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The Finnish Foursome
By Jason Karnosky
Over the past 30 years Finnish players have made a major impact on the North American game, especially at the National Hockey League level. Players like Jari Kurri, Teemu Selanne, Kimmo Timonen and Miikka Kiprusoff have come across the Atlantic to star with their respective clubs.
However, that Finnish influence has yet to trickle down to the majority of teams at the NHL’s top developmental level. To date the American Hockey League remains a stocked with primarily North American born players. In fact 23 of the league’s 30 teams don’t even carry a single Finnish-born player, while six others teams only feature one on their current rosters.
Only one squad has no interest in following the trend: Milwaukee.
The 2011-2012 Admirals carry a unique Finnish-flavor on their roster, which is stocked with four Finnish-born players, defenseman Teemu Laakso, forwards Juuso Puustinen and Jani Lajunen and goaltender Atte Engren, all who have been vital to the team’s success this season.
“It definitely a good thing that we have four Finnish guys playing here in Milwaukee,” Laakso said. “It’s a lot different than previous years, when I was the only one. This year we’re a having a lot of fun both on the ice and off of it.”
At 24-years-old Laakso is the elder statesman of the group. He is also is the only Finnish Admiral with National Hockey League experience, having skated in a total of 17 games with Nashville to date, including a career high nine this season.
“It’s definitely a different game playing up there in the NHL,” Laakso said. “It’s not really all that much faster, but guys are so much stronger and smarter. So that’s what I am trying to improve on with Milwaukee, outthinking guys and making smart plays with the puck.”