Marko Jantunen left the pro hockey many years ago.
But it feels like yesterday that he was a well-known hockey star in Europe, especially during his highlight period in the Swedish club Frölunda HC that occurred during the mid-1990s.
Jantunen’s success on the ice with Frölunda gave him a chance in the NHL and Calgary Flames but the journey to Canada and the biggest stage of all didn’t bring him to further triumphs.
He was sent down to the farm team and he wanted to return to Sweden where was seen as a superstar.
Already then he had begun to drink a lot of alcohol and use drugs.
It finally broke him down and his wife, nowadays Ex-wife, Sari Jantunen and their children separated from him.
The last years before he was sent to a rehab center he weighed around 45 kg only (99, 20 Ibs).
For any person including me, it is hard to imagine how a well-trained hockey player could shrink basically to nothingness, but he did and was close to the death.
An old friend saved his life at the last moment and helped him to the rehab where he could somehow recover from the drug addiction.
Nowadays he says that he lives a normal, boring life with right values; that’s enough for him and he has contact with his children again.
There are a few aspects of this Jantunen case for example, and it is a bit complex as well:
First of all, he probably had no one in his closest surroundings who stopped him, and the control of drug, alcohol or doping usage was not as hard as it is now.
Secondly, the lack of awareness how to handle a life as a pro-athlete in combination with the ego’s hunger to be famous and celebrated, and remain so as long as possible.
He’s been lucky to have a saving friend but the consequences have made Jantunen walk on the line where he can still fall back to the craving for drugs.
As his ex-wife, Sari said to the Finnish magazine Anna “If he falls now, no one can save him anymore”.
In the sports world, Jantunen is not the first athlete of course who have fallen for drugs and alcohol, but his fate is one of the most recent that affected me deeply in many ways, as I remember his fantastic deeds on the ice.
However, I asked several reliable sources from the KHL, the NHL, the Norwegian league, the Finnish Liiga and the Swedish SHL if there are players who use drugs and alcohol today.
The clear answer from each source was that they don’t believe that any player takes drugs, even if they also said that they can’t be 100% sure of course.
Except for the case of the Norwegian player Lars Erik Spets who is at rehab according to the Norwegian source for alcohol addiction.
The essence of the message though I was given from most sources was that there is too much money at stake for ruining the career because of using drugs.
As a comment to that, that’s a good thing even if the amount of money is the main cause for avoiding the misery and not the awareness of where drugs and alcohol can lead one if not being careful or avoiding it totally.
With that said, we are all humans and I am not talking about prohibiting alcohol for pro-athletes as I think myself it’s alright to have a few occasional glasses from time to time.
However, my main point in this: it would be a good thing for the organizations, the players union and higher authorities such as the hockey associations to inform and have a talk with young prospects about the risks.
I think it wouldn’t hurt at all as the good thing would be that young prospects who supposedly should have a long career ahead would be aware of what they are doing, why they are there and where they are going.
Overall, a deep talk with the young prospects about how a pro-player should behave off the ice as well and give them support and guidelines to make a successful life off the ice.
It would also save a lot of costs in several levels for the organizations and for the players too, and we who watch beside would have a greater chance to see much more of these superstars.
But, the most important above all, of course, it would make their lives a lot more prosperous.
The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
I have myself experience from a person who chose to drink instead of being with his children in a normal way, my own father. Here are some words about it: https://icenationuk.com/2014/06/09/guest-post-arto-palovaara-watching-hockey-from-another-point-of-view/#comments
Sources about Jantunen, in Finnish and Swedish. I recommend using the rough google translator for the main articles: