By Aaron Marshall
As the world’s attention pivots to the 22nd Winter Olympics this weekend, a trio of proud graduates of The Ohio State University will be representing the Buckeyes on the ice in Sochi.
Minttu Tuominen, Natalie Spooner and Emma (Laaksonen) Terho will be participating in women’s ice hockey at the Sochi Olympics. Tuominen and Terho play on the Finnish team while Spooner is on the Canadian national team, the two-time defending gold medal champion.
A fourth former Buckeye, Ryan Kesler, also will be in Sochi playing for the U.S. men’s hockey team. Kesler played only one season at Ohio State in 2002-03 before being drafted in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks in 2003.
With the games set to begin Feb. 7, Tuominen, Spooner and Terho took a break from their intense preparations to answer a few questions via email about their time spent at Ohio State on and off the ice, hopes for Sochi and a Buckeye faceoff looming when Finland and Canada play Feb. 10.
“The biggest thing that I learned (at Ohio State) is to enjoy the positives instead of being afraid of making mistakes. Also, my teammates and coaches pushed me to work harder and taught me new things about my limits — that is something I have carried forward.”
The first women’s hockey player to have her number retired as a Buckeye, Emma (Laaksonen) Terho first played for Finland at age 16 in the 1998 Winter Olympics. The youngest member of the Finnish delegation that year, Terho returns to her fifth Olympic Games at Sochi as an accomplished veteran with bronze medals from both 1998 and 2012.
“I guess I now know where I’m going and can enjoy the whole journey and event,” she said when asked how Sochi will differ from her earliest Olympic experiences. “When the tournament is on, it’s important to make sure there’s enough rest and we put full concentration on our games,” said the 32-year-old defenseman. “Of course, my role on the team is different…I have more responsibility to the whole team and have to do my best to support the younger teammates.”
One younger teammate that Laaksonen has always supported is Minttu Tuominen, who followed in her footsteps by heading to Ohio State from the Finnish town of Espoo, where they both grew up. “It’s always nice to have a fellow Buckeye in the locker room,” she said. “We follow the results and talk about all OSU sports and celebrate the good times.”
A 2009 inductee into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame, Terho said time spent with her teammates off the ice at barbecues and studying in the Younkin Success Center are some of her fondest memories of Ohio State. But nothing can top a memorable locker room moment before a semi-final against Minnesota in the WCHA tournament her freshman year.
“The game got delayed due to the previous one going into overtime. We ended up doing some line dancing in the locker room and got pumped up for the game,” she recalled. “We ended up winning it and made it to the finals that year.”
Following the Turin Olympics in 2006, Terho put her finance degree from Ohio State to work at an investment bank in Finland.
“I have been trading corporate and government bonds so I have been able to use my education very well,” she said. “Currently, I’m working on a development team at the bank. My OSU education gave me a strong base that helped me get into a master’s program here, from which I graduated in 2012.”
Terho, Tuominen and the rest of the Finnish team open Olympic play on Feb. 8 against the United States.
“Playing at OSU in the end not only made me a better hockey player, but a better person. I think playing at OSU was a big step for me getting closer to my dream of being an Olympian.”
The leading goal-scorer in Ohio State women’s hockey history, Natalie Spooner is a key player on the Canadian women’s hockey team, the three-time defending Olympic gold medalists. The games at Sochi will be the first Olympic games for the former All-American Spooner, who scored twice in the 2013 world championship tournament.
“My family is also able to make the trip out to Sochi, and I’m excited they will be able to share a bit of the experience with me,” the 23-year-old said. “I am really looking forward to the opening and closing ceremonies. I have always watched them on TV, so being able to be there in person will be surreal.”
With the Canadian team a heavy favorite to meet the Americans in the gold-medal game Feb. 20, Spooner knows a lot is riding on the team every time it steps on the ice.
“These will be the biggest games I have ever played in, and we trained so hard this year that I’m excited it’s finally coming up,” she said.
Graduating from Ohio State in 2012 with a human nutrition degree, Spooner said her favorite memories of Ohio State involve time spent with teammates — on and off the ice.
“My sophomore year beating Wisconsin — the previous year’s national champ — and going to the final four of the WCHA was pretty awesome,” she said. “I think the people — teammates, coaches and friends — that I met throughout my college career really made it so enjoyable and a great experience at OSU.”
On Feb. 10, Spooner will face off against her old Buckeye teammate, Minttu Tuominen, when Canada plays Finland.
”It’s always great when we get to see each other again so I’m very happy she will be in Sochi,” Spooner said of her old teammate. “I prefer playing with her to playing against her, but that’s the game. I know she will do amazing for Finland.”
Spooner and Team Canada open Olympic play on Feb. 8 against Switzerland.
“I enjoy a challenge and I learned to deal with difficult situations (at Ohio State). I also learned that I can’t make everyone happy, that I need to focus on things that I can control.”
A former Academic All-Big Ten player at Ohio State, Minttu Tuominen will take the ice at Sochi playing in her second Winter Olympics games for Finland. The 23-year-old forward helped Finland grab a bronze medal at Vancouver in 2010 while trying to squeeze in enough studying to keep up with her human nutrition major at Ohio State. Because she won’t be a student this year, Tuominen said she hopes to have more time to enjoy the Olympic experience.
“I’m hoping to see a couple of the other sports events and see how the rest of our Finnish athletes do,” said the 2013 Ohio State graduate. “Last time we didn’t get to the closing ceremonies, but I believe this time we will.”
A battle of old Buckeye teammates will be in the cards on Feb. 10 when Finland faces Canada as Tuominen and old teammate Natalie Spooner, who plays for Canada, square off.
We have faced each other a couple of times in international settings, and it’s definitely fun to play against her,” she said. “Playing against Spoons provides a lot of challenges, and I’m up for that.”
Tuominen has fond memories of Ohio State, including time spent relaxing and laughing with teammates on a sunny day on the Oval, as well as a standing ovation at an Ohio State men’s basketball game with the Olympic bronze medal she earned dangling from her neck.
On the ice, Tuominen’s career, which included a trip to the Frozen Four in 2010, culminated in a personal triumph with a big goal in the playoffs against Duluth in 2013. “I scored on a one-timer from Ally Tarr, and Jim, our equipment manager, said I had been working on that shot for four years. That sentence pretty much summarizes my time at Ohio State.”