Andy Hornak | The Duquesne Duke
The Duke recently had a chance to sit down with Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in January at the Pittsburgh Hockey Expo.
More than halfway through his first season in the National Hockey League, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta has adjusted to the fast-paced lifestyle of hockey’s highest level.
Taken by the Penguins with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Maatta joined a defensive corps that features strong veteran leadership, a plus for the rookie.
“Having players like [Brooks] Orpik around has made it easier [to learn],” Maatta said at the Pittsburgh Hockey Expo on Jan. 4. “I watch what they do on and off the ice to make myself better.”
Maatta began playing hockey in 2000 after he complained to his parents that all the other kids were allowed to play. According to his prospect bio on nhl.com, he began his playing career as a 14-year-old playing for his hometown club team in Jyvaskyla, Finland until 2011. He then joined the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights and led all defensemen with 32 points in his first season.
But even with Orpik and other veterans by his side, making the climb from the Knights to the NHL’s level of play hasn’t been as easy for the 19 year-old as he makes it seem. “It’s a lot faster. I have to try and make myself better every day. It was easier to do that with the Knights,” he said.
In his last year in the minors, Maatta finished the season with 8 goals and 30 assists. He proved a strong fit into the Penguins system of play, which features a strong offensive presence on the blue line from veteran defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin.
“I think the system is good, it has been successful for a long time,” Maatta said. “I think I’ve been doing a good job fitting into it.”
The high energy of the Penguins extends off the ice to a fan base that has given Pittsburgh constant hockey fever. Coming into the 2013-14 season, the Penguins have had one of the loudest arenas in hockey, selling out a consecutive 283 home games, a franchise record. Maatta has found the electricity in Consol Energy Center a big advantage in home games.
“The fans here are fantastic. They’re so into every game, it’s great,” he said.
With premiere defensemen Letang and Rob Scuderi out for extended periods of time due to injury this season, Maatta has found himself in an accelerated role in the team; he is second among Penguin defensemen with 14 points and has been a steady fixture in the Penguins’ lineup, missing only one game so far.
Though Maatta wants to continue a successful rookie campaign with the Penguins, he is preparing himself to play on Finland’s national team with fellow Penguin Jussi Jokinen in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I’ve never been a part of a tournament like that before, so it would be interesting to be able to experience that,” Maatta said.
Maatta is one of seven Penguins to be named to a national team for the Olympics men’s hockey tournament, which began on Feb. 12 and will conclude with gold medal game on Saturday.
This isn’t the first time Maatta has pulled a Finnish sweater over his head though. He first represented his country at the 2011 World Under-18 Championship where Finland was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Russia. He finished with a goal and 3 assists in four games and was voted one of Finland’s top three players in the tournament.
Maatta’s Finnish team has advanced to the semifinals after beating Russia Wednesday.