PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – What were you doing when you were 19-years-old? Were you on your own, halfway around the world, speaking a foreign language, and competing against people twice your age and the highest levels of your profession in the world?
Well, that’s exactly the life of 19-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, who has been too busy playing hockey to explore the city.
KDKA-TV’s Jory Rand recently took Maatta around town to get to know Maatta.
3-Part Web Extra:
At first glance, Maatta looks like any other player – until you see his face. His baby face tells you, I’m 19-years-old, playing in the NHL.
“I remember the first time walking in it was kind of overwhelming, like, ‘Oh my God. Sidney Crosby. Should I ask for an autograph?’” Maatta said.
Now, it’s Maatta who’s signing autographs as a full-time member of the Pens. Though, it wasn’t known until last week if Maatta would remain in Pittsburgh, or be sent back to his junior team.
“I remember walking into the room with [General Manager Ray Shero] and [head coach Dan Bylsma], and I was nervous, probably shaking. I didn’t know what the decision was going to be. It could have gone either way. It was the biggest day of my life so far,” Maatta said.
It’s a life that has seen a lot so far.
He grew up in Jyväskylä, Finland, where the sun stays out for 24 hours in the summer.
“There’s a tradition, everybody’s got to stay up the day the sun doesn’t go down,” Maatta said.
But it’s a land that Maatta left when he was just 16 to play junior hockey in Canada.
“It was kind of sad. First time leaving home, you’re going to be away for a long time. I always went to tournaments, international tournaments and would be away for a week or two. But, going away for a year, it’s kind of sad my mom was crying, obviously. I think they were happy for me all the time. They never said you can’t go there. They were always like “It’s your decision, do it. We’re going to support you,’”Maatta said.
It’s a decision that in just three years, led Olli to Pittsburgh and a hockey league he used to watch once a week, when an NHL game was shown in Finland.
“Once a week we got one NHL game, when I was a little kid. Our whole family was watching it. It was like our family moment. My brothers, mom and dad, we’d gather around and watch the game,” Maatta said.
Now that he’s in the NHL, he wants to make sure he prepares himself before every game.
“Before every game I have to wake myself up like, ‘Hey, come on, you’re playing in the NHL. You [have to] do your best,’” Maatta said. “I’m more of a relaxed kind of guy. I don’t get aggressive before a game because that doesn’t work for me. I just chill out a little bit.”
While he tries to keep calm, he was anything but after scoring his first NHL goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
“It was crazy. After that goal, I tried to calm myself down the whole time. I felt like I was shaking. I could feel the adrenaline. I tried to calm myself down so I could play the next shift. It was a special feeling. I really loved it,” Maatta said.
Little by little, Maatta, who’s still living in a hotel room right next door to CONSOL Energy Center, is making Pittsburgh his home.
“I’ve been to South Side. Shadyside once. I’ve been to movies. Usually, we try to go to different places for dinner, so it’s not the same food every time. But I’ve still gone through the hotel menu three or four times already,” Maatta said.