As he glides down the ice to get in position for a good shot on goal or to pass the puck to an open teammate, it’s easy to imagine Erik Haula running similar plays in a different sport.
Haula, who hails from Pori, Finland, is in his first season with the Omaha Lancers and just his second year in the United States.
While hockey has always been Haula’s favorite sport — he already has a scholarship to play at Minnesota next season — the 6-foot-1, 175-pound forward also has a healthy appreciation for football. Watching him skate from goal to goal conjures images of a back moving fluidly in the option offense.
Haula’s father Tomi coached a professional football team in Finland, and he spent a lot of time with his dad at practices and games.
“When I was young I was a water boy for his teams,” Haula said. “I hung out with the team a lot when we would travel and I really got to know the American import players. It’s becoming a bigger sport every year.”
Hanging out with those players also helped Haula become fluent in English because several of the American players would stay with his family. Now that he’s one of the Lancers’ import players, the senior at Omaha Gross gets to spend more of his free time watching NFL games.
“I follow the NFL a lot and college football a little bit,” Haula said. “The Patriots are my favorite team, but I’ll probably have Minnesota as one of my top teams since I was up there last year and that’s where I’m going to school.”
Haula never played football — he was asked to join a team once but his father told the coach Erik’s only focus was hockey — and that turned out to be a good move as his hockey skills and frame continue to mature.
Through the 33 games he’s been on the active roster, Haula is the second-leading scorer on the team with 44 points — 15 goals and 29 assists. He’s also a prospect for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild after being taken in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.
“He’s a pretty mature kid,” Lancers coach Bliss Littler said. “He has a lot of talent and he’s worked hard in the weight room. He’s taken that part seriously.
“A lot of guys in their first year aren’t big and strong enough to compete at a high level in this league. But he did the work in the summer and he’s improved his core and his legs. He has one of the best frames on the team.”
Haula said his approach to every new season is that there is never an offseason.
“When a season ends your next season starts right away,” Haula said. “How willing you are to work, get stronger and work on things you need to work on are all important. If you do that, you can play longer with a higher tempo when you’re in better shape.”
Littler has no doubt that work ethic is one of the things that will make Haula an immediate success for the Gophers next season.
“He’ll go in and be one of the top freshmen in the country next year,” Littler said. “The best players in the USHL are the eventually best players in college hockey, it’s that simple. I expect he’ll go in as a freshman and be a good player right away at Minnesota.”
That’s a part of his career Haula is looking forward to beginning, but he said there’s still a lot more hockey left to play for the Lancers before his focus becomes all things Gophers.
“This is a really good situation for me because the USHL is a great way to prepare for college,” Haula said. “There’s still some business that has to be taken care of this year.”
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