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Family Maattas

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Years before Olli Maatta was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, his older brother Antti was already a fan of the team over in Europe.

“Everybody in Finland follows hockey,” Antti said. “We have our own NHL teams. I just collected these hockey cards about Penguins all the time. I have a huge collection of old Penguins player cards at my home; I still have it somewhere.

“A lot of people keep fighting over those teams. It’s as serious as it is in North America. All the guys who supported other teams, like Boston or Philly, they were giving it to me all the time.”

Needless to say, Antti – whose favorite Penguins player besides his brother, of course, is Mario Lemieux – was thrilled when he learned that Olli’s draft was going to be in Pittsburgh. So when he traveled here with his younger sibling to support him, Antti had to make a special stop inside CONSOL Energy Center before the first round got underway.

“Before the draft, I went to the fan shop and bought some Penguins gear for myself,” Antti said. “Then he got drafted (22nd overall by Pittsburgh). It was pretty amazing. It turned out well. Now this is my third time in Pittsburgh and it’s great. It’s awesome.”

However, this time Antti is here for business, not pleasure as he has taken a break from school over in Finland to do an internship with the Penguins’ information technology (IT) department.

It worked out that Antti had been selected by his institute, the Jyväskylä Educational Consortium, to do an internship abroad. And with Olli being sidelined for the rest of the season following November shoulder surgery, it made sense for Antti to do one with the Penguins so that he could take care of his university requirement while getting to spend time with his brother.

“With Olli’s situation, because he’s not able to play and he has to stay at home a lot, he was getting bored and I had the opportunity to see him because of my school,” Antti said. “So (working for the Penguins) just came into my mind, and I asked him, ‘is it possible to do this?’ And he said ‘yeah, it should be.’ He went to ask, and then it just happened. A big thanks to (senior director of technology) Erik Watts about that, he made it happen. It was so amazing that I got to do it.”

It’s hard enough for the brothers, who are two years apart, to not see each other for months at a time during the season. But it’s been especially difficult with everything that Olli has gone through in the past year, so Antti is grateful he’s been able to be here for him during such a rough time.

“It’s been good for him, it’s been good for me, it’s been good for everyone,” Antti said. “The whole year, I don’t even know how to describe it because it’s been so bad. Usually you don’t get such bad luck. I think that he’s going to fight through it and next year he’s going to be better. I don’t think it can be like that every year, that he has as bad luck as this year.

“First you hurt your shoulder, then you get cancer, then you hurt your shoulder again, then you get mumps. I don’t know what you can say about that. I think it’s been helping him and especially it’s been helping me, because I haven’t had the opportunity to see him, so I didn’t know how it was going and how he was doing. But he’s been doing fine, actually.”

Antti added with a laugh, “I think that he’s getting bored of me now. He wants some alone time.”

Antti has been staying with Olli in his downtown Pittsburgh apartment, and so far, it’s gone smoothly – except for one thing.

“He’s telling me that I should be a bit cleaner,” Antti grinned.

There are three boys in the Maatta family. Olli, who’s the youngest at 20, and Antti, who’s in the middle at 22, have an older brother, Eero, who’s 25.

“It was wild sometimes,” Antti said of growing up with two brothers. “But we weren’t so bad. We didn’t fight against each other a lot, but we loved sports. We always played everything that we could against each other. It would usually get pretty intense after a while.”

And as it turned out, Olli isn’t the only athlete in the family as Antti actually plays for the Finnish men’s water polo team. He’s taking a break from competition for right now, but plans to be back with them next season.

Antti is built similar to his 6-foot-2, 206-pound younger brother – joking that he’s definitely bigger than Olli – and when asked if he was the one who toughened Olli up, Antti laughed and said, “Yeah, you could say that. And I still do.”

After finishing high school in Finland, Antti went into the work force doing construction. But after a couple of years, he realized that wasn’t for him, so he decided to go to school and study IT.

“It was an easy decision because everything is going to IT right now,” he said. “You do everything by technical equipment, by mobile phones or you do it by a computer. The whole world is going into that direction, so there should be some work to do in there. And even if I don't get work from there, it’s good to know about those things. It will help you.”

