The State of Hockey is familiar ground for defenseman Mira Jalosuo.
Although a lot of moving around isn’t uncommon for women at the game’s highest level, Jalosuo’s pursuit of a hockey career has taken her further than most: at just twenty-seven years old, she’s played professionally in her native Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. In the seven years since she first came to Minnesota, she has left and returned again, this time as a forensics science student at Hamline University and a second-year defender for the Minnesota Whitecaps.
Minnesota’s love for hockey and its attitude towards players of all genders remains a big draw for her: “People appreciate you, and they respect you a lot, that you’re a female hockey player, and they know that not many of us get a chance to play pro. They have a lot of respect for us, that we are sacrificing a lot for hockey.”
Lieksa, in eastern Finland, is a town of just under 12,000 inhabitants. There, Jalosuo played pond hockey before joining the Lieksan Hurtat boys team at age 12 at the urging of her physical education teacher. Three years later, at 15 years old, she left home to move to Oulu, the country’s fifth-largest city and home of the Kärpät women’s team in the Naisten SM-Sarja league. Her family remained back in Lieksa; she lived with two of her Kärpät teammates, who she remains close friends with to this day.
Leaving Finland came next. Jalosuo came to the United States in 2009; she and NaisLeijonat teammate Noora Räty became the first two European players to join the University of MInnesota’s women’s hockey program. In four years she put up 57 points, won the NCAA national championship twice, and was a member of the legendary 2012-2013 perfect season team. Jalosuo excelled both on and off the ice, and she fell in love with Minneapolis.
After graduating in 2013 she moved to Russia to join SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. Jalosuo played two seasons in the Russian Women’s Hockey League, but it wasn’t competitive enough for her; in her view only three of the league’s 12 teams posed any challenge: “We had bad games where we’d beat the other team 18 to nothing and it’s not fun for us, and it was not fun for them either.”
Even the most casual hockey fan knows that 18-0 isn’t a score, it’s an annihilation. The lack of challenge stagnates both development and joy; at the end of the 2014-2015 season Jalusuo ended her career in Russia and came back to Minnesota to pursue her other passion: forensics. With 2018 in sight, she got in touch with Whitecaps founder Winny Brodt-Brown and joined the Whitecaps as a rookie in 2015.
The Whitecaps’ season is short. They’ll play 12 games in 2016-2017, compared to 24 in the CWHL and 21 scheduled in the NWHL, and played 12 last year as well. As a result, Jalosuo left Minnesota at the end of last season for Luleå HF in Sweden, joining the team for the last three regular season games and a victorious seven-game championship run. In under four years, she’d played hockey in three different countries, lived in three different cultures all unique from her own.
Jalosuo’s naturally relaxed demeanor has played a critical role in helping her adjust to so many new places. “I guess I’m pretty laid back, so I don’t really care where I am; I’m also social so that helps, that I immediately start creating connections with people.”
Jalosuo balances her studies, 32 hours a week interning at a forensics lab, training, two assistant coaching positions, her commitments to the Whitecaps, and her personal life on a daily basis. Sound crazy? For her, it’s business as usual, but Jalosuo is candid: “It’s hard. I wake up at 4:30 every morning.”
In addition to the demands on her time, Jalosuo also deals with the reality of expat life. Friends, family, and familiarity are an ocean away; homesickness factors in the little things just as much, if not more, than big events like birthdays and holidays. “I’m lucky enough that I’m still part of the national time and I get to go home about five times a year.”
Jalosuo and the Whitecaps next play on January 6th, when they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.