Finnish phenoms find home on ice

Freshmen Noora Räty and Mira Jalosuo have helped steady the Minn. defense.

Finnish phenoms find home on ice

John Hageman

ItâÄôs just another story of friendship and a love for hockey: Two Finnish standouts playing college hockey in Minnesota thanks to international connections and Facebook. Freshmen goalie Noora Räty and defenseman Mira Jalosuo have shared this journey together. The two have known each other for five years and joined forces on the Finnish National team for the past three years . This year, they are sharing spots on the Minnesota womenâÄôs hockey team roster. Räty has already made a name for herself with the Gophers, sporting the best goals against average, save percentage, and winning percentage in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. But being a standout is nothing new to Räty. She started for the Finnish National Team in the 2006 Torino Olympics at the age of 15 and plans to represent her country in 2010 in Vancouver. Jalosuo has also had plenty of international experience, playing for the Finnish National team at the 2009 World Championships for the third straight year. She said she hopes to join Räty in Vancouver. In early November, the two participated in the Four Nations Cup, where Finland lost all four games , but Räty had the second best save percentage in the tournament. While the accolades for the two make a clear case for their recruitment in America, the story of how they got here is anything but ordinary. Jalosuo attended the International Ice Hockey Federation womenâÄôs hockey development camp in Finland in the summer of 2004, the first time the camp had been offered to women. As chance would have it, JalosuoâÄôs roommate at the camp was Bobbi Ross, who was a Minnesota co-captain in her junior and senior years and was a member of the 2004-05 Gophers squad that won the National Championship. After Ross finished her eligibility in the summer of 2008, she received a Facebook message from Jalosuo in which she expressed interest in playing with Räty for the Gophers. Ross passed on the message to Minnesota head coach Brad Frost , who was surprised by the news. âÄúWe knew who they were, but to be honest, we werenâÄôt planning on recruiting them,âÄù Frost said. âÄúWe just thought it was a long shot.âÄù The two toured other schools, including Ohio State, Minnesota-Duluth and Providence, but decided that Minnesota held their future. The two friends made the decision together, which Räty said has made the transition into America a little smoother. âÄúItâÄôs so much easier when you have someone with you,âÄù Räty said. Jalosuo added that a companion is especially helpful in a place like the United States, which is about 29 times the size of their home country that has a population comparable to MinnesotaâÄôs. The two are the first European recruits in Gophers history, but the recruitment of international players in the WCHA is not a new phenomena. In all, there are seven players from the Finnish womenâÄôs national team playing in the WCHA this year. Two of them, Minnesota State-MankatoâÄôs Nina Tikkinen and Emmi Leinonen , each scored a goal on Räty last weekend. While Räty and fellow Finnish players are finding success in America, she said playing college hockey is much different than playing in her home country. âÄúItâÄôs much more competitive [in the WCHA],âÄù Räty said. âÄúThis is much better.âÄù Jalosuo said that because of the smaller rink and skill level in the WCHA, she thinks it is a much faster game. With the addition of Räty, Minnesota now has three goalies on the roster, including sophomore Alyssa Grogan and junior Jenny Lura, which Frost said caused some hesitation before singing Räty. âÄúItâÄôs like, âÄòWell weâÄôve got two very good goalies already, do we need to bring another one in?âÄô âÄù Frost said. âÄúSheâÄôs one of the better goalies in the world âĦ I just didnâÄôt see a way we could not pull the trigger on her.âÄù As for Jalosuo, Ross said she is the type of defenseman that a forward loves to play with. âÄúThe only thing is that, as a forward, it might be a little scary. SheâÄôs got a big shot that you wouldnâÄôt want to get hit with,âÄù Ross said. American and Canadian teammates have been helpful in the transition this year for both freshman, Jalosuo said. âÄúThey have been awesome. They are all great,âÄù she said. Although the stat book says they are freshmen, Frost said that the years of international play has given them experience that he canâÄôt teach. âÄúTheyâÄôve had a lot of experience that a lot of our players havenâÄôt had yet,âÄù Frost said. âÄúImagine what you were doing when you were 15.âÄù