Aalto Building Solid NHL Future

Originally published on EuroReport.com in 1999

By Lucas Aykroyd

Alvar Aalto gained worldwide fame as the greatest Finnish architect of the twentieth century. Antti Aalto is still a work-in-progress.

No relation to his famous namesake, the 23-year-old center from Lappeenranta, Finland has finally secured his place in the lineup of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1998-99. And even though he’s playing only three to four minutes on the fourth line these days, he likes it better than toiling with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL, where he spent most of 1997-98.

“The most important thing for me this year is that I get to play on Anaheim for the whole year and that there is no big pressure to play wonderfully well,” Aalto told EuroReport recently.

“But I would prefer to score some goals,” he added. “That’s been a bit of a problem.”

His seven points (3-4-7) in 51 games with Anaheim are a far cry from his 1996-97 campaign in the Finnish Elite League, where he went 15-19-34 in 44 games with TPS Turku.

“The situation with TPS was somewhat different. I played on the first line and I had a responsibility to score,” said Aalto. He hopes to be promoted from the checking line — and start filling the net — within the next year.

Selected by the Ducks in the sixth round (134th overall) of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, the 6-2, 210-pound (189 cm, 95 kg) Aalto is well built for the rugged North American game. A solid, wide-shouldered skater, he spends most of his ice time hunting for hits in the neutral and offensive zones. He concedes the year he spent in the minors helped him make the transition to the NHL style.

“Last year on the farm team was a learning year for me. Mentally, it matured me a lot. It’s quite a jump to come straight in here.”

Although Petri Skriko ranks as Lappeenranta’s best-known NHL export to date (183-222-405 in 541 games with Vancouver, Boston, Winnipeg, and San Jose from 1984-85 to 1992-93), Aalto says he didn’t get advice from the man they used to call “Streak” before coming to North America.

“I just don’t know the guy,” Aalto admitted. “When I was a little boy, I saw him play. I met him once at a hockey school last year. That’s all. I know he’s still playing in Denmark these days.”

Not surprisingly, the presence of Teemu Selänne on the Ducks has really helped Aalto to acclimatize to a foreign culture.

The two are roommates on the road and Aalto stayed at Selänne’s house for a month during training camp last fall.

“We do stuff together after practice,” Aalto said. “In Anaheim we play golf. Teemu’s quite a master at not thinking about hockey all the time. The principle is that when it’s a game day, that’s when you really concentrate. When you have a day off, you do something else with the family or the girlfriend.”

In game situations, Selänne naturally provides more tips for Aalto. “He tells me stuff like do your job, be patient, and don’t try to rush too much all the time. The type of advice to calm you down.”

Selänne told EuroReport he likes the enthusiasm of Aalto’s play: “He works very hard. He’s a ball of energy for us on the checking line. Everybody’s needed and he does his job very well.”

And everybody will be needed if the Ducks intend to make a run in the post-season. After losing to the Detroit Red Wings in the second round in 1996-97, Anaheim sagged to 10th place in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs last year.

The key to the team’s improved play is simple, according to Aalto: “We just have to do what the coach says. When we skate and work very hard and keep our shifts to thirty seconds, then we’re successful. Everyone gets involved in the game. And at the moment, we have a very tight team. There aren’t many lineup changes. In my opinion, that’s important. When the season ends, we’ll be ready.”

If the NHL season should end early for Aalto, he’d at least consider joining the Finnish national team at the world championships in Norway this May. Aalto said it’s a matter of talking it over with his agent and assessing any risk involved. His contract is up at the end of the year, and he hasn’t heard from the national team yet.

Aalto, whose favorite players as a youngster were Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky (“I had a big poster of him on my wall”), told EuroReport to watch for several of his former TPS teammates to make their mark in North America in the near future, including the brothers Miika and Teemu Elomo, Tomi Kallio, and Miika Kiprusoff.

But right now, he’s got his own career to build.

And even if Anaheim’s Arrowhead Pond doesn’t become known as The House That Antti Built, Aalto is determined to be more than just another brick in the wall.

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