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MEN’S HOCKEY: Jere Vaisanen adjusting to college game in first year

Bemidji, Minn., is a long way from Espoo, Finland.

112021.S.BP.BSUMHKY Jere Vaisanen
Bemidji State freshman forward Jere Vaisanen (16) handles the puck against Bowling Green on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at the Sanford Center. (BSU photo)

BEMIDJI -- Bemidji, Minn., is a long way from Espoo, Finland.

It’s a little closer to Amarillo, Texas. That’s where Bemidji State men’s hockey freshman forward Jere Vaisanen was prior to joining the Beavers as a member of their 2021 signing class.

Vaisanen, who originally hails from Espoo, competed in the NAHL with the Amarillo Bulls before opting to attend BSU. But it’s a different type of hockey at the college level, something he’s learned 10 games into his freshman season.

“It's a bit of a different game than juniors or back home in Europe,” Vaisanen said. “So I think it took a while. I think I'm finally starting to get used to it. And I think that showed on Saturday night.”

Vaisanen scored the first two goals of his career Saturday to help Bemidji State sweep Lake Superior State and improve to 6-4 (5-1 CCHA). The two wins gave the Beavers their first winning record of the year, a tally more in line with the quality of play they feel they’ve been exhibiting all season.

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“As long as we keep winning, I think our game looks really good right now,” Vaisanen said. “We're all really confident. I think we're gonna keep winning. And that's just what we're focusing on each weekend at a time.”

The Finnish freshman has been one of a number of first-year players that have contributed for BSU this season. The list also includes goaltender Mattias Sholl, defenseman Tony Follmer, and fellow European forward Jakub Lewandowski.

It’s always a balance of relying on experience and giving young players opportunities when figuring out four lines and defenseman pairings, especially when a team has as many experienced contributors as Bemidji State does. Head coach Tom Serratore doesn’t overthink it, though, preferring to let things work themselves out in practices and games.

“You just got to let them play,” Serratore said. “I mean, there's no exact science to this stuff. You're playing guys, you're playing four lines, and when they get their opportunity, make the most of it.

“And I think that's what Jere Vaisanen did. I mean, he was opportunistic. They created chances for themselves with some hard work, and he finished (them). And that's what you got to do.”

From a player’s perspective, junior defenseman Kyle Looft has seen the younger players grow into their roles as the season has progressed.

“Any time you can get young guys to contribute, it's huge,” Looft said. “So they've done a good job, they're learning. Our leadership group has done a great job of preparing them, our coaching staff has, and they've came and worked.”

Having younger players in key roles can boost the confidence of the team overall, as the veteran players have depth to lean on and more quality players to help them win games.

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“It's nice to see that, because what that does, it does build confidence,” Serratore said. “And hopefully, that makes them better players, and makes our team better. That's what it's all about.

“But young guys can produce too. I mean, we got a lot of good hockey players. Everybody's got good hockey players, and sometimes it just takes guys a while, because it's a big step from junior hockey to college hockey.”

It’s a transition that took Vaisanen some time, but now he’s comfortable -- and contributing.

“I think it's a completely different game,” Vaisanen said. “So it's pretty hard, but I mean, you get used to it. Takes a little time. But I don't think all European players can play up here. It's so different. But just with good coaching, you got to change the way you play a little bit, but (you can) make it work.”

The Beavers look to continue their winning ways against Michigan Tech at 7:07 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, and 6:07 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, at the Sanford Center.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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