It’s no secret that Finland produces some of the top talents in the hockey world; think Teemu Selanne, Miikka Kiprusoff and Jari Kurri.
It’s no different at the college level, as the University of Denver has a couple of highly-skilled Finnish players who are making waves; Florida Panthers prospect Henrik Borgström, and freshman Jaakko Heikkinen.
Earlier in the season, Borgström spoke about his fellow Finn as he entered his first season in the NCAA. “I have known him [Heikkinen] since I was seven years old, so he is a friend of mine. Of course, I can give him some advice on the ice if Monty [coach Jim Montgomery] wants something, but he is a pretty smart kid,” Borgström said.
Coming into a new city, Heikkinen has had to take his development in strides. First, by getting used to Colorado, a state that is known for its elevation. “It has been a blast so far [being in Denver] and I have enjoyed my time a lot — I have had a great time. Of course, me and the team are focusing on getting better every day, and have success at the end of the season,” Heikkinen said.
Europeans play a completely different style of game in comparison to North Americans — and there is always an aspect of the game that proves to be difficult to adapt to at first.
“The speed of the game here [in the NCAA] is so much different compared to Finland,” Heikkinen said. “You have to be faster on the ice, and you have to move your skates all the time and be in the game. The physicality is also a big difference here.”
With ten points in 22 games played this season, Heikkinen is steadily keeping pace with the rest of the team. In December, Heikkinen finished the month with seven points in eight games and was awarded as the NCHC Rookie of the Month.
Prior to joining the Pioneers, Heikkinen was a member of the Jokerit developmental program with the Under-20 team, where he would record 47 points in 43 games played. Borgström also played for Jokerit before coming to the University of Denver to further his hockey career, with the U-16 development program, before switching to the HIFK U-20 developmental program — the top junior league in Sweden.
Prior to arriving in the United States, Heikkinen made all of the necessary steps to make sure that he would easily transition into the North American style of play. “I talked a lot with my coach last year about the North American game, and how I should already try to adapt to that style of game, and what I should improve on,” Heikkinen said.
Colorado hockey fans will definitely want to watch the development of this young Finnish star for the Pioneers.