As London Knights head coach Dale Hunter blew his whistle to signify the end of a long, intense practice earlier this month, players scattered all over the ice doing their own thing. But two players – Scott Harrington
and Olli Maatta
– came together and continued working.
Harrington lined up on one side of the blue line, Maatta on the other to work on their puck management skills inside the offensive zone. One defenseman would saucer a cross-ice pass to the other, who would corral it before sending the puck back across the ice. They did this for some time before getting off the ice to do a post-practice workout, side-by-side, in the Knights weight room.
This partnering up together, something they do often, illustrates how Knights captain Harrington and assistant captain Maatta have the utmost respect for each other as players.
They are London’s best defensemen, anchoring the top-two pairings along with manning the points on the Knights’ power-play units, and both are Penguins prospects – meaning the guys have a special bond, and couldn't be more complimentary of the other.
“Olli’s a special player,” Harrington said. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
“(Harrington) is just rock solid in the D-zone and makes really smart plays,” Maatta said. “Such a leader and he does everything for the team.”
Not only is their on-ice relationship excellent, they have a great friendship off of it as well.
It began when Maatta first came to the Knights for the 2011-12 season after London traded up to take him first overall in the CHL Import Draft that summer.
Coming to North America for his first season of junior hockey was a huge adjustment for the teenager. Maatta was far, far away from his native Finland and his family and friends and he’d had to integrate into an unfamiliar lifestyle and culture.
Maatta moved in with a billet family while working on mastering the English language, schooling and things we normally wouldn’t think about, like how to bank with a different currency.
Maatta was also getting used to new teammates, coaches, hockey operations staff and a different style of play. Hockey in the U.S. and Canada is played on a much smaller ice surface and is more physical than European hockey, which focuses more on skill and skating.
Oh, and one more thing – the 2011-12 campaign was Maatta’s draft year.
Overall, it was a lot to handle for the young Maatta. But Harrington – who has been with the Knights since 2009 – did what he could to help Maatta, who reached out to him for advice about how to handle the stress and pressures of his draft year, adjust as smoothly as possible.
“Last year I tried to help him feel comfortable with the team, especially him being a fellow defenseman and it being his draft year,” Harrington said. “It’s tough coming over, especially in your draft year. There's a lot of pressure. And playing in London, we attract a lot of scouts, I think just because of our location and how nice our building is.”
“(Harrington) is a really good guy,” Maatta said at the 2012 NHL Combine. “He told me a lot about the draft and the combine. He told me just to be yourself. And for the tests, just do what you do. I tried to be myself and thought I did well.”
And Harrington, who watched the 2012 NHL Draft from home, couldn’t have been more pleased to see the Penguins take Maatta in the first round (22nd overall) in Pittsburgh.
“I think the Penguins got him at a steal at No. 22,” Harrington said. “I was watching the draft last year and I didn’t expect Olli to slip past the top 10. I’m sure he was sweating bullets in the stands, but I was glad to see him get picked by Pittsburgh. As soon as I saw that they were up next and Olli hadn’t been picked, I didn’t even have to watch, I knew he was going to Pittsburgh hands down.”
The two have since attended Penguins prospect development camp together and began the 2012-13 regular season with the Knights a few weeks ago.
They’ll be looking to continue learning from each other, working together both on and off the ice and making an impact with their team, both now in London – and maybe somewhere down the road in Pittsburgh.