NORTH ANDOVER — Jere Huhtamaa comes to Merrimack from Finland, where he spent last season with Jokerit’s U20 team after stints with the Blues and HIFK organizations.
In 30 games last season Huhtamaa posted a .903 save percentage and in 2017-18 he appeared in six international games for Finland’s U18 team, helping the team win the U18 World Junior Championship gold medal in 2018. Huhtamaa was drafted in each of the last two USHL drafts and was ranked No. 12 among European goaltenders for the 2018 NHL Draft by NHL Central Scouting.
TMR: When you were being recruited, what stood out about Merrimack and made it the place you wanted to play college hockey?
Huhtamaa: “I liked Coach Borek a lot and felt confident that he wanted me to be here and that definitely made me want to be here. The coaching staff really made me confident in my decision.”
TMR: It’s a unique situation you come into, with three freshmen goalies. Sometimes you don’t have a chance to play right away as a freshman but there’s an open competition here in your first year.
Huhtamaa: “That played into my decision as well. I definitely want the chance to play right away.”
TMR: How would you describe yourself as a goalie?”
Huhtamaa: “I think I’m pretty calm and sound. I think it’s important to be patient and play the position and not get out of position.”
TMR: Finland has developed a lot of great goalies over the years. What is about the system over there that develops such good goaltenders?
Huhtamaa: “There is a huge focus on goalie from very early on when you’re a young kid playing hockey. We have goalie coaches from a very young age, so I think a lot of players want to play that position and when you do, you have good training from a young age. That definitely plays a big part.”
TMR: I’ve heard there are a lot of training groups over there as well, in the summer, where a lot of pro guys go back and they all train together. Rasmus Tirronen, who was here at Merrimack, he was in a group with a few pro guys every summer I believe. Have you trained with any of those groups?
Huhtamaa: “Yeah, I practice with a group that has a lot of college players and a lot of Finnish pros. We are a pretty tight group and we know each other well. We work on the ice and we also work with a strength coach. It works out really good because it’s great practice and we have the strength coach to plan the workouts.”
TMR: Did you always know you wanted to play college hockey? I know it’s growing overseas — more players are coming to the US to play college hockey — but it’s not the route everyone takes.
Huhtamaa: “For me, it’s not something I always knew I wanted to do. But I’ve seen a lot of really good goalies come out of college hockey. That made me interested, because there’s something about college hockey that makes a lot of good goalies. And also, I love playing in smaller rinks. I really love playing in smaller rinks. Then at the same time I can get an education, so I felt like everything worked for me with college hockey.”