TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Although Teuvo Teravainen is already nicknamed “Turbo,” Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa came up with another evocative way to describe the 20-year-old’s smooth, clinical approach to hockey.
“He’s Finnish cold,” Hossa said after Teravainen scored a goal and assisted on another in the Stanley Cup Final opener.
When Teravainen was told about his veteran teammate’s praise, his pulse still didn’t jump.
“I guess that’s right,” Teravainen said Thursday. “I try to be pretty calm out there, do my thing. Don’t have to stress too much about it. I think I play better if I’m just calm and ready.”
With a beginner’s mustache clinging to his lip, Teravainen barely looks old enough to be playing against grown men, let alone starring against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yet overachievement has been a theme in Teravainen’s life ever since he took the ice back home in Finland.
“I’ve always been playing with the little older guys, always been like the smallest guy out there,” said Teravainen, who is 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds. “I heard that before: ‘You’re small, you might never make it.’ I always try to work hard, do something else better, like skating and skills. Just work hard and get my chance. Just trust myself.”
Teravainen slipped to the Blackhawks in the back half of the first round of the 2012 draft, but has progressed to the point that Chicago fans expect him to ease the club’s salary-cap transition when new contracts for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane force a reconfiguration of their lineup this summer. He has eight points in 13 playoff games, nearly matching his nine points in 34 regular-season games.
After spending much of this season in the AHL and only sticking with the Blackhawks in late February, Teravainen has contributed impressively to Chicago’s Western Conference title and its run at a third Stanley Cup championship in six years — but never more than in Game 1 of the Final.
“I think he grows every day,” said Johnny Oduya, the Blackhawks’ Swedish defenseman. “I think everybody sees that, just the maturity level off the ice.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said Teravainen was “quietly confident” and respectful of his teammates — a “nice, nice start.”
“Top guys, they want to be great every time they hit the ice … They make players better around them, which is a strength of his,” said Quenneville, who had Teravainen on the ice late in a close game — and it paid off when he poked the puck away for Antoine Vermette’s winner.
“That’s the evolution of trusting him and putting him in situations before,” Quenneville said. “But you earn that. … We like the progression.”
Teravainen’s transition to the NHL got easier on Feb. 27 when the Blackhawks acquired Kimmo Timonen, the 40-year-old Finnish defenseman. Teravainen said Timonen serves as “a second dad for me, because my real dad is far, far in Finland.”
“I think having some of the Finns here, having Kimmo coming in, has helped him a lot,” Oduya said. “Having a countryman, someone you can talk to in your own language, it’s a big benefit.”
Teravainen got his incredible hands and skating skills through both hard work and environmental influences: His parents, brother and sister all play hockey or floorball, a type of indoor field hockey. He thought about his family and his entire country after he scored the tying goal and assisted on Antoine Vermette’s winner by stealing the puck late in Game 1.
“I think there were a lot of my friends and family, a lot of Finns watching that game,” Teravainen said. “Of course, it’s great to score a goal. I think that was kind of a lucky one. Just shoot it, and it went in. But of course it’s great for me, and I think Finland went a little crazy about it, too. That’s fun.”
Teravainen might have a Stanley Cup ring before he reaches the legal drinking age in Illinois, but he has only scratched his potential as a scorer. He’s still growing used to the narrow North American ice, and he has plenty of room for muscle on his lithe frame.
But the Blackhawks could have a decent part of their future invested in the skinny Finn, and he seems determined to reward them.
“He’s a young kid,” Oduya said. “He expects a lot of things from himself. I think this organization has done a good job not to try to put too much pressure on him, just kind of give him the opportunity. When he’s mature to play, he’s mature to play. He’s shown that, especially in these playoffs.”
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