Pittsburgh has been no stranger to special guests this week.
Executives and coaches from the Finnish Ice Hockey Association are visiting Pittsburgh this week, taking tours of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and CONSOL Energy Center.
“We’ve been working with US Hockey for a year now,” Pyry Lukkarila of FIHA explained. “We had U.S. Hockey managers that were visiting Finland last February. They wanted to come in and see what we do in Finland. Now we’re kind of retuning the favor and coming here, seeing what they do here.”
Lukkarila and the rest of his staff were certainly blown away.
“Seeing the new (UPMC Lemiuex Sports Complex),” Lukkarila paused, “That’s probably the best complex in the world right now.
“I’m so happy for the kids playing here that they have a place like that and they have great coaches working there. It’s a good place to play hockey when you’re young in Pittsburgh.”
Like many do in Pittsburgh, budding hockey players in Finland start young as well. They start training with the Finland Lions hockey school at 6 years old and go from there. Finland currently has 38,000 youth players. Lukkarila is certain pleased with their progression.
“Last season we had 26 skaters and nine goalies in the NHL,” Lukkarila said. “That’s fairly good for the size of our nation.”
One of those players is the Penguins own Olli Maatta. Maatta and the FIHA staff had some time to catch up after the Penguins game day skate.
“Just talking about old moments in U16, Team Finland and some of the old moments where they were coaching me,” Maatta said. “It’s always nice to see them. It means a lot that they’re here for the game today.”
It is certainly special for Lukkarila and the rest of the FIHA to see one of their own succeed at the highest level. But it certainly isn’t a surprise.
“I didn’t have any doubts,” Lukkarlia said. “I had the chance to coach him when he was 12 years old. He was a great kid growing up.”