Pro-file: Antti Laaksonen


An offensive stalwart with the University of Denver in the mid-1990s, Minnesota Wild forward Antti Laaksonen has become one of the National Hockey League's better defensive forwards. He's also a durable player, appearing in every game in franchise history.

Originally from Tammela, Finland, Laaksonen registered 12 goals as a freshman with the Pioneers and ended his college career with 75 goals and 72 assists. The 191st selection in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins, Laaksonen spent parts of two seasons with the parent club before signing with the Wild as a free agent prior to the team's inaugural season in 2000-01.

Inside College Hockey's Mike Eidelbes tracked down Laaksonen, a 6-foot, 180-pound winger, following Minnesota's win at Detroit earlier this month.

Inside College Hockey: How did you end up at the University of Denver?

Antti Laaksonen: They recruited me and came to see me play one game. I talked to assistant coach Mike Gibbons, who's coaching at a Minnesota high school right now. He talked to me after the game and asked if I wanted to try college hockey. I decided to go try it. I didn't think I was going to stay four years, but I did. It was a great experience and I couldn't be happier that I went.

INCH: How difficult was the transition coming from Finland to Denver?

AL: I think there were a lot of adjustments. The rinks are a little bit smaller in college hockey. Nowadays, they're starting to get some bigger rinks, but back then there were mostly smaller. Finland used to have two-line passes, and college hockey doesn't have the red line, so you can pass long passes. That was probably the biggest adjustment I had to make. Right now, the leagues in Europe changed. They don't have the two-line passes, so it's great for all the European players and the flow of the game.

I didn't think I was going to stay four years, but I did. It was a great experience and I couldn't be happier that I went.
– Antti Laaksonen

INCH: Was the adjustment any easier because there were Finns and Swedes -- guys like Sinuhe Wallinheimo, Petri Gunther, Anders Bjork and Erik Andersson -- on the team?

AL: It was great that we had three Finns and two Swedes and I wasn't by myself. I had a tough time my first year with the language, trying to go to school and taking notes...things like that. We had study halls where they'd help us study, and I had the other Finnish players there. They'd help me. I feel lucky that I had a lot of support from everybody.

INCH: The last game of your Denver career, an overtime loss to Boston University in the 1997 NCAA East Regional final, was one of the most memorable in recent Pioneer history. What do you remember from that night?

AL: It was (Chris) Drury and Sean Bates on the power play. It's a tough way to end your college career. Everybody was pissed off because we thought we were the better team and we deserved to win. A lot of guys thought it was a bad call at the end when they got the power play. That way BU got the goal to advance to the Frozen Four. It would've been great to make the Frozen Four one of my four college years. That was my goal. It didn't happen, but I got a degree and I'm in the NHL, so it turned out real well.

INCH: You played for George Gwozdecky, who favors a pro-style system, for three seasons. Did playing in that system help you get to where you are today?

AL: It helped me greatly. In college, I was playing in all kinds of situations. I was trying to play two-way hockey. That's his system, the way he wants to play. You know, if you're not going to play the system, you're not going to play at night. It was proven that we could win games doing that, and that's how we won. We had a good system and we won a lot of games playing his style. They're still winning.

INCH: Speaking of systems, the popular thing in the NHL today seems to be to complain about the style of play Jacques Lemaire has installed in Minnesota. Why is that?

AL: I don't know. I think people complain when they lose. I think when they lose games, it's something they say to the media. It's good systems-based hockey, and when we get the chance to forecheck, we forecheck like any other team in the league. There's no difference. There's a lot of teams that, when they are leading a game, change to a safer system. Depending on the score and the situation of the game, a lot of teams play the way we do and we play the way they do. I don't think there is much difference.

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