Blog post: Road to NAFL

Finnish floorball player Sami Ilonen will be reporting for Pää about the North American Floorball League (NAFL). Ilonen represents Fort Worth Jaguars and shares he’s thought’s and experiences trough this NAFL-focused blog. This is the first post which was published couple of weeks ago in Finnish.

On November 22nd, 2020, I received a message from my brother. It was a link to a Pääkallo-article about the new North American Floorball League. From that point onwards, visiting NAFL website became almost an everyday thing for me.

A couple of weeks later, I had already been in contact with the league Commissioner Ryan Connor, asking all the questions that popped into my mind about how I can be involved in the project. I had earlier experience of smaller floorball countries a few years back when I went to explore world and spent a season in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In fact, my first contact in the country was the local Floorball organization FB Agents.

At the time The Netherlands was 27th on IFF rankings, but they had a great league structure including lower divisions and leagues for women and juniors. I looked over the whole Amsterdam Floorball scene as best as I could, to take the sport further. I soon realized that NAFL would grow to bigger proportions and that I should think about only joining as a player first.

Unfortunately, the current world situation forced NAFL to move forward with only 4 teams and the first season would only last less than two months. This however made my decision easier to pursue joining the league, because a two-month trip is way easier to arrange than, for example a year.

I started familiarizing myself with the teams by going through their websites and social media, and I sent a message to few teams to express my interest. In the message I introduced myself and my background in floorball. The replies were very similar: Teams are looking for European coaches, who then would choose the European players.

Soon I received a surprising message from Joel Ekroos, who asked if I was serious about joining the NAFL. I knew Joel beforehand from our playing careers and for the past two years we have been part of the same organization in Finland, the Westend Indians. Joel had been signed as the Head Coach of the Fort Worth Jaguars, so I set my sights on Texas. I contacted the Team President Brian Radichel and again asked all the questions that popped into my mind. On January 31st I got an email from Brian which had the Player Agreement attached.

The North American sports culture has always been close to my heart. I have been following NHL and NFL closely for well over 10 years. For a long time, my dream has been moving to USA and working somehow in the sports scene.

Unfortunately, I have never played ice hockey, other than with friends on a public rink, and barely even touched a football. I don’t have an education in sports management or business, etc. either and as a 30+ year old, trying to get a new degree didn’t make sense to me. I only had floorball.

But now, I have a chance to be part of something that gives me at least a tiny glimmer of hope, that maybe, my dream could come true. There are still huge steps that both I, and the NAFL, must take, but at least the first steps have been taken.