Two hockey players from Finland leave home for RGV Killer Bees team
POSTED: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 6:16pm
UPDATED: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 10:01am
MCALLEN, TX (KVEO NEWSCENTER 23) — Here in the Valley, cold is an anomaly.
Aside from a refreshing raspa during the summer, the Frio Grande Valley skating rink is one of the few places you can encounter ice.
But the ice is all that Aleksi Luhtalampi and Olli Kalkaja of the Killer Bees know--they're here in the Valley taking a shot at their dream of playing professional hockey.
For these two young athletes, their passion for hockey brings them nearly 5,500 miles from their home in Finland, playing in the NAHL (North American Hockey League) for the RGV Killer Bees.
"I wanted to play college hockey here, so I had to come here so people and schools can see me play," Olli explained. "To go to school and play hockey at the same time is a good thing."
Olli and Aleksi are reunited as teammates--the pair played together in the Finland Junior League a few years ago. Now, they share the challenge of playing hockey so far away from home.
"It's so nice that it's like Europeans and one Finnish guy, it helps a lot," said Aleksi.
"It's good to have another Finnish player here, he can help me if I don't know how to do something," Olli added.
Hockey in Finland is like football here in Texas: it's the most beloved sport. For both Aleksi and Olli, their love of hockey started at a young age. They started playing when they were just seven years old, and they haven't looked back since.
"It's typical when you're so young, like in Finland because winter time is so long, so you can go outside to play hockey with friends, it's a lot of fun," said Aleksi.
Both athletes admit that being away from home is difficult, but the team has played an essential role in helping them adjust.
"It has helped that we have some good group of guys here," Olli said. "They can take me in so good here, and it was really easy to come here so I was lucky for that. If it weren't this good, I think I would've left for home already."
Although they can't be home to cheer for their native country, Olli and Aleksi are anticipating a successful outcome for Finland's men's hockey team in the Winter Olympics.
"I think it's a bigger thing than the summer Olympics because we are better in winter games, so it's a big thing for Finland," Aleksi explained. "And hockey is the biggest sport and everyone watches always hockey games. Hopefully they're gonna make the medal round and hopefully they can win, they're a good team."
If you want to catch Olli and Aleksi in action, there are six home games left in the Killer Bees' season. It continues tomorrow night at the State Farm Arena against Corpus Christi.