BRAMPTON, Ont. – Dennis Saikkonen didn’t get much sleep Tuesday night.
The goaltender went to bed at home in Bern, Switzerland, after the first round of the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft expecting the two-round process to resume the next day.
But the picks kept coming, and Saikkonen was awoken at 2 a.m. by his mother with the news that he had been chosen by the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League. Swedish centre Jonathan Johansson was the Troops’ first-round choice.
“I couldn’t get back to sleep after that, which was tough because I had school the next day,” Saikkonen said via telephone. “I spent some time looking at a map to see where Brampton is.
“It’s really an honour to join the Battalion. It’s really exciting for me. Canada is a much different country from Switzerland. It’ll be great to see how it all goes.”
The six-foot, 148-pound Saikkonen, who turns 18 on Nov. 27, said he feels he’s ready to make the trip to North America.
“I talked to my parents about it. It feels strange to be going across the world to play hockey, but I think I’m old enough now to make the move. My agent told me that if I wanted to be a hockey player I would have to make this move.”
Saikkonen spent last season with the Bern Bears of the Swiss Elite Junior A League. He also played in a number of tournaments with the Swiss national under-18 team, culminating in a trip to the World Under-18 Championship in Belarus last April.
Saikkonen, who appeared in two games in that event, got the start in a group game against the United States and made 24 saves in a 5-1 loss to the team that would go on to claim the gold medal. Saikkonen said he’s looking forward to a rematch with Jack Campbell, his goaltending opponent in that game, who has committed to the Windsor Spitfires for next season.
“We played the United States in November in Finland and only lost by a goal, but in the world championship they were just too good for us. I played against Campbell and I look forward to meeting him again in the OHL.”
Saikkonen is the first goaltender chosen by the Battalion in the CHL Import Draft.
“I think I am a mentally strong goalie who plays to win every night. I will do whatever I can for my team.”
Having started playing hockey when he was six, he played both goaltender and forward until deciding to stay in net as a 12-year-old.
“With my first team, I was always a forward and I really liked that. But I tried playing goal and really liked that too, because I liked the responsibility. The coach wanted me to go back to playing forward, but I told him I wanted to stay in goal and eventually moved teams.”
Saikkonen’s mother hails from Finland, while his father is a native of Sweden. He said that background has made him fluent in six languages and he’s working on a seventh. He also has his own website and Twitter account.
“My parents came to Switzerland 30 years ago intending to stay for a week but never left. I speak Finnish, Swedish, English, French, German and Swiss German. I have started to learn Russian, but it’s very difficult because they have a different alphabet. I can read it better than I can speak it.”
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)