It’s hard to recognize the bustling Walnut Grove neighborhood of Langley from the time when Jake Virtanen was little. But he hasn’t changed.
He still loves to launch opponents into the boards, which are more resistant in the National Hockey League than they were in the basement of the family townhouse where he grew up in the commercial and residential hub just off the Trans-Canada Highway near 200th Street in Langley.
“We’d play mini-sticks downstairs and we’d break walls,” Virtanen, the 22-year-old winger for the Vancouver Canucks, recalled. “It was a finished basement. I threw my brother threw a closet once. That was toast. My brother threw me through a wall, snapped it in half. Brothers being brothers. A lot of walls were broken.”
“There were definitely some repairs that had to be done,” Rainer Virtanen said when asked about basement games between his sons, Jake and Stefan, who was four years older than his sibling. “We actually had to move the games outside. Jake, at a very young age, was able to shoot the ball very hard. He was a little toddler but he was whipping the ball at Stefan’s face. But no matter how many times we told them not to get serious, they always got serious.”
Hockey became the outlet for Jake’s athletic aggressiveness. Even before he was allowed to hit for his Langley Eagles minor-hockey teams, he hit.
One season in atom hockey, Virtanen managed to amass more than 100 penalty minutes, which in the context of league and era is every bit as impressive as Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz’s NHL-record 472 penalty minutes for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974-75.