Today we sat down with one of the newest Oslo Storm additions during the later part of the season, the 17 year old Finnish player Mikko Aaltonen, and discussed his emotions and thoughts on his team's performance in the playoffs, his first season in the VHLM and much more. First of all......Tervetuloa![Greetings] Mikko, how are you today? *laughs* Kiitos[Thanks], I'm impressed with that, did you learn that just so you could say that to me in the interview? Perhaps....... That's awesome, since the start of my career in the VHLM, I've barely spoken finnish at all, everyday is English and so on, so its nice to hear something in my mother tongue So lets start with that, you come from Finland, a country with a pretty rich hockey history, how did it all start for you? Well it all started with my father, he started playing hockey since childhood, and he was one of the best upcoming players in Finland, but because of an injury he had to end his career rather quick at the age of 25, because of that he started to focus on supporting local talents and kids from Finland to make their dreams of playing hockey, then i came along and I guess it just made sense for him to push me into hockey, and I'm grateful to him for that, I love hockey! That's awesome to hear! Is your father proud of where you are right now? *laughs*, I hope so at least! No but for real, he has been always really supportive even since I started playing in the Finnish Leagues, he always came to my games and cheered for me, which was a huge motivation booster. And he knows that this is a big step in my young career and he wishes nothing but the best for me. Since you brought it up, how is the transition from playing back in Finland, to all the way here, what are the main differences that you've picked up on? Woah... I don't even know where to start, I guess the language is a good starting point, everything is in English which is fine for me since in school I didn't have any problems with it, but I find it sometimes difficult to say what I really mean in English, and because of that I don't really say what's on my mind, but other than that its not that bad. A big change is also that the dynamic of hockey is way different than it was back in Finland, here people play much better and they seem more motivated, because of that the skill level almost can't be compared, so that was a big change for me, getting used to this professionalism is something new even till this day, I honestly had no idea different countries could have such a different approach to hockey. Interesting... So you joined the team pretty late in the season, only have played 11 games, and in those games you have gotten only 1 point, is that the transition problem you talked about earlier? In this league everything is different, the speed, the mental/physical game, and that kinda caught me off guard.. About the games, its been a learning curve for me and a really important one. Yes, I got only 1 point, but I think that's pretty good considering the fact, that this is my first time in an international team, with different dynamics, strategies/mindsets and most importantly a new language, getting used to players/positions was also hard, so I don't take it too personal that my points suffered from that, it's only up from here. How was the atmosphere in the team, did you like the guys you were playing with? I mean everyone was nice and I think because most of us are around the same age, we clicked.. We had lots of fun in our practices and prior to games we always were keeping the mood high, even after tough losses we went over our mistakes and didn't really panic or get mad. Alright, the season has ended and you guys played Saskatoon in the WC round, what were your initial thoughts/reactions when you found out that you had to play against them? Well it wasn't really a secret to anyone, Yukon were just too far down in the standings and couldn't catch up, so we knew we would play Saskatoon really early. Our season record was good against them, I believe we went like 7-3 or something among those lines, so we definitely weren't afraid of them. All that I was thinking about was that I need to step up and perform like I know I can. Game 1, a nail-bitter for everyone watching... a game that ended in OT and probably much closer than you anticipated, run me through that match.. We started that game kinda slow, allowed them to get advantages and because of that we were trailing behind them until the 3rd period, where we finally got ourselves together and agreed that this can't continue like this. We just weren't playing to our standards and we felt that we could do so much better. Then we went out in the 3rd period and did our best.
It was a much needed victory, the hard work were putting in during that game is insane, it would definitely get in our heads if we lost that game.
Obviously we all know that you were the 1st star of the match, getting 1 goal and 3 assists in the game, is this what Mikko looks like when he gets comfortable? Hopefully... Everything clicked that game for me, I felt really good on the skates, I felt like nothing and nobody could stop me, although my stats are not my primary concern and I only noticed them after everyone mentioned them to me after the game, it feels nice, it felt like I did enough to push us through a hard game. Moving onto Game 2, a match where you guys seemed to control the game pretty much the entire time, was this the type of game you expected of yourselves? This was a much cleaner game by us, however again we started relatively slow with them scoring in the 1st period, but this time it didn't feel as bad as it did last game, we controlled the game with shots, out shooting them by a lot, and that goal wasn't a huge letdown for us, it motivated even more to fight twice as hard, and it really showed during the rest of the game.
So in the end, you end up with 6 points in 2 games, is this the "stepping up" point you mentioned earlier? Much so, I felt ready and had this extra motivation to prove myself to everyone and myself. Then followed series against the Las Vegas Aces, where you guys unfortunately got blown out 0-4, what were the feelings after these matches? Here's the thing, Aces are the best team in VHLM, at least in my opinion and facing a beast like that is never easy in the playoffs, they have way more experienced players and we didn't expect much going into this, we just tried our best and did whatever we could. These games were much closer than what it seems on the outside, we kept the shots close, killed off some penalties and did what we could.
I personally didn't feel that I had much of an impact in those series, but I'm not blaming myself too much, its what happens. With that you’re out of the playoffs, what are some of the things you will take with yourself after this playoff run? Experience is probably the biggest one, I came here as a guy who has never played in this type of a league and barely in this type of an environment, getting that experience is really important and I count that as the biggest upside to anything of this, yes winning against Saskatoon was important as well, but I feel that its just a part of growing and learning. Next up for you is the VHLM Dispersal Draft, any ideas as to where you could rank on there, and do you have any wishes as to in which organisation you'd like to land in? See, the thing is I don't really like to look too much in to things like these, I felt really good when Oslo welcomed me in to their team in the last parts of the regular season, and I didn't care that they weren't the best team out there, I just wanted to play hockey and do my best, and that's probably what I will keep doing whichever team I play for. I guess it would feel nice to play for a championship team and get the trophy, but I'd rather get the experience and ice-time I need to better myself for the future, so I'm not too worried about that, hopefully I'll play for a team that believes in me and that knows what im capable of. That’s pretty much everything, thanks for this interview, and is there anything you want to say to our audience, reading this interview?
Yeah, I’d love to thank Oslo Storm for taking me into their family and giving me the chance to prove myself, and I have no doubt it will only get better from here. Also thanks for having me here, was nice reflecting through my first season in the VHLM, and it's only going to get better from here on.
1,586 words, using for weeks Feb 10-17, Feb 17-24, Feb 24 - March 3.