This past season was a difficult one for anyone traveling internationally but Eelis Laaksonen, 21, from Oulu, Finland, did what he had to do to achieve his goal of furthering both his education and hockey career at an American school.
After several years playing with the various levels of the Akatemia Blues in Finland, Laaksonen crossed the ocean and split time between the Premier and NCDC Islanders Hockey Club team. He enjoyed the experience and turned it into a commitment to Curry College in Massachusetts.
“My goal was to play college hockey so the decision to come over even during a pandemic was pretty easy,” said Laaksonen in an email interview. Obviously, it was a bit more tedious than what it would have normally been, but overall, it worked out well.”
Bouncing between teams and linemates it took a minute to find chemistry, said Laaksonen, but he ultimately found a home on a solid line with the Premier squad.
“I played with a lot of different teammates over the course of the year,” said Laaksonen. “But towards the end of the season and during the playoffs I found some good chemistry on a line with Simon Delden and Jon Tavella. Playing with them was a ton of fun and we were able to contribute quite a bit. I think both will have big years next year in college.”
Playing at both levels gave Laaksonen a chance to test himself at a higher level.
“The biggest difference between the two levels is the speed of the game and teams in the NCDC were more systematically sound. You could clearly watch things on video about a team and they would execute just like you could see.”
The Premier Islanders enjoyed a solid season and reached Nationals where goals for and against proved costly. They were eliminated from pool play despite never losing a game.
“The team was competitive from the very beginning,” said Laaksonen. “We had some long win streaks and we always wanted to keep those going.
“Going into Nationals we were confident that we could compete with anyone. By the time our third game rolled around, we knew that Charlotte was the team to beat at Nationals. We played a good game as a team and were very deserving of winning that game. Somehow we went home after a tie. We felt like we got robbed. The game against Charlotte was a close and very competitive game and I think once Charlotte got through us they knew that no one was stopping them. Obviously, it was not how we wanted our season to end, but the rules were clear, so nothing we could do.”
During the season, Laaksonen made college contacts, but Curry stuck out for him right from the start.
“The first time I spoke with Curry, I spoke with assistant coach Bryan, we had a lengthy conversation that helped them get to know more about me and for me to get to know about the school, said Laaksonen. “From the first time I spoke with them, I knew I was interested. They have a beautiful campus and great academic opportunities, along with a successful hockey team in recent years. I believe it is a great place for me to continue both my academic and no careers”
In recent months, it seems life in general is slowly starting to return to normal in the USA and Laaksonen said this season sees most of the normal avenues for getting ready for a hockey season open in Scandinavia as well.
“Things are starting to get back to normal here in Finland as well,” said Laaksonen. “So I will be able to prepare for Curry just like any other year.”
The USPHL congratulates Eelis Laaksonen, his family, the Islanders Hockey Club, and Curry College for his commitment.