Recently Cetacean Nation had the opportunity to fire some questions at our goaltender, #18 Meeri Raisanen. And like many of the pucks that are fired at her by opposing skaters, she skillfully gloved the questions and handed back the answers. Meeri is a native of Finland, and has represented Finland in numerous international competitions, all as their maalivahti between the pipes. A maalivahti, as you probably have surmised, is a goalie. And our #18, whether maalivahti, goalie, keeper, netminder, or goaltender is Meeri Raisanen. That is a rather unusual jersey number for a goalie, and when we asked her why she has historically chosen that number she told us “ I want to wear a number that means something. And 18 is a number which comes from my family. And, another reason is that I don't want to wear an ordinary goalie number.“ Makes sense, since there is nothing ordinary about our maalivahti.
Meeri admitted that it has been pretty hectic getting started this season. She arrived from Finland shortly before the season began, and skated right into goal and right into the breach. She faced ninety-seven shots on goal in the first three games, playing all but 11:27 while our #70 Sam Walther was the netminder. Cetacean Nation has noted that along with Meeri our Whale have a truly international team this season. And the hectic hockey schedules of a couple of our other international players, our #92 Katerina Mrazova and #69 Mariya Sorokina, has even caused them to miss games. We wondered how Meeri viewed being on a team with members who have represented seven different nations in international competition. She replied “ I love that we have such an international team. We all are in the same spot: new league, new team and new city. So we get support from each other in new situations. We have all loved it so far! “ Cetacean Nation thinks that type of bonding among our international players, combined with the prior connections many of our rookies have and the remarkable veteran leadership, will lead to the type of chemistry that will produce a winning formula.
Even with all of her experience and success on the International level representing Finland, this is not the first time Meeri has suited up in a league outside of her country. Back in the 2014-2015 season, Meeri played for awhile in Russia for SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, posting a 1.12 goals against average. But Meeri’s story begins in Tampere in southern Finland, a city that about a quarter of a million Finns call home, the second largest population center in the country. The largest city and capital of Finland, Helsinki, lies about a hundred miles to the southeast. If you check the rosters of Finnish hockey teams, you’ll see lot of players have come from the Tampere region. Cetacean Nation asked Meeri if she had any favorite player from her home town. She said “ I don't really have favorite hockey player. I know most of them, so can't think them as an favorite.“ We also asked Meeri to tell us about her early days getting started in hockey, and as was the case with many of our Whale, family played a big part. Meeri told us “ I started playing hockey after my big brother played. He played at an outdoor rink, and I was hanging on the boards yelling that I want to go play too.” Cetacean Nation was curious if Meeri had began her career as a goalie, but she told us she hadn’t, replying “ I started to be an ice hockey goalie when I was 14, and before that I was a player and also played couple years of ringette as a goalie.” In case you are not familiar, ringette is a sport similar to hockey, but played with a straight stick (no blade) anda rubber ring. Check out this video to get a sense of the game, and the stickhandling possibilities: https://youtu.be/6qsSys5mkecI. Concerning her early athletic career, Meeri also told us “ I played and tried different sports, and the longest I played any next to ice hockey was soccer.”
One of Meeri’s early ventures outside of Finland was to journey to the United States to enroll in college and play hockey at Robert Morris University, just outside of Pittsburgh. She appeared in fifteen games in goal for the Colonials in 2011, and turned away 120 shots in three games against Mercyhurst. Meeri shared this about her experience at Robert Morris and her decision to attend school there, saying “ I wanted to see how college hockey and life would be. I am happy I went there. Learned a lot.“ And on December 2nd, Meeri will be making a homecoming of sorts, when the Whale host the neutral site game against the Riveters at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, located about a half an hour north of her former school.
Since she has experienced the hockey culture and business in multiple countries, we asked Meeri to tell us about how things worked for the players in Finland. Her answer revealed both similarities and differences to the NWHL experience. She explained “ There is top women's league and kind of farm league in Finland, and there is also a league where you can just play as an hobby. In the top league there are ten teams. They just went from eight teams to ten in this season. Most teams have a monthly payment for players. Some teams have good situations and a player doesn't have to pay anything. Almost everyone goes to work or school in addition to playing. They play 30 games plus playoffs, which is contested in best of 5 series. Most teams use the same name as the men’s league team in the city they play in, and some teams play in same rink as mens.“ Meeri, as well as fellow maalivahti Noora Raty, has played in both the men’s and women’s leagues in Finland. And she has enjoyed great personal and team success In the Finnish leagues, both a highly skilled and highly visible fan favorite. But her greatest accomplishments have come in representing Finland on the world stage at the IIHF World Championships, and the Olympic Games. When we asked Meeri if she had some favorite moments during her career so far, she listed several, not unexpectedly from her international competitions. Meeri told us “ My favorite memory is my first Worlds medal in 2015 from Malmö. And another one I would say, is from Kamloops, Canada, playing for full house against Team Canada. And of course the Olympic medal from Pyeongchang.” Cetacean Nation thinks that an Isobel Cup Championship here with our Whale, would be a most excellent addition to Meeri’s great hockey resume.
Meeri also passed along these remarks to the Connecticut Whale fans of Cetacean Nation: “ I want to thank every fan and every message I have gotten. I read them all! I love the fan culture here, and I’m hoping to see full house at Terry Conners Rink too!” Meeri has unhesitatingly stepped into the breach in goal, and has immediately stepped enthusiastically into the unique Whale culture. We’ve just had one home gate to date, and along with her teammates, Meeri enthusiastically engaged the fans in the Whale tradition, in the post game autograph session, making a lot of new fans among our little Future Draft Picks. So make plans to “ Meet Maalivahti Meeri” at one of our upcoming games. Terry Conners is the largest rink in the NWHL, and it would be great to give Meeri and the rest of our Whale a few full houses to play in front of. Fins Up to that idea, and Fins Up to our #18 Meeri Raisanen for sharing her thoughtful remarks and insights with her Catacean Nation fans.