From Finland to Milford, CT Whale's Raisanen feels right at home

MILFORD — She may be from half a world away, but for Meeri Raisanen, goalie for the Connecticut Whale, Milford feels just like home.

"The weather is similar, and it's not so packed, so we have a lot of room to live like back home," she said. "There are a lot of similarities to back home, but it was easier to come when I knew where I'm coming to than four years ago."

Raisanen, from Tampere, Finland, is back in Milford, playing goalie with the Simsbury-based Connecticut Whale.

Having played with the Whale before, Raisanen said the transition was easier for her because she already knew where she was headed.

"There are a couple of players here that I played with four years ago," she said. "I'm excited to be here now. The league is in a way better situation than four years ago. The facilities are way better, so I'm really (glad) to be back here."

The Connecticut Whale is a professional women's ice hockey team competing in the Premier Hockey Federation. The league was formerly known as the National Women's Hockey League. The Whale is one of the "Founding Four" teams that stepped onto the NWHL ice in 2015 and the team is owned and operated by Shared Hockey Enterprises (SHE).

Raisanen started playing hockey when she was about 5 years old with her older brother.

"I would go to see his practices and tell my mom I wanted to be out there playing with him," she said.

Raisanen's mom put her in figure skating classes to appease her desire to be on the ice, but what Raisanen really wanted was playing hockey.

"I started crying because I didn't want to do this, so she gave me hockey skates, and that made me so happy, and it all started from there," said Raisanen.

Back then, there were no professional ice hockey leagues for women, so being a pro hockey player was a dream she felt would never be realized.

"It wasn't my goal to go pro, but when I turned 18, my coaches started talking about joining the national team and playing against Sweden and other national women's hockey teams," she said. "That was a wake up call to me that I could play at a higher level. But even after that, I wasn't thinking of going pro because there wasn't a league for it yet."

Raisanen called playing for the national team an excellent experience, one that has allowed her to travel the world.

"It was five years ago that I decided I could be a pro hockey player," Raisanen added. "I was working on my skills, and I wanted to be the best, but besides being a professional, I just wanted to have fun because I love what I do. It was a passion, and it turned into a career."

She said she naturally gravitated toward playing goal.

"I was 11 or 12 years old. I was playing hockey with the boys, and I always wanted to be the goalie," she said. "I wanted to try out for the team, but at the time, they had four goalies already. One of my friends, who played ringette, a game on ice for girls, told me to try out for the goalie position (in that sport), and I ended up switching to that."

As she started playing ringette, she found the rules slightly different and the game a little bit boring, so she decided to switch back to hockey, she said.

"For the first time, I went to play on a girl's hockey team when I was 14 years old," she said. "I was kind of old to start my career as a goalie in ice hockey but was able to do it."

The Connecticut Whale starts its season with an away game against the Boston Pride on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at Warrior Ice Arena in the Brighton section of Boston. Milford fans of the Connecticut Whale team can see the team play twice against the Buffalo Beauts at the Milford Ice Arena, first on Nov. 19 at 6 p.m., then Sunday Nov. 20 at noon. The team plays the majority of its home games at the International Skating Center of Connecticut in Simsbury.

"This team is totally different than four years ago," said Raisanen. "We struggled a lot last time and didn't have a strong team four years ago, but this time we have high expectations because the team was in the final and won the regular season. But we can't go out there and think we can get easy wins. We must be humble, continue to work hard, trust the coaches and start from zero every game."

For those girls who will come to watch the Connecticut Whale play during the season and have aspirations to become professionals themselves, Raisanen's advice is to go out there and have fun.

"The passion for the game all comes from there, having fun. You can't force yourself to have fun, so go out there and do your best every time," she said. "Also, remember that it's a privilege because not everyone has the opportunity to go pro."