I had the chance to chat with Minnesota Wild prospect, former Shattuck-St. Mary's Sabre, current Omaha Lancer and future Minnesota Golden Gopher Erik Haula about life in the USHL, prepping for college, his game, his outlook on the next level, the Olympics and more.
For those who aren't familiar with Haula, he's a 5'11", 170 lb center from Poni, Finland. Playing on Omaha's top line, Haula has 15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points in 33 games thus far. He's a +20 and leads the team in power play assists with 17.
Haula isn't your prototypical power forward, but instead uses his hands and excellent vision on the ice to create opportunities for his teammates. He's a bit undersized at 170, but is working on adding weight and strength on the puck.
In the Wild prospect camp this past summer, Haula looked very good, and was clearly holding his own with the rest of the prospects, and you could definitely tell when he was on the ice.
Feel free to check out the complete audio of the Erik Haula Interview
Hockey Wilderness: I'd like to talk to you a little bit about the USHL and college hockey and preparing for the NHL. So what made you decide to spend a year in the USHL after Shattuck and before heading to the U of M?
Erik Haula: Mostly I just wanted to step up a level after Shattuck and I thought the USHL was the best option for me and to get me ready for college.So I thought that would be a good choice, and I think I made the right decision.
HW: It seems like you're having a really good year down in Omaha, you and your other linemates there. Last I saw you were either first or second in the league in scoring.
HW: So, what are your plans next year heading to the U, playing for Don Lucia? What are your expectations? Are you looking to be a top one or two line guy and count really big into the scoring, or are you going to work your way into the lineup?
EH: Yeah, after the break our team has had a little bit of a struggle. But every team has those moments, but I have a really good team and linemates, so it helps.
EH: Obviously there's going to be a lot of competition for who's going to be on the first and second line, but I hope I'll be that guy who can be a guy the team can count on and who will be on the ice when there are tough situations. I just have to work hard this summer and when I get to the University of Minnesota I have to keep working and we'll see what happens.
HW: How would you define your game? Some of the sites, Hockey's Future, etc., are saying that you've got great vision, great hands, are a little undersized, but use your quickness and your hands to the best of your ability. Is that accurate, or are you looking to go into more of a sniper mode, or are you more of a pass first, shoot second kinda of guy?
EH: I think I've gotten better this year in scoring, but I think what you've just said is pretty much correct. I like to play with a high pace, a high tempo and I think I have pretty good vision on the ice. I think I make a lot of plays when I'm on the ice, just try to work hard. I think that's one of the strongest assets, and also I'm working on getting bigger. Like you said, I may be a little undersized, but obviously the years keep coming and I become stronger and more ready for the NHL.
HW: I noticed you last summer at the Wild prospect camp at the X. Saw you were on a line with Alexander Fallstrom quite a bit and going back to Shattuck you have a good relationship with him. Were you disappointed when he got traded for Chuck Kobasew to Boston? Were you hoping to play with him in the NHL?
EH: Well obviously it would've been a dream come true. We were roommates at Shattuck and got real close and we're really good friends. But you know, these things happen, there's nothing you can do about them. I think he's still in a good spot with Boston and I wish him all the best, and maybe we'll play against each other, hopefully.
HW: Well, hopefully you take him out over there with Harvard when you come up with the Gophers.
EH: Yeah, that's the plan.
HW: What did you learn in the USHL that you didn't experience at Shattuck? What's been the major difference?
EH: Hockey a bigger thing down here. The Lancers have a great fanbase here, great support from the fans and the game is different than it was at Shattuck. It's more physical. There are more expectations. You can never have days off. You get pretty good competition every night when you play. You've gotta keep your game going every night.
HW: What made you decide to go the USHL and college route rather than Major Juniors or playing at home in Finland?
EH: I would say my family had a big impact on that. I sat down with my family and my advisors and thought that I should have a school background and that's how we came to the decision to go to college.
