ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It was easy to hear the relief in St. Cloud State men's hockey coach Brett Larson's voice as he shared the news.
Veeti Miettinen, a 19-year-old forward from Espoo, Finland, has his official visa appointment on Oct. 27 so that he can get into the United States, get on campus and join the Huskies. Miettinen, a sixth-round draft pick (168th overall) of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, could not get to his original appointment because many federal buildings in Finland had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"That is really good news," Larson said. "It basically means that is when he's going to get his visa. The problem has been that the embassy has been so backed up and with COVID shutdowns, it's been impossible for a lot of student-athletes to get their appointments.
"Typically, once they get the appointment, that means that they've got the correct documentation and he should be able to get his visa at that time."
Miettinen has been working out on his own and attending St. Cloud State classes online since the beginning of the school year. With the delays, the Huskies coaching staff has stayed in daily contact with Miettinen and teammates have texted him regularly.
Miettinen still has junior eligibility remaining, which means there are other options for him to play this season along with the possibility of him turning pro. So it is understandable that Larson and his staff are excited about his visa appointment.
"For us, it's majorly, majorly positive news," Larson said. "Huge relief for him. He was getting really, really frustrated."
After Miettinen was drafted, Larson talked about the skill set that he brings.
"We think he's a special player," he said. "His shot is high end. He gets the puck off quickly and he's a goal scorer, but he's got that high end compete, too."
Last season, the 5-foot-9, 161-pound Miettinen led the Jr. A SM-liiga, the top junior league in Finland, in goals (42) and points (73) in 52 regular season games. He had 14 more goals than anyone else in the league and 12 more points.
As an 17-year-old in 2018-19, he played for the Blues U20 team in the same league. He had 27 goals and 34 assists and was plus-24 in 48 regular season games. His 61 points were fourth in the league and he had the sixth-best plus/minus in the league, which has 18 teams. The three players who finished with more points were 19 and 20 years old.
When he joins the Huskies, he will be the fourth drafted player on this season's roster, joining junior forward Sam Hentges (Minnesota Wild, 2018 Draft, 7th round, 210th overall), junior defenseman Nick Perbix (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2018, 6th round, 169th) and senior goalie David Hrenak (Los Angeles Kings, 2018, 5th round, 144th).
Miettinen will also be the second Finnish player on this season's roster, joining sophomore Jami Krannila. The St. Cloud State women's hockey team has three players from Finland this season: freshman goalie Sanni Ahola, freshman forward Linnea Melotindos and junior forward Jennniina Nylund.
Practice open to the public
St. Cloud State announced Wednesday that it will have a practice that is open to the public from 9:30-11 a.m. Oct. 30 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The event is free and open to the first 250 spectators. Anyone in attendance will need to wear a face mask, show a COVID self-assessment green screen when entering the building and fans are asked to observe proper physical distance guidelines in the arena.
The green screen is an online self-assessment tool that can be accessed by following the prompts at https://mnscu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1HAgGHJbBzcyDCl?utm_medium=sidearm-email&utm_source=scsuhuskies.com&utm_campaign=St.+Cloud+State+Men%27s+Hockey+Open+Practice+set+for+Oct.+30&utm_content=f049150f-9857-4e38-a5c9-343c618dae9b.
The practice idea is from Bruce Thompson, St. Cloud State's assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions.
"He asked me if I'd be OK with it and I told him that I think it's a great idea," Larson said. "It will give our guys a little boost to have some people at our practice. I think it will be fun for everybody involved."
The Huskies have been having parts of their practices where the entire team is on the ice as it prepares for the season.
"One pod (of players) has to be in the locker room getting ready, then they can go on the ice," Larson said of the procedures being followed. "Once they clear the locker room, the other pod can go in and get dressed and can go on the ice about 15 minutes later.
"So what's nice is, you can do extra skill development or goalie sessions in that first 15 minutes when they get on the ice. Then when the other group gets out there, you can run a few full team drills in the middle part of practice. Then at the end, the pod that got on the ice first, gets off, get showered and get out of the locker room. The second pod then gets off the ice."
The practice on Oct. 30 will have the entire team on the ice for the whole practice. People in attendance for the practice will have a chance to win a St. Cloud State men's hockey jersey.
Excitement about Dec. 1 start
The NCHC announced on Oct. 16 that it plans to begin play on Dec. 1 in an eight-team pod at the home of the University of Nebraska Omaha before returning to home rinks. Teams will play 10 conference games in the pod and then 16 more games will be played after December.
Larson said that he expects that teams will arrive in Omaha 2-3 days before Dec. 1, which will be the first day that games will be played.
"I think the certainty is really exciting for the players," Larson said. "It's the first time they've had an actual (start) date. When the announcement came out, I could hear cheering in the dressing room. The guys were fired up to know that it's going to happen, it's real.
"From a coaching standpoint, it's awesome because now we can figure out what our progressions are with what we're going to work on and how we're going to prepare for that bubble. It's kind of changed the mood in the locker room from offseason training to now in-season training to have a definite start date."
Larson said that the team is planning to vote for captains this week and an announcement on who the captains are will be made next week.