FORT WAYNE – Mike Vaskivuo drove more than 18 hours from Rapid City, S.D., and arrived Friday, on the day of his first game with the Komets. He hadnt been on the ice all week, hadnt slept much. He didnt get to practice. And he was immediately put on the top line with Colin Chaulk and Chris Auger.
All he did was set up a goal on his first shift, get a goal and another assist over the weekend, and help the Komets to a 1-0-1 record that clinched a playoff spot and put them atop the Turner Conference. The line of Vaskivuo, Chaulk and Auger has provided four goals and five points in their two games.
Thats what I was brought in here to do – help the team win and produce, he said.
It would be an understatement to call his route to Fort Wayne circuitous. He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the homeland of his mother. And almost immediately, he moved to his fathers native Finland. It was there that he got his first taste of hockey.
By age 4, the family moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., and it took seeing the NHLs Panthers on TV for Vaskivuo to start asking if he could really hone his skating. He mostly took part in roller hockey until he was 12, when he realized any future in the sport was going to come in a rink, not on a floor.
Fortunately, a coach from the northeast discovered him, and that led to a travel team, and that path landed him at Merrimack College.
He was an offensive standout as a pro, tallying 51 goals and 109 points in 140 games from 2009 to 2011 with the Dayton Gems.
Im definitely an offensive player, said Vaskivuo, 26. My offense is going to come no matter what. I just try to concentrate on my defense. Defense wins championships. You build from that.
He began this season with the Rapid City Rush and had 13 goals and 37 points in 54 games, but they were expecting more and released him last week. The Komets already had planned to pick him up but the need became greater when top-line winger Artem Podshendyalov quit to return to Russia.
With four games remaining in the regular season, the Komets (37-18-7) have a one-point lead over Evansville (38-20-4) in the conference. Tonight, the Komets play host to fifth-place Quad City (35-25-2), which played Tuesday night in Dayton.
Notes: Rapid Citys Riley Weselowski was chosen as CHL Man of the Year for contributions on the ice and humanitarian efforts off it. Fort Waynes Brent Henley was one of five finalists.