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East Ridge junior exchange student Frans Koskinen has found his place on the ice as he adjusts to a new setting. Koskinen has five goals this season and helped solidify the second line for the Raptors. (Bulletin photo by Nick Gerhardt)

East Ridge boys hockey: Finnish foreign exchange student finding his niche with the Raptors

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It’s not often a coach gets a gift prior to the start of the season without knowing it, but that’s what the East Ridge boys hockey team and head coach Doug Long got when foreign exchange student Frans Koskinen showed up at captain’s practice this fall.

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Koskinen, a junior from Ospoo, Finland, has played hockey since the age of 4, and plays on a club team in Finland. He has adapted his playing style, melded with teammates while experiencing a different culture.

Koskinen came as a bonus for the Raptors after a heavy graduation class from last season left the team thin on forwards. Koskinen centers the second line for East Ridge and has produced five goals and one assist.

Koskinen’s impact came quickly this season. Koskinen scored six points through six games.

“When you graduate as many seniors as we did, you’re trying to figure out where some of these goals are going to come from and it was nice to see that something we weren’t really anticipating kind of popped into our lap,” Long said.

The early success also gave Koskinen some confidence on the ice.

“I just wanted to show them I could play,” Koskinen said.

Koskinen stays with Nick Tinucci and started attending East Ridge once school started in the fall. His parents shipped his hockey gear over after his arrival and he started skating with the team at captain’s practice.

“I think he used that as an opportunity to meet friends and I think the game helped foster some of those relationships that might have been hard to do if all you’re doing is being a student and not involved in extra-circulars,” Long said.

While there were plenty of other adjustments for Koskinen, hockey remained relatively the same.

“I think he used that as an opportunity to meet friends and I think the game helped foster some of those relationships that might have been hard to do if all you’re doing is being a student and not involved in extra-circulars,” Long said.

In addition to navigating the hallways of East Ridge High School, Koskinen has had to learn how to play on a smaller rink. In Finland, he plays on a bigger, Olympic-sized sheets of ice, whereas Minnesota high schools play on smaller rinks.

The smaller rink means a faster game filled with more physical play, something Koskinen noticed quickly.

Koskinen has seen the Minnesota Wild play and there’s a strong Finnish presence in the NHL, especially the Minnesota Wild. Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom and Mikael Granlund are three Fins on the Wild’s roster.

Koskinen says his favorite player is Teemu Selanne, “The Finnish Flash,” who will play in his sixth Olympic Games and has played 22 seasons in the NHL.

Back in Finland, Koskinen lives with his parents and a 15-year-old brother, Fred. He spent two years applying and planning for the study abroad opportunity.

-Nick Gerhardt

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