HW: So, what kind of player do you see yourself as, do you model yourself after somebody in the NHL?
EH: I like to model myself to Valterri Flippula of the Detroit Red Wings.
HW: Does the fact that so many of your countrymen have been so successful here in Minnesota, does that help you at all along the way, thinking that you have a shot really breaking in here?
EH: I don't think that's going to help in any way. Obviously Mikko and those guys are doing well in Minnesota, but that doesn't have anything to do with me. I just have to make my way over to Minnesota. It's nothing they can have an impact on or anything. It's just how willing I am to work and get better every day, and do whatever it takes to make it with Minnesota.
HW: Sticking on the line with the nationality, in the Olympics, where do you stand? Do you think it should be NHL players? Do you think it should be an amateur game? What's your feeling on the Olympics?
EH: I think the Olympics is a great chance for the top players in the world to come together and play in a great tournament. I don't think the level goes higher than that. I think you have all the best players in the world competing for one thing for their country and I think it's awesome.
HW: If you could play any sport other than hockey, what would it be?
EH: American football.
HW: Now, your dad coached American football or coaches American football in Finland, is that right?
EH: Yeah, he coached American football.
HW: So what position would you be?
EH: I would want to be a receiver or quarterback. But obviously I don't have the height to be receiver and neither the size to play quarterback, so I don't know, I'd probably be a safety or something but if I could, I'd want to play quarterback.
HW: So who's your favorite football team?
EH: New England Patriots, but also the Minnesota Vikings.
HW: Interesting. A guy who lived in Faribault, is going to play for the University of Minnesota, and is a prospect of the Wild, and he's a Patriots fan.
EH: Yeah, how did that work? I don't know. Tom Brady is my favorite player, and has been for a long time. But with the Vikings, I have a connection now that I'm going to spend a lot of time in Minnesota so I've gotta cheer for them too.
HW: So, as far as some of the things that have been going on in the NHL, and actually in hockey in general, hits to the head have been a big touching point. The NCAA has a rule that penalizes any contact to the head. Is that something that exists in the USHL, and should it exist in the Canadian Major Juniors and in the NHL? Kinda going back to the Andrew Ebbett shot from Ed Jovanovski earlier this season, then the Patrice Cormier hit earlier this week, what are your thoughts on that?
EH: Well, I think hockey is a physical game, things happen, but obviously you have to take a look at those things. There are clean checks where a player just gets unlucky and gets hurt, but then there's also things you shouldn't be doing. In the USHL there's not a lot of that stuff, but if something like that usually every team has a fighter and tries to go as an enforcer at the guy. That goes on a lot in the USHL. In the NCAA, obviously you can't fight in the NCAA and I don't think there's a lot of that stuff going on in there. Again in the NHL, like i said hockey's a physical game and a things happen, but cheap shots and stupid hits like that, I think those should be taken away from hockey. I think it kinda ruins the game a little bit.
HW: What are your plans for the future? Are you planning on spending two, three, four years with the Gophers before moving up?
EH: Well, my plan is next year to go to Minnesota, and I haven't thought about anything else after that. I'm just going to try to keep improving my skills and then we'll see how far that'll take me.
HW: What did you learn from the prospect camp over the summer?
EH: Mostly watching the guys who were really close to making it in the NHL. Obviously there were some guys who already made it and kinda tried to watch them and try to see the things that they do and try to catch some things that could help me in the future. Then mostly it was just a really fun time and got together with the other Minnesota Wild prospects and it was a really fun camp and I got a lot out of it.
HW: Well, thank you very much Erik, I really appreciate your time tonight. I look forward to seeing you on the ice with the M next season and hopefully with the Wild shortly after.
EH: Yeah, I hope so too, and no problem Nathan, any time.
Thanks for reading, and tomorrow we'll have my interview with Haula's fellow Omaha Lancer and Wild prospect Anthony Hamburg.