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Working out with the guys this offseason ignites a strong start for SCSU's Jenniina Nylund

Fifth-year senior and Olympian from Finland is tied for 14th in NCAA Division I in goals, tied for 20th in points for the Huskies. St. Cloud State jumps back into WCHA play with a series this weekend against St. Thomas.

Jenniina Nylund.jpeg
St. Cloud State center Jenniina Nylund takes a faceoff against Minnesota Duluth.
Courtesy of Ryan Roehl / St. Cloud State University athletics

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It is not always easy for Jenniina Nylund to find ice to work out on when she goes home to Finland during the offseason.

Unlike in Minnesota, many of the arenas in Finland do not have ice in during the summer. But when she went home for the summer of 2022, Nylund got some help in not only finding ice, but also people to skate with.

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"I skated with the U-18 (Finnish national) guys team," she said. "Our national (women's) team coach, he kind of got me into that. It was a really good thing for me.

"I usually don't get to skate a lot over the summer because there's no rinks by my house that has ice during the summer," said Nylund, who is from Pietarsaari, a city of about 19,000 on the west coast of Finland. "It was a really good opportunity for me. Battling against guys is something else. You cannot give up at any point or they're gone."

Nylund has battled her way to the best start of her college career with the St. Cloud State women's hockey team. Going into this weekend, Nylund is tied for 14th in NCAA Division I in goals (10) and tied for 20th in points (21). The 10 goals are the most she has had in a full season and the 21 points ties her season total from the 2018-19 season.

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St. Cloud State (4-8 WCHA, 9-8 overall) returns to WCHA play this weekend when they play a home-and-home series against St. Thomas (0-10, 3-11). The teams play at 3 p.m. Friday in St. Cloud and 2 p.m. Saturday in Mendota Heights (both on B1G+).

Jenniina Nylund white jersey.jpeg
Jenniina Nylund skates with the puck in a game against Minnesota Duluth at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn.
Courtesy of Ryan Roehl / St. Cloud State University athletics

'Desire to pay a price to win'

Nylund is the reigning WCHA Forward of the Week after picking up three goals and three assists in a nonconference series sweep last weekend at Lindenwood. Nylund said that skating with the U-18 men's team has played a role in her strong start.

"I think I got a really good training (regimen) in this summer," she said. "I got to skate with the guys' team and that definitely helped me.

"I've been able to build some confidence during the season," she said. "I've been playing with some great linemates that have given me the opportunity to put on some points."

Nylund has been playing center on a line with junior Avery Myers and senior Olivia Cvar. Nylund also leads the team in plus/minus (plus-5) and game-winning goals (3).

"She has been super good for us and has been very dialed in with the changes going on behind the scenes in terms of commitment and work ethic," said Brian Idalski, who is in his first season as SCSU's head coach. "She has a desire to pay a price to win and is competitive. She's been awesome.

"She has a great motor. She skates extremely well. Her drive and her compete in the defensive zone is super high. Tack onto that hockey sense, puck skills and deception and ... she's just a very, very good hockey player."

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Because the NCAA granted players another season of eligibility if they played during the 2020-21 season that was shortened by the pandemic, Nylund had the option to return this season for her fifth year.

St. Cloud State fired head coach Steve Macdonald after last season ended, but Nylund knew she wanted to come back anyway.

"I kind of knew that I wanted to come back because the COVID (shortened) year, I didn't get that many games that year," said Nylund, who played in 19 games in 2020-21. "Last year, I got even less games (18).

"I just felt like this program has gave me so much that I felt like there's still something I can get out of it. I just wanted to leave this program in a better spot as well. I feel like I could give something to this program."

