ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Given that the majority of the St. Cloud State men's hockey forward line is made up of players from Finland, Veeti Miettinen suggests that Zach Okabe is in store for some languages lessons.
"We have to teach him Finnish," Miettinen said with a smile. "He'll learn."
Miettinen is the left wing on the line with fellow Finn Jami Krannila at center and Okabe, who has lived in five countries, on the right wing. Okabe said that he hears his linemates speaking in Finnish on occasion ... and then waits to hear if it's something he needs to know about.
"I kind of sit on the end of the bench and they sit down in the middle, together, and talk in Finnish," Okabe said. "When we need to communicate about something, they'll definitely talk to me ... and it's usually Jami who segways the information.
"I definitely hear them after a shift, talking in Finnish and I'm like, 'All right, I'm wondering if I need to hear this or if I'm good or if I should ask,'" Okabe said with a smile. "It might take a while, but we'll see if I can pick (Finnish) up quickly. If I'm going to play with these two for a while, I might have to start pulling my weight and learn a completely different language."
The Miettinen-Krannila-Okabe line — we'll call it the "International Exchange Line" — has been the Huskies' most productive line since being put together on Jan. 3. In seven games, the line has eight goals and 20 points and Miettinen was named the NCHC Rookie of the Month for January.
The No. 4/5-ranked Huskies play host to Western Michigan for an NCHC series this weekend. St. Cloud State (11-6-0) plays the Broncos (5-10-3) at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday (both on FOX 9+) at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in an NCHC series.
The Broncos swept St. Cloud State (6-2 and 3-1) in a series Jan. 15-16 in Kalamazoo and the line with the two Finns and sophomore Zach Okabe was held without a point in the two games.
"We can't let what happened happen again," Krannila said. "We've got to start going from the first shift. We have a good chance to win if we do that."
Putting them together
St. Cloud State began the season with Krannila and Miettinen on a line with senior wing Easton Brodzinski and that line also had success with 12 goals and 12 assists in 10 games. Because of some visa issues, Miettinen was not able to get to his first practice with the Huskies until Nov. 11.
Miettinen, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, had never been to the United States before, though he speaks fluent English. Still, with the move to another country and into college, St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson decided to put him on a line with Krannila to help with the transition.
"With Veeti getting over here late and having to jump in and learn everything on the fly, having a guy that spoke his native language on his line would really help and also (Jami) could lead by example," Larson said. "Jami has done a really good job of helping Veeti through the transition."
Miettinen leads the Huskies in goals (9), power-play goals (5), points (18) and is tied for the team lead in plus/minus (plus-7). He acknowledges that having Krannila as a teammate has helped.
"It's been pretty easy," Miettinen said of the transition. "Our team is so good and everything is going so well ... Everything is so fun here.
"It's so fun and we can speak Finnish all the time and no one understands what it means," he said of playing on a line with Krannila. "I like the way he plays and we know what we're doing. He's a really good player and I love to play with him."
Krannila and Miettinen grew up about 100 miles away from one another in Finland.
Miettinen grew up in Espoo, which is a suburb of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Espoo has a population of more than 270,000, is near the Gulf of Finland and he is a bit reserved, but has a confident air to him.
Krannila grew up in Nokia, which is a suburb of Tampere, which is to the north and west of Helsinki and he is the more outgoing of the two.
While the 19-year-old Miettinen played junior hockey in Finland last season, this is the third season of hockey in North America for the 20-year-old Krannila. Krannila played one season of junior hockey for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League before joining the Huskies last season.
In the middle of last season, Krannila was already excited to have another Finn coming to the team and he has enjoyed getting to know Miettinen.
"Veeti is super talented on the offensive side of the puck and I'm not saying he can't defend because as a three-man unit, we attack well, defend well and we help each other," said Krannila, who has five goals, 11 points and is a plus-7. "Even though we are small, we are physical."
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Krannila is the 'motor engine'
Krannila is listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, while Miettinen is at 5-9 and 160 and Okabe at 5-9 and 170. Okabe and Miettinen agree that Krannila is definitely the most vocal member of the line.
"He likes to stir the pot and if we need to get something going, we'll go to the net and we'll try to stir something up," Okabe said. "He's definitely not afraid of anyone. He's pretty vocal out there and you can really hear him now with the quiet rink with no fans. You can hear when he's talking and he likes to talk. I love it. It shows that he plays with a lot of passion."
Miettinen, who is the most quiet of the three, also enjoys Krannila's personality.
"Jami is a little bit angry sometimes and it's good for him," Miettinen said with a smile.
Okabe was added to the line after Larson wanted to see if a slight change in the lines might help the offense. Okabe and Krannila played on the same line most of last season and when Okabe was added to the line, there were instant results. In their first game together, they combined for three goals, five assists and were a plus-6 in a 3-1 win over Minnesota Duluth.
While Okabe has meshed with his new linemates, he has spent most of his life adapting to new people with new backgrounds. He was born in Japan, spent most of his childhood in Australia and has also lived in Thailand, Nashville and Canada. He and Krannila began conversing with one another during their last season of junior hockey and have been close since.
"Me and Jami were here together before our freshman year and before the other freshmen got in because of international stuff," Okabe said. "So I got to know him really early on."
Larson is hoping that the production of the "International Exchange Line" continues.
"(Krannila) is the motor engine on that line," Larson said. "He's high pace and high compete. Not only is he skilled, but he has the ability to win puck races and get the puck for the line. With his speed and compete, he's the driver of the line.
"(Miettinen's) hockey sense is very good and he's able to adapt quickly. Everybody can see that he can shoot the puck and he's got a great release and a goal scorer's instinct. His ability to play without the puck has been really good and led to a faster than expected transition for him.
"It's been really fun to see the chemistry that they've created in a short time," Larson said of the line. "There's been games lately where they've dictated play and they've been a huge part of our success and it's been fun to watch."
Kupka out 3-4 weeks
Kyler Kupka did not play in the series against Miami on Jan. 22-23 and will not be available for "the next 3-4 weeks," according to Larson. Kupka suffered an upper body injury in a game against Western Michigan on Jan. 16. The sophomore wing from Camrose, Alberta, has two goals, an assist, four penalty minutes and is a minus-2 in 15 games this season.
He has played mostly on a line with senior center Will Hammer and senior right wing Jared Cockrell this season. Against Miami, Joe Molenaar replaced Kupka as the left wing on the line. Molenaar, a freshman from Minnetonka, Minn., has played in five games, has three shots on goal and is even in plus/minus ratio.
Hrenak on Richter Award list
St. Cloud State's David Hrenak is one of 35 on the initial list of the Hockey Commissioners’ Association's nominees for the Mike Richter Award, which is given annually to the top goaltender in Division I. Hrenak, a senior from Považská Bystrica, Slovakia, and a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, is 8-5-0 with a .911 save percentage, 2.57 goals-against average and one shutout.