Noora Raty is Finland's all-star goaltender. She is studying journalistm at University of Minnesota. This is her story on her teammate Mira Jalosuo's journey.
Nov. 18, 2011.
The University of Minnesota Gophers are usually ranked in the top three in the highly competitive Western College Hockey Association. Contrary to University of Minnesota- Duluth which is known as the United Nations of hockey, the Gophers had never signed a player from Europe. So it was unlikely that a hockey player from a small town in Lieksa, Finland, population: 12,500 people and only one hockey rink, would end up on the Gophers roster. Enter junior defenseman, Mira Jalosuo and (coincidently, her Finnish teammate, goaltender, Noora Raty). They both signed with the Gophers in 2008 to become the first European players in Minnesota's 15 years history to wear the Gopher hockey jersey.
Jalosuo started playing organized hockey at 12 when she joined a local boys’ team, Lieksan Hurtat. She played pond hockey with the neighborhood kids and they, along with her physical education teacher, persuaded Jalosuo to join the team. At the tender age of 15, she decided to leave her family and move to Oulu, Finland about 350 kilometers away. It was a huge decision for her but Jalosuo felt it was the only way she could become a better player.
In Oulu, she made the local women's team, Karpat, which plays in the Finnish national league. The team won two silver and two bronze medals, and Jalosuo was named all-star defence in 2007, 2008 and 2009, also serving as captain for two years. After 5 years in Oulu, she decided the Finnish national league was not challenging enough. Now, it was time to pursue her dream; playing college hockey in the United States.
Several schools were interested in this 6'0'' defence who has good hockey instincts, a long reach, and excellent vision. She also reads the game well and wins battles where it counts. After e-mails and phone calls with different coaches, Jalosuo decided to visit three schools before decision; Ohio State, Minnesota-Duluth, and Minnesota. She absolutely fell in love with everything at University of Minnesota,
“The team had been very successful over the years. It seemed to be the team that would enable me to pursue my dream of winning a national college championship. The facilities are fabulous. Minnesota is the only women's team in the country that has an own rink.”
Although Jalosuo is a small town gal, adjusting to life in Minneapolis, home to 5 million people was easier than she expected,
“My days are almost the same here as they were in Finland; eat, sleep, play hockey. The biggest difference is shopping," she said with a smile. "It is nice to go to the Mall of America and spend free time there. In Finland I had to drive at least an hour to find stores; I pretty much lived in the middle of nowhere.”
Minnesota's Gophers held a 10-2-0 record in November and ranked 3rd in the nation. They won two national championships in 2004 and 2005. According to Jalosuo, the team has very high expectations for their players this year,
“Our team is probably the best we have had in many years. Personally, I will be disappointed if we don't make to the Frozen Four (NCAA final tournament) this year.”
Jalosuo likes playing in the WCHA even better than playing in her home country. The games are fast paced and many teams have three good lines, contrary to Finland where most teams have one good line. There are other advantages to the US college game,
“In the Finnish league, the ice surface is Olympic size so you have plenty of time to keep the puck and make decisions. However, in the US the ice surface is NHL size so you have to make decisions fast and make quick tape to tape passes. Overall, smaller ice surface fits my style of playing better as speed isn't my biggest strength,” Jalosuo admits.
Elite European players like Jalosuo are an interesting breed since they usually have more international experience than North American players. She has played in four world championships for team Finland. She was also a member of the under 18 and under 20 national teams and team captain on both. Jalosuo admits her national team experience has taught her some good lessons and prepared her well on the WCHA hockey.
“My defensive playing especially has gotten so much better while playing on the national team.” “When we play against Canada or USA, our goalies see a lot of shots so I've learned to clear rebounds, protect our net well, and take an advantage of my size and reach. Also, having had the honor to serve as a captain on the junior teams, I had a chance to develop some leadership skills.”
Jalosuo has one more year of eligibility left after the 2011-2012 season. She has scored 20 points, 6 goals and 14 assists in 84 games at the University of Minnesota. However, her role on the team is not scoring goals; she is a stay-at-home defence who kills penalties, giving goal scorers some valuable rest. Before leaving the Gophers, she wants to win a national championship along with finishing her bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
After college Jalosuo has only thing in mind…
“Playing at the Olympics is my biggest goal. I was so close to making the team for 2010 Olympics; I was the last player cut. That was a huge disappointment, but it made me more determined. I also believe that it was a turning point in my life and hockey career.”
And like many elite female players Jalosuo would ultimately like to play professional women's hockey.
“I would love to play in North America someday because European players can learn a lot from North American players. It would be great to see how they play and practice day in and day out. They are the best players in the world and to become the best, you must learn from the best.”
If professional hockey doesn't happen, Jalosuo plans to go graduate school in Finland to earn her master’s degree in chemistry. She would love work in a crime laboratory someday.
“One of my favorite TV shows is C.S.I Miami. I've always liked what cool tools they have. I'm curious to know if you can use those kinds of tools in a real life crime laboratory.”