Ice Hockey - Women's Play-offs Semifinals - United States vs Finland
Teammates Viivi Vainikka, Jenniina Nylund (helmet off) and Anni Keisala of Finland look dejected after a loss to the United States in the 2022 Beijing Olympics on Feb. 14, 2022, in Beijing, China.
BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS

Her Olympic experience

The reason why Nylund was limited to 18 games last season was because she played for Finland in the Olympics. She helped the Finns win the bronze medal and she is the first active SCSU women's player to win an Olympic medal.

After the bronze medal game, she left Beijing and flew to Helsinki. Then she flew from Helsinki to Minneapolis. In all, she traveled 14 time zones, got back to St. Cloud and practiced with the team before they played Ohio State in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.

It was a lot, but Nylund cherishes the Olympic memories.

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"It was so cool, something I have dreamed of since I was a little girl," she said. "Just walking into that Olympic village and seeing the rings for the first time — it was the moment when it kind of hit me. I'm actually here now."

Nylund will graduate from St. Cloud State this spring with a degree in marketing. But she wants to play professionally and play for Finland in the 2026 Olympics in Italy.

"When I was growing up, I didn't even know that girls had the opportunity to play professionally," said Nylund, who has three older brothers who all played hockey. "I think it's great that there's that opportunity nowadays.

"(The 2026 Olympics) is definitely one of my goals for the next couple of years. It was such a great experience (in Beijing) and COVID kind of — I'm not going to say ruined it — but it was definitely a different experience. It will be really cool to get the real Olympic experience without the bubble and being able to have fans."

Ice Hockey - Women's Bronze Medal Game - Finland v Switzerland
Jenniina Nylund of Finland goes to the net against Switzerland goalie Andrea Braendli during the bronze medal game on Feb. 16, 2022, of the 2022 Beijing Olympics at Wukesong Sports Centre, Beijing, China.
JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

TIME STAMPS

:30 A look back at SCSU's sweep of Lindenwood (7-2 and 4-2)

1:30 Looking ahead to this weekend's series against St. Thomas, a team that they swept (4-1 Oct. 28, 4-0 Oct. 29)

2:10 What this season has been like for Nylund, who has a career-best 10 goals and tied a career-best with 21 points. She has been playing on line with Olivia Cvar and Avery Myers

3:25 Skating with men's players during the summer to prepare for this season

5:50 What her offseason training schedule was like

7:25 How playing on the Finnish national team has helped her

8:05 Her 2022 Olympics experience

9:30 The turnaround and travel for her from winning the bronze medal to getting back to play for SCSU, the 14 time zone change

11:45 Some of the bigger changes under new head coach Brian Idalski, what makes him an effective coach

14:00 What went into her decision to return for her fifth season

15:00 Ending a 61-game winless streak against Minnesota this season

16:40 Finnish teammate Sanni Ahola, when their paths crossed previously, having former Finnish national team member Mira Jalosuo as an assistant coach this season

19:15 How she got involved in hockey growing up, when she started playing, playing with boys until she was in high school

22:40 Finishing her marketing degree

24:00 The difficulty of homework being in her non-native language when she arrived as a freshman, living so far away from home

25:30 Her desire to play professionally, her desire to play in the next Olympics

27:25 How often she talks with the Finnish national team staff

28:25 How did she end up at SCSU

READ MORE ST. CLOUD STATE HUSKIES COVERAGE:
Senior forward Addi Scribner discusses her career, which includes playing in Kansas, and helping East Ridge High School make its first state tournament on this Huskies Hockey Insider podcast episode.
Ahcan is in his third pro season playing in the Boston Bruins organization after playing for the Huskies from 2016-20
Senior from Finland is up for National Player of the Month
Freshman forward from Calgary picked up his first college goal last weekend against Minnesota Duluth.
Huskies will be looking to rebound this weekend with a home NCHC series against Miami
The Rink Live reporters discuss Bulldogs sweeping top-ranked Huskies, Minnesota running away with Big Ten, North Dakota sweeps Miami, recap of WCHA action
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead via special teams goals to win their third-straight game and sweep their first NCHC series of the season.

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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