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Finnish flashes boosting Buckeyes

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It hasn’t taken long for Janne Pitkanen and Samu Landen to pick up the Canadian style of hockey.

The two 17-year-old Finnish hockey players, who didn’t know one another before arriving in Canada this fall, have become a major part of the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes boys’ team this season. Through nine games, winger Pitkanen led the team with 11 points (three goals and eight assists) while defenceman Landen picked up two goals and four assists.

One of the major adjustments for the Finns has been the smaller ice size. Rinks in North America are generally 200-by-85 feet, while European ice surfaces are often 210-by-98 feet.

"At first, it’s hard. You need to be a lot faster," said Pitkanen, who hails from Helsinki. "You need to think faster. I think it was easier to play in Finland because the rinks were bigger. I think it’s more fun here."

Landen, who describes himself as an offensive-minded defenceman, is the blue-line partner of team captain Braden Dandeneau. He agreed with Pitkanen in noting there hasn’t been one particular moment where he felt he’d adjusted to the intricacies of the Canadian game, but said he’s made steady improvement.

"Every game has gotten better," said Landen, who is from Klaukkala, which is located approximately 30 kilometres northwest of Helsinki.

Dandeneau said he’s picked up some of the finer points of Landen’s game and applied them to his own, while he takes inspiration from Pitkanen’s relentless work ethic.

Buckeyes assistant coach Gordon Fritzsche said both players have taken to the team, and to the school community, quite well.

"It’s really been neat seeing the dynamic between them and the other boys. They bonded really quickly, I thought," Fritzsche said. "Last spring, when I first heard they might be coming, (the boys) were all very excited that they might be playing with boys from Finland and they wanted to know lots about them."

Head coach Brad Stelmach acknowledges the Buckeyes aren’t as deep of a team as they have been in past years, as they’ve skated to a 3-6-1 record in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s Winnipeg Free Press Division. He said the additions of Pitkanen and Landen have proven beneficial to the team.

"Our complexion is a little different, we’re not as strong as we’ve been in past years, so they do fill a need for us," Stelmach said. "They came out for the tryouts, and there were no guarantees — if they don’t make the team, they don’t make the team.

"Both of them were good enough to make the team."

The two Finns have had the opportunity to meet countryman and Winnipeg Jets forward Olli Jokinen, and will attend a team practice later this season.

As for everyday life, Pitkanen said he wasn’t used to the convenience of a school bus back home, while Landen said some of the diet is different. Stelmach teased that one of the major changes was the Finns’ discovery of Skittles.

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