Mari time on Cougars’ ice
by Amy Gregson
As a ringette player for the past 15 years in Finland, Mari Ahvensalmi had always dreamt of coming to Canada to play ringette and study for a period of time.
A trip to Canada with her ringette team, coupled with taking up hockey five years ago, solidified her desire to play and study here even further.
Realizing that local Canadian ringette teams didn’t practice enough to suit her, Ahvensalmi contacted head coach Scott Rivet and members of the Cougars women’s hockey team to ask about the team’s practices and level of play.
Finding MRU’s level of play satisfactory, she attended try-outs in September and found herself a spot with the team’s defense, as well as earning the honour of being the team’s first international player.
“I really like it,” said the Helsinki native about playing in Canada. “I love the way our league [ACAC] is really even. There are much bigger differences between teams in our Finnish league.”
Back in Finland, Ahvensalmi was taking industrial management at the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and her program requires studying abroad for at least three months in order to graduate.
In Finland, hockey was always “the second sport” to Ahvensalmi, taking a backseat to ringette causing her to miss practices and games when the two conflicted. However, for the last two years she played at the highest level of hockey in the Finnish National League level: the SM League.
Being solely focused on hockey with the Cougars this season, Ahvensalmi hopes to make improvements to her game, including working on puck handling, shooting and upping her physical play.
Ahvensalmi said the physical aspect of the game is another difference between Canadian and Finnish play, with more physical play allowed in Canada. She added that ringette is much less physical than hockey.
“Here, [Canadian] teams seem to think much more about playing strategies,” she said. “We don’t really think so much about it in Finland.”
She said there is also a difference between rules and what can get you a penalty.
“If you’re defense and the opponent puts the puck beyond you, you cannot play the forward’s body or you get a penalty for interference. That’s something you can do in Finland.”
With five months left to play before she returns to Finland, Ahvensalmi hopes to finish up the season injury free so she can enjoy the remainder of her time and improve in practices.
With hockey taking up a lot of her time, Ahvensalmi hasn’t given up on the sport she’s played for 15 years. During her time in Calgary, she is also coaching eight-year-olds on the South Calgary Ringette Novice B team.