UMD women's hockey playing a part in Winter Olympics
Hockey was Saara Tuominen's life in 2006 when she was named to Finland's Olympic women's team for the Winter Games in Turin, Italy. She was 20, out of high school, living at home and playing her favorite game. Becoming a two-time Olympian in 2010...
Hockey was Saara Tuominen's life in 2006 when she was named to Finland's Olympic women's team for the Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
She was 20, out of high school, living at home and playing her favorite game.
Becoming a two-time Olympian in 2010 has meant dividing her loyalties.
Tuominen played the first 24 games of the college season with Minnesota Duluth, but the senior center and captain is taking a month away to participate with Finland in Vancouver, British Columbia, starting Friday. She, along with freshman Mariia Posa, a Finland defenseman, plan to return to UMD for the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs Feb. 26.
"I've tried to be the best player I can every day this year and not think about the Olympics. UMD has been my priority," Tuominen said recently. "After our games at Mankato [Jan. 22-23], I finally let myself think about it for the first time. When I'm in Vancouver, part of my heart will be with the Bulldogs."
Tuominen, 24, from Ylojarvi, Finland, has been the heart and soul of UMD's team for three seasons as team captain. She's averaged more than a point per game in recording 45 goals and 89 assists for 134 points in 130 career games over four years. She ranks eighth in UMD career scoring and has 19 points in 24 games this season.
In 2008, Tuominen sat in the stands at the DECC as UMD defeated New Hampshire in the Division I semifinals because of a knee ligament injury. When told she couldn't injure the knee any more than it was, she put on a brace and played in the championship win over Wisconsin.
Her parents, Heikki, who builds mining drills, and Hannele, a postoperative nurse, were in Duluth for the tournament. It was their first trip to the United States.
"Saara is the kind of person you want to represent your program. She defines who we are," said UMD coach Shannon Miller, a former Canadian Olympic coach. "She's happy, positive, unselfish; a blue-collar worker. She reflects her country and Duluthians."
Tuominen, a B student majoring in exercise science who will graduate in December, isn't surprised at UMD's success this season, despite missing five other players for the entire season because of the Winter Olympics. The underclassmen, one with Canada and four with Sweden, have practiced with their national teams since last fall, but plan on returning to the Bulldogs for 2010-11.
"There was a lot missing from our team, but none of us wanted to focus on that and take too much on our shoulders," said Tuominen, a Finland assistant captain. "We concentrated on who was here and built on that. I knew we could be great."
Posa, 21, from Helsinki, Finland, has done her part for the Bulldogs, playing in every game, and now is headed to her first Olympics.
"Coming to play hockey in Duluth has changed my life; it has gotten me ready for the Olympics. College hockey in Finland is more like a hobby," said Posa, who expects to be studying for UMD classes during the Winter Games. "I didn't have any expectations for making Finland's team. I knew I had a chance and I thought I was good enough, so I just worked hard here."
Posa played in the 2009 World Championships and earned her Olympic spot, as Finland's seventh defenseman, following the MLP Cup in January in Germany.
"I can't believe how much Mariia has progressed in four months with our team," said Miller. "She's a very safe defenseman and a good skater with good vision."
Finland begins Olympic play Sunday against Russia. Finland is ranked third in the world behind the United States and Canada.