Laakso prepares for important year in Finland

By Holly Gunning

Defenseman Teemu Laakso had a couple of mishaps surrounding the 2006 Nashville Predators conditioning camp, but still managed to get a lot out of the weeklong event.

The Finn’s transatlantic flight was delayed two hours, which caused a connection to be missed and his hockey sticks to be separated from him.

On the final day, as he was dressing to get on the ice, he pulled the belt on his hockey pants too quickly and broke it. He had to wrap tape around his waist to hold them up.

Getting used to the heat was really something as well.

“Maybe in Finland we get something like 20-25 degrees Celsius (68-77 Fahrenheit) and here it’s like 35 (95F) or more. Pretty warm,” he said in an understatement.

The closest he had ever come to such heat was a couple years ago when he visited North Dakota in August with the Finnish national junior team, in some preseason games against the USA.

Laakso, drafted in the third round by Nashville in 2005, won a bronze medal with Finland at the Under-20 World Junior Championships this past winter. Finland was not a favorite, so bronze was a good accomplishment for them, as they beat out the Team USA.

“We had really good team spirit,” Laakso explained. “The game went well and we’re glad to win.”

Laakso had three goals and one assist in seven games in the tournament and played a lot of minutes. Turning 19 in August, he’ll get another chance next year, when it’s expected he’ll lead the blue line.

“I hope I can fulfill what they expect of me,” he said of that role.

The tournament will held in Sweden, closer to home for him, and many degrees cooler than Nashville.

But this past week in Nashville, Laakso was all ears to the lessons Predators strength and conditioning coach David Good was teaching.

“This week I learned so many good things like how to practice and do it the right way,” he said. “Here they teach the right techniques on how to lift the weight so you don’t hurt yourself. That’s a pretty important thing.”

Laakso thinks he did pretty well on the fitness tests, though he didn’t see the results.

Of his strengths and weaknesses, Laakso said, “I have a pretty good hockey sense, a hard shot. Maybe I have to improve my skating and get more power.”

The 6’0, 187-pounder, who scored three points in 47 games last year with HIFK Helsinki, had a tough time with the question of whether he was more of an offensive or defensive defenseman.

“Maybe both,” he said. “I’m kind of a two-way defenseman. Maybe more defensive if I really had to choose one.

“Hopefully one day I’ll be here. Then we’ll see [what kind of defenseman],” he said with a smile.

Laakso will need to have a good 2006-07 season to ensure his signing, of course staying away from injuries. Two years ago he suffered an ankle sprain when it was twisted in a hit along the boards, and also an elbow injury. This past season he had some problems with his right shoulder, a mild separation in his team’s first preseason game.

“I tried to reach for the puck and a guy came (demonstrating a sideways hit) and it popped out a little,” he explained. “Now it’s a little bit loose. But hopefully I don’t need surgery.”

Laakso missed three or four weeks of time in preseason, but no regular season games.

“It didn’t bother me last season, but now when I’m doing heaving lifting, it’s bothering me a little,” he said.

Laakso was joined at camp by a fellow Finnish defenseman, 24-year-old free-agent signee Ville Koistinen. Just 10 days ago in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Predators selected yet another Finn, Niko Snellman. Laakso said he neither knows Snellman personally nor has seen him play.

“I heard his name but nothing more.”

Laakso tries to watch NHL games on television as much as he can in Finland and was able to watch a couple this past season. He could see the changes the new rules brought right away. “There’s so much more penalty-killing and power play,” he noted.

The blueliner has a one-year contract with his Helsinki team for next year. He also must put in his mandatory time with the Finnish army this season, which may be six months, but could be as long as 12 months. He thinks he can make it out in six, but he’ll find out for sure on July 10th when he reports.

The 2007-08 is wide open, however, and Laakso is eager to land a contract with the Predators then.

“Of course I want to be here,” he said. “I have to have a good season.”

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.