ST. CLOUD, Minn. — If you are into first impressions, call this a "win-win" for Veeti Miettinen and the St. Cloud State men's hockey team.
Taken in the sixth-round of the NHL Entry Draft in October by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Miettinen finally got onto St. Cloud State's campus on Monday after a long process to get his visa in Finland. On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the jet-lagged 19-year-old took part in his first practice with the Huskies at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
"I've been waiting for this for so long and I'm so happy to be here," Miettinen said. "It's amazing, so unreal.
"That visa thing was a long process."
Miettinen, who verbally committed to St. Cloud State in August 2019, had his original visa appointment cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. He was finally able to get his appointment on Oct. 27 and then had to wait a week to receive the paperwork. Was he getting worried?
"Maybe a little. I was so frustrated," he said.
On Monday, he flew to Amsterdam and then took a 9 1/2-hour flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Once he got to St. Cloud, he had to fill out paperwork, move into a dorm room, meet with advisers and teachers and take a physical. By his reaction to what he experienced at his first practice, though, it sounds like it was worth it.
"It was so fun, tired, but so fun," he said with a smile. "These guys are good."
St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson had seen Miettinen play in person last season, but was still impressed by what he saw in the first practice.
"He's been trying to get a lot done in a couple days and I knew he couldn't wait to get on the ice today and play some hockey," Larson said. "All the scouting reports — and I saw him play a couple games when I went over to Finland last year — but his (shot) release is high end. He's a guy that, if you get him the puck between the (faceoff) dots, he's going to give you a chance to score and there's a good chance it's going in."
While he was waiting for his visa to get approved, Miettinen was taking classes online and practicing with the Kiekko-Espoo Under-20 junior hockey team that he played for last season. Last season, he led the Jr. A SM-ligga in goals (42) and points (73) in 52 games. In two seasons in that junior league, he had 69 goals and 134 points in 100 regular season games.
So what does he expect to bring to the Huskies?
"I'm a scorer, so goals and I create chances for my linemates," he said. "Any of that offensive stuff. I'm not that good in the defensive zone.
"I like to shoot the puck. I like to score goals."
It is ironic then that when he was practicing with Kiekko-Espoo, he was being used as the team's eighth defenseman.
"We were skating seven times a week," he said, referring to how often they were on the ice. "When I was there, I was playing defense, which was weird."
St. Cloud State began classes on Aug. 24 and Larson and the coaching staff have been in daily contact with Miettinen through the process to get him on campus. To have him at his first practice was a relief.
"The relief of getting him here with everything going on with COVID ... he got his visa and we had to wait for a week for him to fly over," Larson said. "We were hoping Finland wouldn't shut down with COVID. He hung in there and really wanted to come play here and we're, obviously, very glad he made it."
In the St. Cloud State locker room, Miettinen's stall is next to Jami Krannila, the Huskies' sophomore forward from Pori, Finland. Miettinen said that it is nice to be able to speak some Finnish with a teammate and realize what former teammates had told him about their experiences.
"Many of my old teammates had come (to American colleges) and told me so many positive things," he said of playing college hockey. "Now I believe everything. It's so fun here."
Scrimmage set for Friday
The Huskies will have an intrasquad scrimmage at 6 p.m. Friday at the Brooks Center. The event will be open to about the first 150 fans who wear a face mask and show a COVID self-assessment green screen entering the building.
Larson said that the team will play three 12-minute periods and be in game uniforms. There will be three forward lines on one team and two on another. The national anthem will be played and Chuck Clausen will do the introductions and public address announcing.
St. Cloud State opens its season in the NCHC hub with a game against Western Michigan on Dec. 1 at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Neb. The Huskies will play 10 games in the hub and then have their first home game on Jan. 1 against Minnesota Duluth.