"Who’s this number 4 for Finland?" It’s a question that is currently popping up quite often around the EnergieVerbund Arena in Dresden, Germany, site of IIHF U18 World Championship Group B play between Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and the Czech Republic. Olli Maatta, a ’94 born Finnish defenseman who is first eligible for the 2012 NHL draft, is the answer to this question. In a very short period of time over the course of this season, the astute defenseman has gone from a U18 invite to a U20 WJC participant to an assistant captain at the U18 WC in Germany. Serving as one of Finland’s biggest minute crunchers, Maatta has opened eyes with his solid and often outstanding play in all three zones. In addition, he’s been a mainstay on Finland’s power play.
Hockey’s Future had a chance to catch up with him shortly after a critical 5-2 loss to archrival Sweden yesterday evening.
Hockey’s Future: Olli, on the heels of tough 5-4 loss to Canada, the Fins had the unenviable task of facing the archrival Swedes the next evening. After this difficult loss, you now find yourself in a do-or-die situation against the Czechs Tuesday night. What are your thoughts on that at this moment?
Olli Maata: Each and every one of these games needs to be won. It doesn’t make any difference who exactly we’re playing against. After tonight, we have to regroup, take a good hard look at what we did wrong, and then start doing things better.
HF: You’ve raised quite a few eyebrows at this tournament. You’ve played a well-schooled, intelligent game thus far and your coach obviously is repaying your effort with a good bit of ice time. It looks like you’ve undertaken some solid development in a short period of time. How important has this 2010-11 season been for you?
OM: I’ve actually taken quite a huge step this year. I never would have thought things would have gone this well, this quickly. First it looked like I’d only come into question for the U18 junior team, then I ended up making it onto the U20 team and then spent the majority of the season playing at the professional men’s level for JYP Jyvaskyla. I have to admit that things just went unexpectedly well this season.
HF: How are things looking next season? Do you plan on playing in the SIM Liiga and eventually taking on a bigger role for Team Finland U20 WC?
OM: I’m not 100 percent sure about where I’ll be playing next season, but it’ll most likely be JYP Jyvaskyla again, against men, in the Mestis league. I think that would provide me with a very good opportunity to take the developmental steps so important for someone my age, especially in critical game situations.
HF: To conclude, let’s quickly tackle the topic of the 2012 NHL draft. You are ranked quite high in the current rankings for that draft, especially amongst Europeans. Is that something you’re already thinking of and is it a goal of yours to one day play in the NHL?
OM: Most certainly! It’s always been a big dream of mine to one day play in the NHL. To create the opportunity to play in that league at some point, a guy has to work incredibly hard and keep doing that on a regular basis. You’ve got to do so much to prepare for a season and thus, prepare yourself for a career in the NHL. If I keep working on myself and my game, and do everything required of me along the way, then I hope I can one day be a real option for an NHL team.