Antti said he's already learned so much in his few weeks here. In addition to being in the office during the normal 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday and working Penguins games, he’s helped out at other events the arena has hosted as well. The one that stands out to him is the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship second and third rounds, which was the most eye-opening experience for him besides the hockey games.

“I’ve been learning a lot. A lot more than in school,” he said. “I can say that six weeks in here is much better than a year in school, definitely. I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of things that people don’t see, like how they organize big events and how people actually do things in the IT world in here. And it’s huge.

“Especially the games and the NCAA, those are huge. There’s so much to do all the time when you organize those. It’s amazing to see.”

And while Antti didn’t have to work WWE Monday Night Raw back in March, he did get to stop by and check it out.

“I used to be a wrestling fan when I was a kid,” he said. “Everybody used to be! I had to see it. It was probably my first day and I asked ‘can I stay there?’ And everybody was laughing at me, like ‘hey, will you bring a poster or a sign?’ I just wanted to see it.”

Working here hasn’t been without its challenges, with one of the biggest obstacles happening before he even started. Antti didn’t bring any business professional clothes with him to Pittsburgh, as the work environment in Finland is much different. Over there, the dress code is much more casual. So before his first day, Olli had to take Antti to the mall so he could buy suits.

“My flight was late, I was supposed to be in here Friday but I was here on Sunday and my work started Monday and I didn’t have a suit with me,” Antti said. “So Sunday, after the three-day flight, I had to go to the store. I almost passed out in the middle of the store.

"Olli was angry the whole time because I wasn’t there on Friday and he had some of his own business to do during that time, and we had to hurry to get the suits and we had a game against Columbus (at 5 p.m. that afternoon), so we had to be at the game. We had like three hours time to get all the suits and stuff I needed. So we ran through all of those places and it was crazy.”

Antti has now dressed the part, except for one thing – his hair. While the bottom half of his head is shaved, Antti keeps it long on top and wears it tied into a top knot – much to the playful chagrin of a certain assistant general manager.

“I would love to say that the biggest learning experience was to cut my hair. Bill Guerin taught me that,” Antti laughed. “He said to me that I should cut my hair, probably like, a hundred times.”

But while Guerin isn’t the first person to tell him that, Antti isn’t giving in. He started growing it out about a year ago after an awful experience at a barber shop in Finland, where a stylist gave him a bad haircut – much to the delight of his friends.

“Everybody was laughing at me after that. So I was like, I’m not going to cut it, even. I’m just going to grow it,” Antti laughed. “It was kind of a joke. I’ve been growing it ever since after that.”

Antti’s favorite thing about living in Pittsburgh these last few weeks – other than the people and being with his brother – has been the restaurant scene.

“Everybody is being real friendly, helpful and kind,” Antti said. “I haven’t had a bad experience with anybody here. I’ve never lived outside of Finland, so it’s so different for me but everybody’s been so nice. And then I love all the good stuff that you have here – all the Primanti Bros, I love Meat and Potatoes – all the restaurants around here.”

Antti's girlfriend Viivi is in town to visit for a few days, and he can’t wait to take her to all of his favorite spots – for his own sake as much as hers.

“This is actually her first time in the USA, so I get to show her around,” Antti said. “I get to show her all the food places, because I love the food. Actually, the story is that when I came here, Olli looked at me and said 'oh my God, you’re fat again.' I was like 'what?!' He goes, 'yeah, you have to do my diet.' He’s eating this super diet. So I basically ate salad and meat for like five weeks (laughs). I said to him, when she’s coming, I’m going to show her around to all the restaurant places. So I’m going to get to eat the good food.”

For their first stop, Antti plans to take Viivi to Il Pizzaiolo in Market Square, which is Olli’s favorite restaurant.

Antti will return to Finland soon as he has about a year left of school after this. It will be hard for him to leave his brother, but living with him for these few weeks and seeing the organization from the inside has been comforting for Antti in the sense that he knows that Olli will continue to be just fine on his own over here.

“I know that the organization is so huge and they do everything so well,” Antti said. “And now when I’m here, I’ve been seeing all of that, so I know it’s a top-class organization in the world and they take good care of him all the time. I can be relaxed at home knowing that he’s safe here.”

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