Hatakka still adapts to North American game, life

Santeri Hatakka, who hails from Riihimaki, Finland, just 43 miles north of Helsinki, grew up aiming to break into the NHL.

For North American players, the process for the NHL is more streamlined; play juniors, maybe go to the NCAA for a few years, and work your way up through the minor leagues. Even though a North American player is exhausted, there is still a clear way forward, though it is by no means easy. For European players growing up and playing in their home countries, it is not always a linear or simple process.

That is one of the reasons why Hatakka is such an impressive athlete at only 21 years old. It is no easy task to be successfully scouted, retain interest and develop with their organization’s end product in mind, and it shows an acute level of work ethic, determination and perseverance.

Hatakka was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, in the sixth round, in a total of 144th place, and made his professional debut for the Finnish Liiga for the Tampereen Ilves in the 2019-20 season. He played for the same team next year and played in 44 games for a total of one goal and six assists.

Then it was time for him to go to California, about 5,418 miles from Finland, to San Jose. After a strong camp with the San Jose Sharks and the first few games of the season spent at the top, Hatakka came down to San Jose Barracuda, where he has spent most of the year.

From a development perspective, European players who have developed within their home countries and play professionally there seem to have an advantage. Outside of the ice, these players seem to have a more solid work-life balance and a healthy perspective, confident in their identity on the ice and on the ice. Of course, it is easier when you are familiar with your surroundings and the language.

The battle comes with the transition between European and North American ice cream. Here the game is faster, the rink is smaller, the blows are harder, and at times it seems that they play two completely different hockey styles. Along with the fact that defensive players generally develop more slowly than attackers and possible problems with language barriers, laughter becomes all the more impressive for young European players assimilating into North American leagues.

And as I learned when I spoke to Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer, it is often preferred that players start this transition process in the AHL, relative to the NHL, due to the generally slower pace and room for growth that gives itself time. and room to adapt to the more physical and instinctive style of play here.

San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner reiterated Summer regarding Hatakka: “When I see some of the fights and what I hear, it’s taken a whole year for him to adapt to this North American game.”

Hatakka may also have to adapt next year.

“He’s just a stable, confident, non-flashy defender,” an NHL scout told San Jose Hockey Now. “May need another year as a caller.”

Hatakka talked for a long time about the transition from Finland and North America, and the differences between the two countries are not always about the size of the ice – sometimes it is also about the weather.

»The weather is the biggest difference between Finland and California. Of course there is no snow here, ”said Hatakka. “We’re so cold in the middle of winter, we have minus-20 degrees weather and snow, so that’s the biggest difference – and the food, of course, we have some traditional Finnish meals.”

(For some of my fellow Americans who are not familiar with Celsius, it’s about minus-four degrees Fahrenheit).

While Hatakka has not been able to get up to the mountains beyond the fake snow at Santana Row (which we found out just cannot be compared to the real thing), he has been able to cook Finnish food at home, although it is never quite the same as a homemade meal made in your home country with familiar ingredients.

And when it comes to ice, Hatakka also shared the differences there: “The biggest difference between European hockey and the United States is that the hockey field is smaller and the game is faster here, and it’s not that organized – anything that happens. You can do not expect and what is going on on the ice, you have to react.Because back in Europe … everything that happens on the ice, we can expect it.We play there more carefully and it goes a little slower because the ice is bigger. ”

In other words, the bigger the ice, the more favored the fixed game and more tactical, chess-like strategy, compared to the North American style of play, which is more dependent on physicality. Basically, this leads to European players generally developing different habits, behaviors and instincts on the ice in youth hockey compared to the North American junior experience.

Speaking of instincts, ex-defender Boughner, 630 NHL games to his credit, likes Hatakkas: “He does a good job of going up and being aggressive.”

But there is a downside to the fact that Hatakka is still trying to balance.

“What he has to work on, if anything, comes back is to read,” Boughner said. “When to be aggressive, when not to be.”

There is also a communication gap – trying to connect with your teammates during the hectic, fast-paced game becomes more difficult when no one around you speaks Finnish. While there are many countries in the world that make English a compulsory aspect of their public education system, Finland is not one of them and (unfortunately) the US has very little investment in foreign language learning within their education system, which means that the language barrier can be a real match for players and their teams.

When it comes to Finnish in Barracuda’s locker room, there is not much. “A couple of the guys know basic words, but not so much – I think it’s a pretty difficult language to learn,” Hatakka said.

And not being able to communicate so effectively with people around you can be isolating, especially in a team environment, even if you have eventually gotten well into the system.

“The first few months were pretty tough because my English was not that good yet and I did not know guys that well,” the 21-year-old admitted. “But after the first few months, everything was great. I enjoy my time here. It’s so much fun to be in the United States and part of the Sharks organization.”

Playing in the NHL was a dream come true, but it is one that is filled with as much stress and anxiety as excitement and exhilaration. Finding the balance between having a personal life and a professional career in the spotlight can be difficult, though it is important.

“You just have to focus on positive things. You have to work, ”Hatakka said of his professional life. “And when you’re off the ice, find the things you enjoy doing and just get a little bit out of hockey.”

Hatakka’s emotional and mental maturity and ability to navigate everyday stress and professional hockey is a skill that stems from sacrifice and hard work.

“When I was 16, I moved. So I’ve been alone a few years already, [and was] a couple of years [playing] pro in Finland and it has helped me a lot to find that balance. Too much is too much, ”he said.

We often talk about the balance between being a professional athlete and ordinary life as something a player finds, but in reality it’s a skill they hone, like working on their strokes or skating. And it’s not an easy skill to develop, and there are plenty of players I’ve met who are struggling to find that balance. Not only is it an indication of Hatakka’s personal development, but it’s always a huge plus for the team to have players like him who have a strong sense of identity and perspective off the field.

This maturity, combined with Hattaka’s physical qualities, is what makes him an enticing prospect.

“There’s a lot of good in his game,” Boughner said, “he’s a young guy who moves really well.”

And when it comes to being a normal person off the ice, Hatakka said players are just that – normal.

“We’re just a person and normal people who are professional athletes. Of course there are a lot of eyes that see us and people want to see us, but we’re just normal people,” he said. “And it’s always so fun to meet new people. “

So if you ever meet Santeri Hatakka?

Here is the correct (ie Finnish) way of saying his name: San-teh-riy (with a slightly rolled ‘R’ sound), Hah-tah-Kkah.

Barracuda games

The Barracuda season is not over yet, although it is nearing its end. In 32 games, Hatakka has had one goal and eight assists, for nine points. During eight games for the Sharks, Hatakka had two assists for two points. Although he may not be called up before the end of the season, it is clear from both his play on the ice and Sommer’s messages that Hatakka is on track to get back on top.

When it comes to the rest of the Barracuda, here’s how their last five games have been set up. It has been a long time since the Barracudas bought themselves into a victory. On March 28, Barracuda played their second of two games against the Colorado Eagles, which ended in a 4-0 shutout loss.

Their March 30 match against Ontario Reign was a 6-3 loss and Jasper Weatherby, Evan Weinger and Joachim Blichfield had the only goals. The Barracuda opened the month of April with a 7-1 loss against the Stockton Heat with newcomer Mason Jobst with the individual goal for the Barracuda. Their last match was on April 3, a rematch at home against the Heat, which was a 3-1 loss, with Artemi Kniazev with the only goal.

Welcome to your new home for San Jose Sharks latest news, analysis, and opinions. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and do not forget to subscribe to SJHN + for all our content only for members of Sheng Peng and the National Hockey Now Network plus an ad-free browsing experience.

Leave a Comment