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Husso adjusting to life, hockey in North America

Blues goalie prospect has a 2.30 GAA and .929 save-percentage in 32 games

by Elise Butler / St. Louis Blues

Standing at 6-foot-3 and donning an eye-catching Guy Hebert tribute mask, it's hard not to notice Ville Husso on the ice. But, at 23 years old, it's Husso's stats that are really standing out.

In his second season stateside, Husso is adjusting to North America on and off the ice. And he's showing why the Blues are so high on the young Finnish goaltender.

Growing up in Helsinki, Husso didn't have to go far to hone his craft. He learned to skate before he was three years old and went to hockey school just a few years later.

"I started to be a goalie almost right away, too," Husso said. "I don't know why, but I just felt comfortable in net."

He quickly became a star, rising through the ranks with his local club - HIFK - and representing his country in international play. He caught the eye of the Blues' scouting staff, and the team selected him in the fourth round (No. 94 overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft.

In what would be his final season with HIFK in the Finnish Elite League, Husso was named to the All-Star team, was named Best Goaltender, and posted the league's best goals-against average and save percentage and the best postseason goals-against average, helping his team to the silver medal.

After growing up and playing hockey in his hometown, it was time to take the next step. That meant, after 20 years, he had to leave Helsinki.

Husso made his North American pro debut with the ECHL's Missouri Mavericks on Oct. 28, 2016, but didn't earn his first win until Nov. 21 with a 47-save performance.

"It was a tough start for me," Husso said. "I played in the [ECHL] for a couple months. But I think now, I think that was a really good thing for me, and I learned the game a lot there."

Adjusting to a new country can be difficult both on and off the ice; rink size (European rinks are larger), language and culture differences are just a few of the changes players have to adjust to. Husso, however, has been a fast learner.

He was called up to the AHL's Chicago Wolves just after Christmas last season and was the Wolves' go-to goaltender in the second half, playing in 22 games and all 10 playoff games following his promotion. The team was eliminated in the second round by Grand Rapids, the eventual Calder Cup champion.

Husso was assigned to the San Antonio Rampage for 2017-18. Including injury call-ups where he served as the Blues' backup, he has been on four teams in three leagues in the last two seasons.

While this may seem overwhelming for a player who got to spend his first 20 years playing in his hometown, Husso is beginning to feel right at home, on and off the ice.

"It was easier for this year to come [to San Antonio] because I know the game and how it goes here… I can still be better, but I just feel comfortable out there," Husso said.

Rampage head coach Eric Veilleux has been splitting goaltending duties between Husso and Colorado Avalanche prospect Spencer Martin. While the tandem has been deployed evenly, Veilleux noted Husso has been particularly impressive in 2018.

"Good worker, great kid, very technical," Veilleux said. "Professional, on and off the ice. It's been great. He's definitely on his way to the NHL, I think."

One of Husso's best attributes, according to his coach, is his on-ice persona.

"You can easily see that he's calm when he plays, focused on what he has to do, and believes in his style. He keeps everybody calm when he plays."

Off the ice, Husso isn't alone while getting used to life in Texas. His girlfriend, Miia, and their Yorkshire Terriers, Gaska and Riley, moved from Finland to San Antonio to live with him this season.

"I think that's a really big thing for me, too, that there's somebody there all the time," Husso said. "I can speak Finnish with [Miia] and it's nice to have family there and two dogs. I kind of feel like that's my home right now."

Having that extra support away from the rink has helped Husso settle in to another new city, and he's excelling. Through the Rampage's schedule as of March 5, Husso has a 13-10-5 record with a 2.30 goals-against average and .929 save-percentage in 32 games this season.

Overall, Husso is focused on getting better so he can achieve the goal of playing for the Blues.

"I need to do my work every day and practice hard and focus on hockey," Husso said. "This is the time when I kind of practice for the NHL level and I need to learn a lot now and, still at the same time, I need to enjoy the time and have fun every day."

While there have been a lot of changes for Husso over the past two years, his outlook has remained the same.

"For me," Husso said, "it kind of doesn't matter where I play, just that I get the games and I enjoy the play."

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