The Free Press, Mankato, MN

College Sports

January 20, 2010

MSU's Tikkinen to play for Team Finland

Mavericks junior joins teammate Andersson in the Olympics

MANKATO — Nina Tikkinen was walking to her economics class at Minnesota State University last week when her cell phone buzzed.

The MSU women’s hockey player knew who it was before she even answered. It was a call she had been waiting for. It was a call she had been expecting for more than a decade.

But even if it’s expected, it’s still a thrill when the person on the other end of the call is telling you that you’re going to the Olympics.

“It was unbelievable,” said Tikkinen, who will play for the Finnish women’s hockey team. “There are not many times when you get a feeling like that.”

Needless to say, she doesn’t remember much about her econ class that day.

“I couldn’t concentrate,” she said.

Tikkinen is one of three hockey players with Minnesota State ties who will be competing in the Winter Games next month in Vancouver, British Columbia. But she is the only one currently in Mankato.

Last month, Mavericks teammate Emilia Andersson was selected to skate for Team Sweden. Andersson has taken the year off from school to stay in her home country and train with the national team.

On New Year’s Day, former Minnesota State men’s hockey captain David Backes was named to the U.S. Olympic Team. Backes, who played for the Mavericks from 2003 to 2006, currently plays in the National Hockey League for the St. Louis Blues.

“I think this is a huge step,” Tikkinen said. “Our school is getting to be known. I hope it’s going to lead to better recruits and a better program.”

Tikkinen, a junior forward from Salo, Finland, has one goal and seven points in 15 games this season. She has 15 goals and 36 points in 71 collegiate games.

“Anytime you have an Olympian on your team it’s an honor,” Mavericks coach Eric Means said. “With it being the first two (from MSU), it’s nice.”

Minnesota State teammate Emmi Leinonen, a sophomore forward from Valkeakoski, Finland, did not make the team. Leinonen ranks first on the MSU’s goal-scoring list with eight goals this season and is second with 13 points.

“We’re happy to have (Leinonen),” Means said. “But it’s too bad (she didn’t make the Finnish roster).”

Tikkinen has played for Team Finland in the past, skating in both the world championships and another international tournament.

But there’s something extra special about going to the Olympics.

“The Olympics are only every four years,” Tikkinen said. “It’s a pretty big deal. It’s going to be huge. There are so many athletes. It’s been one of my dreams my whole life.”

Tikkinen held her hand just below her waist.

“Since I was this little.

“I started playing (hockey) when I was 6,” she said. “I wanted to go to the U.S. to play college hockey. I wanted to play for the national team. And I wanted to play in the Olympics. I set some big goals; I guess I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Tikkinen will join four fellow Western Collegiate Hockey Association players — two from Minnesota Duluth and one each from Minnesota and Ohio State — on the roster. They will meet the rest of the team in Colorado for a pre-Olympic training camp later this month.

The Olympics will take place Feb. 12-28. Women’s hockey begins on Feb. 13, with the medal games taking place on Feb. 25. Men’s hockey begins on Feb. 16, with the medal games taking place Feb. 27-28.

Tikkinen said Canada and the United States are the women’s favorites, with Andersson’s Team Sweden and Russia also in the medal mix.

“I think a realistic goal would be a bronze,” Tikkinen said of the Finnish expectations. “But we can all dream about the gold medal. I definitely believe in a medal.”

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