On Sunday, be on the lookout for #60, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound forward with fantastic hands, great vision and a knack for finding the open man in scoring position. Erik Haula
is another in a line of many Minnesota Wild players and prospects from Finland, but unlike those before, and most likely after him, his route to the Minnesota Wild is a little different.
Drafted by the Wild out of Shattuck-St. Mary's in 2009 in the seventh round, Haula spent the 2009-2010 season with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. On Omaha’s top line, he potted 28 goals and 44 assists for 72 points and 59 penalty minutes in 56 games.
At Omaha, he experienced his first playoff race as his division winning Lancers lost in the second round to the Fargo Force. What does he take away from his brief stint in the playoffs?
“I just learned how quickly it can be over," he said. "You have to give it all every shift. Playoff hockey is a little bit different than regular season hockey.”
Don Lucia and University of Minnesota fans certainly hope Haula carries that experience with him to the Golden Gophers this fall as he takes the Mariucci Arena ice as a freshman.
“I hope I'll be that guy the team can count on, and who will be on the ice when there are tough situations," said Haula. "I just have to work hard this summer and when I get to the University of Minnesota, I have to keep working and we'll see what happens.”
Haula chose the route typically taken by Minnesota high school players, rather than those born in Pori, Finland. He credits his family with helping him make the decision to play in the USHL and the NCAA after Shattuck and after being drafted by the Wild instead of heading to play professionally in Finland or going to Canada’s Major Juniors.
“I sat down with my family and my advisors and thought that I should have a school background, and that's how we came to the decision to go to college.”
Haula’s father Tomi coached American football in Turku, and Erik grew up around the Americans who played for his father, most of whom had collegiate backgrounds. This not only helped to instill the idea that he wanted a college education, but also gave him plenty of practice for his flawless English.
So does a native Finn bleed the purple of the Vikings? When prodded on his allegiances, Haula came clean.
“Tom Brady is my favorite player, and has been for a long time," he admitted. "But with the Vikings, I have a connection now that I'm going to spend a lot of time in Minnesota so I've gotta cheer for them too.”
When asked if he ever had the desire to strap on the pads and play on Sundays, he laughed.
“I wanted to be a receiver or quarterback," he remembered. "But obviously I don't have the height to be receiver nor the size to play quarterback, so I don't know, I'd probably want be a safety or something...But I’m not as good a football player as I am a hockey player.”
Haula likes to pattern his game after fellow countryman Valterri Filppula of the Detroit Red Wings.
“I like to play with a high pace, a high tempo and I think I have pretty good vision on the ice. I think I make a lot of plays when I'm on the ice, just try to work hard, and also work on getting bigger. I may be a little undersized, but obviously the years keep coming and I become stronger and more ready for the NHL.”
Wild fans and management are hoping they found a diamond in the rough with Haula, much like the Wings did with Filppula or Pavel Datsyuk, who were also drafted in the later rounds.
If any team should have an advantage when picking Finnish players, it's the Wild. It's hard not hard to look at the Wild’s roster, or the fact that they start the season in Helsinki to see a connection with Suomi. Haula is one of six current Wild players and prospects who hail from Finland.
“It’s great to have someone you know really, really well from way back and have that ability to connect with guys who have that background,” said the guy who has been palling around with fellow Finn, Jere Sallinen at this week's Development Camp.
This is Haula’s second camp with the Wild, but his first under new Houston Aeros coach Mike Yeo and new Director of Player Development, Brad Bombardir. He's already noticed some changes.
“Last year we didn’t have any testing or anything like that. We have more workouts and conditioning. But we’re going to have some fun and get to know each other. We’re going to the Twins game Friday night, just like last year, so that should be good.”
Haula isn’t done playing competitive hockey this summer, even after this week’s development camp, and before captain’s practices begin at Mariucci Arena.
“After camp, I’m going to spend some time with (Minnesota Golden Gopher) Jacob Cepis for a while, then I have an under-20 national team tournament at Lake Placid. Two games against the USA and two games against Sweden. Then head back for three weeks before orientation and the start of the school year.”
When asked when the trash-talking between himself and USA’s Jason Zucker
or Sweden’s Johan Larsson
will begin, Haula laughed it off and said, “We’re all on the same team here. I’ll save that for Lake Placid.”For more from Eide and the Wild fan’s perspective, check out www.hockeywilderness.com