Arguably one of the biggest benefits of participating in any sport is that athletes are provided with a platform to build and maintain friendships that could last for years, or maybe even a lifetime.
Arttu Rajamaki and Santeri Rajakallio both grew up playing hockey together in Finland for around eight years honing their skills on the ice.
As their abilities improved, the option of coming to the United States to play extremely competitive junior hockey in the North American Tier III Hockey League on different teams arose and both players jumped at the opportunity, seemingly going their separate ways.
Rajamaki, an 18-year-old forward from Pori, Finland, was slated to join the Atlanta Capitals in Georgia. Rajakallio on the other hand, who is an 18-year-old forward from Kankaanpaa, Finland, kicked off the 2016-17 season with the New Ulm Steel in Minnesota.
But, fast-forward several months and several deals later, and the Finnish friends interestingly enough have seen their paths cross as teammates on the Southern Tier Xpress.
And since they arrived, they have certainly made an impact.
In 19 games, Rajamaki has scored 10 goals in addition to handing out nine assists for 19 points. Rajakallio has appeared in 20 games for the Xpress and has found the back of the net eight times and dished out 10 assists for 18 points.
“There was an opportunity to come (to the United States),” Rajamaki said Tuesday at Northwest Arena. “Mom and dad said I should take it, just come here. … It helps a lot to have another Finnish player here. … Here (in Jamestown), I think the other players like us.”
The duo has undoubtedly brought a great deal of energy to the Xpress and that has caught the eye of assistant coach Travis Sanders.
“A prior hockey coach that I’ve known in the past brought in a lot of international players to his team down in Atlanta,” Sanders explained. “You’re only allowed so many international spots on your roster. And they reached out (to the Xpress) about Arttu (Rajamaki) to see if we were interested so we made a deal to bring him up here. Once he was here, he fit in really well. Talking with him, he had another friend that was in the states that he thought we might have interest in, too. So we reached out about (Santeri Rajakallio) and brought them both in and haven’t looked back since. … Bringing them in, they’ve actually adjusted very well.”
According to Sanders, whether it’d be in practice or in games, Rajamaki and Rajakallio have a noticeable chemistry together.
“It’s hard to explain because I haven’t been around a lot of European players growing up,” Sanders stressed. “But (just) the way they swing through space. With the American (players), there’s a lot more stop and start and you preach stop and start a lot. Where with the (Finnish players), it’s sort of small, deceptive passes and skating and using space when it’s given to them. … They’re used to using the space when it’s available instead of hard-nosed, straight-line hockey, which you tend to see a lot (of) over here.”
On and off the ice, being able to adjust and assimilate to America with a friend has made the process easier for both Rajamaki and Rajakallio.
“Since Santeri (has been) here, it’s been easier,” Rajamaki emphasized. “You have somebody else that feels the same way I do. … So far, it’s been the best year of hockey for me. It’s cool to be in a different country and play against American players.”
NOTES: After an extended layoff following the NA3HL Showcase in Minnesota, Southern Tier (11-12-2) will take on the Toledo Cherokee at Northwest Arena on today and Saturday, with puck drop for both games set for 7 p.m.
“Right now, we’re two points back of the final playoff spot, two points behind Toledo of all teams,” Sanders said. “(It’s going to be) two big games for four points this weekend against Toledo. The guys are all jacked up and ready to go. The boys are buzzing as we like to call it. Everybody was ready to get back into town and get rolling. It’s been great.”
Original article by Cody Crandall, The Post-Journal.