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Aho Earns National Recognition With First Star Honor

Rookie forward named NHL's first star of the week

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

WASHINGTON - Sebastian Aho skated off the ice, put his sticks down and proceeded into the Carolina Hurricanes locker room after practice at PNC Arena last week. Waiting for him in his stall: three trash bags full of hats, collected off the ice two nights prior following the rookie's first career hat trick and then sterilized.

Now, you can find those three bags of hats in Aho's Team Finland issued bag from the World Cup of Hockey.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with those," a still somewhat bewildered Aho said in the lobby of the team's hotel in Washington. "We'll see."

Video: Sebastian Aho named NHL First Star of the Week

hat performance - three goals and an assist in the Hurricanes' 5-1 win over Philadelphia in the first game back from the All-Star break - was the beginning of a big week for the 19-year-old Finnish forward.

"It was unbelievable," Aho said of his hat trick night, which ended with a postgame interview on the bench that began to be drowned out as the fans chanted, "Let's go Aho!"

Aho added a goal in the Canes' 2-1 win over Edmonton on Friday night and was a plus-1 in his team's 5-4 overtime win over the New York Islanders on Saturday.

On Monday, Aho was named the NHL's first star of the week.

"It's pretty amazing," he said of the accolade. "We played pretty well together, Jordo and Lindy. I like playing with those guys. We played well as a team and got three wins last week. It was a perfect week for us."

Spurred by his first professional hat trick, Aho now has 16 goals on the season, which ranks second on the team and third among all NHL rookies. Aho, selected 35th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, ranks sixth among rookies in points (31).

"He's a good player," head coach Bill Peters said last week. "He's a smart player and a competitive kid. He's got a real good skillset."

"We all know how skilled his is," Elias Lindholm said of his linemate. "It's fun to watch him out there."

And now the whole league is beginning to learn how skilled he is, as he turns heads both on and off the ice.

"There were a couple times he was leaving the ice, he was skating by guys and they were looking at the number and name saying, 'Who is this kid?'" Peters said. "You don't stay a hidden secret for long."

Aho made his NHL debut on Oct. 13 in Winnipeg and tallied an assist in the overtime loss. Over the next four games, he would add four more assists to his total. Then, in game No. 14, Aho potted his first NHL goal, as he scored on a rebound from a tough angle. The double fist pump celebration that followed said it all. 

"The first 20 games or so were tough times for me. I played OK, but I didn't score," he said. "There were a couple things I had to learn by playing. It's all about confidence. When you get more games, more goals and more points, you get more confidence and it gets easier."

The NHL is an adjustment for any rookie, especially for a teenager coming from Europe to North America, having to acclimate himself both on the ice - with the smaller rink - and off the ice - with new teammates who might not speak the same language.

On the ice, Aho made the adjustment just fine and is constantly learning how to take care of himself both physically and mentally for the grind of the 82-game season.

"I'm glad I'm playing better now and getting used to it," he said. "You have to play all the games every night at the same level."

And off the ice, he's surrounded by guys his age and a handful of Europeans, including Finn Teuvo Teravainen, who he competed with in the World Cup of Hockey.

"All the guys are good guys, and it's easy for me being in the locker room," he said. "You get to know the other guys and feel comfortable with them."

Feeling comfortable is Aho having to chat with me about his rookie season and the first star honor while his teammates parade by him en route to the hotel elevators. "Yeah, Seabass, first star!"

Aho just smiled.

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