International Ice Hockey Federation

Heiskanen reaches high

Heiskanen reaches high

18-year-old on track to PyeongChang

Published 15.02.2018 02:33 GMT+10 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Heiskanen reaches high
Miro Heiskanen walks to the ice during the recent 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Opportunity is timing, and timing seems to be on the side of young Miro Heiskanen of Finland these days.

Despite being only 18, he has had a pretty special two years.

“I think I played pretty well considering this was the first time I was playing with the men’s national team. I’m pretty happy,” he said when he played his first game with the “big” lions, in a 4-3 win against Canada during the Karjala Tournament. Heiskanen scored a key third-period goal in that game and another against the Russians, and his play at Hartwall Arena only helped his chances of making the Olympic team.

“I thought it would be possible to make the Olympic team,” Heiskanen admitted, “but I knew I had to get stronger. That’s what I focused on this past summer. Strength training. And I also tried to work on my speed.”

He and Eeli Tolvanen were the youngest players on the roster, and they were five years younger than anyone else on the team. That didn’t deter coach Lauri Marjamaki from including them back then and now in Korea.

Heikanen’s incredible run started in April 2016 when Finland won gold at the U18 championship. Seven months later, he was on the World Junior roster, and he finished his IIHF junior days by winning silver at the 2017 U18 and being named Directorate Award winner for Best Defenceman.

“Of course, we won the U18 gold medal [two years ago], which was the highlight of the last few years for me,” he acknowledged.

This past June, he was drafted a lofty third overall at the NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars, a clear indication that it’s only a matter of time before Heiskanen plays in the world’s best league.

“It was amazing to get drafted third overall. That was another dream of mine, to make the NHL, so this is a great start,” he added.

But unlike many first-rounders, Heiskanen didn’t go to Dallas training camp thinking he had to make the team his first try.

“I didn’t think about making the NHL right away,” he said. “I have a lot of time still, and I just wanted to have a good year this year no matter what. The biggest difference from U18 to U20 to the national team is the strength of the players, for sure.”

Heiskanen has done nothing but improve over the last two years, showing that as the level of play increases, so, too, does his own play. But the chance to play in PyeongChang is particularly special for him.

“Every Olympic Games is special, and when I was a kid I always watched them. I always dreamed of playing in it myself one day.”

Despite his youth, he’s smart enough to realize he has to play within himself and not try to go out of his way to impress the team’s coaching staff.

“I need to play my own game, which is to be a good two-way defenceman. I like to handle the puck a lot and be offensive, but I know I need to play well in my own end as well.”

“It was nice to play with the older guys here,” he said about his first experiences. “They gave me a lot of tips and helped me improve.”

 

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