Hockey has taken Team Finland’s Minttu Tuominen from her native Helsinki to the Midwest to Sweden and back. She recently chatted with The Ice Garden about her decision to leave the SDHL and growing the game at home and abroad.
For our American readers who aren't as familiar with European players, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a 27-year-old defenseman/center from Helsinki. I started hockey when I was 12 years old and before that I played ringette, basketball, and soccer among other occasional sports. My first year I also played as a goalie since I played goalie in ringette and soccer as well.
In my six seasons of playing for Espoo Blues in the top league in Finland I have won five Finnish Championships and one bronze. [From] 2009-2013 I played in the NCAA D1 at the Ohio State University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition with a minor in Exercise Science. This past season I played in Linköping, Sweden, and the past two years I have been enrolled in the University of Helsinki doing my Master’s degree in Nutritional Sciences.
It has definitely been a lot more time-consuming than I thought to go on with the studies but I know I will have more time to finish the Master’s degree when I stop playing competitively. Currently I work part-time as the head of girls’ coaching in Espoo. I’m interested to learn more about leadership and sport management in the near future.
You play inline hockey in the summer and ice hockey in the winter. Which came first for you?
Ice hockey definitely came first. Honestly, I don’t even remember what took me to inline hockey. There is an annual Finnish women’s inline championship tournament along with a league in southern Finland (well, the Helsinki metropolitan area) so I probably just started with some of my ice hockey friends.
How are they different? How is having both of those skills helpful?
The inline hockey games and tournaments that we take part in are 4-on-4 and the rink is smaller than ice hockey rink. I think playing inline definitely helps me on the ice. In inline I have to move my legs all the time, especially when I’m turning, and that helps me on the ice too. I’m not as skilled with the roller blades as I am with ice skates so I have to pay more attention to skating which of course helps on the ice too. In inline patience is the key, especially against players who don’t really know how to stop real fast (like myself...) Having patience with the puck and waiting a little bit longer for the forechecker to swing by can open up passing lanes and odd-man rushes out of nowhere.
Playing ice hockey, in turn, helps in inline because the puck in ice hockey is heavier and ice hockey players can shoot the inline puck harder and with a better technique. Ice hockey players are generally stronger as well.
What are your plans for next season? Any interest in returning to Linköping?
I have signed with my old team in Espoo, nowadays called the Espoo United. I’m very happy I took the chance to play overseas in Sweden last year, I learned a bit about that culture and myself (as I learned in my years at OSU, too), and I’m grateful to have met great people along the way and made some lifelong friends. It was pretty special being part of such a multinational team. At the end of the season I also spoke some decent Swedish too.
In the end, I feel the best place for me to develop as a hockey player is at home in Finland. I’m close to my family, my biggest supporters, and I have managed to build a good network within sports in the Helsinki metropolitan area, not least through the sports academy here. I’m also more than delighted to re-join my former teammates in Espoo. It’s important for me to have those girls around me again, willing to sacrifice so many things to become better players but still having fun and enjoying every minute of it.
Obviously the big splash in women's hockey this summer is Kunlun Red Star in the CWHL. What do you think about women's hockey expanding to China?
Women’s hockey/women’s sports expanding to anywhere is great! For Kunlun Red Star to sign these world-class players and athletes as the ambassadors of women’s hockey is great and something other countries and teams around the world could learn from. It is not only about hockey, it’s about empowering girls and women around the world, and showing that anything is possible if you work for it.
Have you been approached about joining Kunlun Red Star?
No, I haven’t.
What are your hopes for Finnish women's ice hockey and inline hockey going forward?
We are working hard and great things are happening in the ice hockey national team, looking forward to next season and the Olympics, of course. The women’s league in Finland (Naisten Liiga) finally got a “league-status” for the 2017-18 season (previously called Women’s Cup or something like that in English) and some of the League final games (best of 5) will be televised, for the first time ever.
That already is good development, and I’m hoping it will carry on to and after the 2019 IIHF [Women’s World Championship] in Finland. Hopefully all of this results in more girls starting to play hockey, along with teams in the league starting to have better finances so that the players wouldn’t need to pay to play at this level anymore. We are fighting for women's hockey to be in the news, for example, and to be accepted and considered a professional sport in the nation, but change is never easy.
Hoping more girls start playing inline as a summer sport as well, it is good balance for the sometimes boring, always tough off-season training.