jordan Chudley (Spokane)... OCN forward Aiden Litke has been suspended for one game after taking a cross-checking major penalty in game against the Swan Valley Stampeders on Oct. 17.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.