St. Cloud Freshman Has Come a Long Way In Short Time
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Prior to St. Cloud's first league road trip of the season last week, freshman phenom Kalle Kossila, an agile 5-foot-10, 167 pound freshman left-winger from Kauniainen, Finland, and the reigning WCHA Rookie of the Week, earnestly – and concisely – tweeted, "First college road trip #Denver #excited #rookie #graballthebagsandsticks."
Six games into his college career, Kossila's enthusiasm is certainly unbridled, and not just in social media realms. Seemingly undeterred by long WCHA road trips from central Minnesota, and apparently unfazed by living almost 4,400 miles away from his family in Finland – "It's not too bad, I Skype with them," he says – Kossila's enthusiasm has in fact quickly translated into on-ice results.
Kossila started his career at St. Cloud with points in each of his first five games, including an impressive display of hand-eye coordination on the Huskies' second goal this past Friday night at Denver's Magness Arena. On the tally, an effective back-breaker of a goal with the way St. Cloud played defensively, junior blueliner Nick Jensen fired the puck to Kossila, who was streaking down the slot but covered well by the Pioneers defense.
With a subtle angle of his stick, Kossila re-directed the puck over Denver goaltender Sam Brittain's right shoulder and put the Huskies up 2-0 in an eventual 3-0 win – their fifth straight before losing the following night.
"I just went hard to the net," said Kossila in broken English – again, quite concisely – seemingly shrugging off the notion that his goal represented anything special.
"My strength is creative plays," continued the rookie, who was actually born in France before moving to Finland at age two. "Usually when I have the puck, I have my head up so I can see the game."
The previous week, Kossila earned the league's Rookie of the Week award after scoring two goals and contributing two assists in a weekend sweep of Minnesota State. With eight points in six games thus far, Kossila is the only WCHA rookie to be averaging over a point a game, and he is tied with Harvard's Jimmy Vesey as the top-scoring rookie in the nation in terms of points-per-game (1.33).
Certainly, Kossila's early season production may have come as a surprise to some, but perhaps playing on the same line as center Drew LeBlanc (67 assists in his career prior to this season) and on the same squad as prolific scorer Nic Dowd has allowed Kossila to adjust rather easily.
And the rookie's hot start is hardly a surprise to the Huskies' coaching staff, who traveled those 4,400 miles not too long ago just to convince Kossila, then playing for the Blues U20 (SM-lilga) team in Finland, to cross the Atlantic.
"Coach Gibbons came to Finland last year," recalled Kossila, who came to St. Cloud along with fellow Finnish teammate and friend Rasmus Reijola. "Months before that, I heard about college hockey, and he came to watch our games. He came to talk to me, and I was really excited to go to school and also play hockey at a high level."
The Huskies return home next weekend for a weekend series against North Dakota before heading on the road again, to Duluth and then to Anchorage, when Kossila and his fellow rookies will – unless the novelty has worn off – obediently #graballthebagsandsticks again. Kossila's first six games have been exemplary, but of course, with the aforementioned LeBlanc and Dowd now upperclassmen, expectations for the currently 5-3-0 Huskies are to finish over .500 for the first time since 2009-10 — the last time coach Bob Motzko led St. Cloud to the NCAA tournament.
Put another way, for Kossila and the Huskies – as for all teams, of course – it's not how you start. It's much more important how you — er, Finnish.