YORKTON - The Yorkton Junior Terriers are celebrating 50 years in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League this season.
To mark the milestone Yorkton This Week is digging into its archives and pulling out a random Terrier-related article from the past five decades of reporting on the team, and will be running one each week, just as it originally appeared.
This feature will appear weekly over the entire season in the pages of The Marketplace.
Week #25 comes from Feb. 13, 1999.
You might say Tomi Laaksola came to Yorkton to put some “Finnish” on his hockey skills.
Laaksola was only 16 when he arrived in Yorkton from his home in Turku, Finland last September for the training camp of the Yorkton Terriers.
While younger than most in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League – so young in fact that the Terriers waited weeks for clearance for him to play here – Laaksola earned a roster spot.
That’s all he ever wanted, because it provided a season in which to learn.
“I think this is a better level of hockey than I would be playing in Finland,” he said.
“This is a lot most faster league than I thought at first,” said Laaksola prior to a recent practice. “There are a lot more tougher games.”
“I’m learning all the time about Canadian hockey. It’s a smaller ice. I had to learn the Canadian way to play hockey. It’s a lot different from the Finnish way to play hockey,” he said.
Laaksola said the bigger European ice surface tends to favour speed and skill.
“We have a lot of skilled guys. There’s a lot more room to skate. But they’re not as tough as these guys here.”
The learning curve has been admittedly a steep one for Laaksola.
“This year is actually a learning year here. I’m not getting as much ice time as I would have in Finland … but with practices I’m learning,” he said.
For example, “I wasn’t probably as fast as I am now,” he said, “but, it’s getting better.”
The same situation existed for Laaksola’s role as a defensive forward.
In talking to coach Klippenstein they have addressed the youngster’s play in certain game situations.
“I needed to improve on my defensive play when I first got here,” he admitted, adding he has improved. “In the ‘D’ zone I feel pretty good now.”
Klippenstein says the young forward has developed well considering his age and the vast difference in hockey culture between the two countries.
“I think Tomi has benefitted from, first and foremost, being in the culture of Canadian hockey,” he said. “He’s getting a feel for competitive hockey three or four times a week and the practices and travelling … He’s learning what it takes to be an elite hockey player in North America.”
Klippenstein said the education has been made easier by Laaksola’s dedication to the sport.
“His willingness to learn is an asset. He’s very eager to become a better hockey player … Everything he does is focused on hockey. He literally breaths the game.
And Laaksola said he can accept learning from the stands some nights, as long as the team is performing well.
“As long as the team is winning, I really don’t care,” he said.
Still it’s something Laaksola said he and coach Klippenstein have talked about.
“He (Klippenstein) told me to keep working hard and I’d probably get my chance, if I don’t get it this year, I’ll get it next year in the WHL, or somewhere else,” he said.
Laaksola got a taste of that Jan. 26, in Saskatoon where he was moved up to play with the Terriers leading scorers Devin Rask and Trevor Weisgerber. He responded with a two goal – three-point night.
“I got a lot of ice time and a chance to play with the best players,” he smiled. “That was my chance and I used it.”
The move to Canada
The plan to come to Canada had been in place for more than a year, but Laaksola said he wasn’t sure where the specific team he would play for would be.
“I knew about a year ago I would come to Canada, but not where,” he said. “A couple of nights before I left I got to know I was coming here.”
Klippenstein said the arrangements to get the talented young forward to the city were made through Laaksola’s agent Craig Oster, a cousin of Terrier Jarret Oster.
Klippenstein said Oster represents Newport Sports in Toronto, a firm the Terriers had had discussions with early on in 1998, about accessing a Finnish player for the team.
As the year progressed the Terriers did change their focus to Viktor Konkov from the Ukraine, an older player with more experience. However, when difficulties arose in getting Konkov to Yorkton, Newport Sports again came to the forefront.
Klippenstein said Laaksola had been destined for the Portage Terriers in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, but his agents decided the Royal Bank Cup bound SJHL team was a better option, a change in plan Laaksola learned of only hours before leaving Finland.
Klippenstein said he is glad they found Laaksola.
“He adds another dimension to our program,” he said. “I like to have a player … a young guy that you bring along and help in the development of his career.
Laaksola may not have seen as much ice time as he may have liked this season, but he hopes the knowledge gained through those games and practice is enough to take him to a higher level.
“Seriously, I would like to move onto the Western Hockey League, or the Ontario Hockey League,” he said. “I still have to see what is going to happen, but hopefully I’m going to play there next year.”
Laaksola said he knows Junior ‘A’ franchises have been looking.
“They haven’t talked with me, but they have with my agent,” he said.
Klippenstein points out Laaksola is the only player in the SJHL, and perhaps in Tier II hockey in Western Canada eligible for the upcoming European draft for major junior leagues in Canada.
The pros are the goal
And down the road the pros, including the National Hockey League, remain goals for the young forward.
Laaksola looks to players such as Jari Kurri and Teemu Selanne as examples of what he hopes to one day accomplish. Having met both players who have starred as NHLer’s has helped.
“In Finland there are only six million people, so I’ve met Teemu at some hockey camps. I’ve got to know Teemu a little. We’ve talked a few times.
“And I’ve met Jari Kurri a couple of times.”
While not instilling Laaksola with words of wisdom, he said watching players like them up close has shown what it takes to succeed.
“I’ve seen Teemu practicing a couple of times. It’s something,” he said, noting both Selanne and Kurri bring something special to the game. “They do things with real attitude. They have it in their hearts … It was a very good experience.”
Laaksola said it boils down to an ethic for the game.
“Whatever you do, work hard and just do it well,” he said.
Where Laaksola might play next season remains a question unanswered, but it will be in Canada because that’s where he feels the best opportunity exists to propel his career forward.
“I’m going to be here in Canada as long as I have some chance to play hockey as a professional,” he said.
“If I see I don’t have a chance, I’ll go back to Finland to play and get a job.”