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Frozen Four: BU's Oksanen in strange place in more ways than one

Ahti Oksanen
Ahti Oksanen
Matt Dewkett

Boston -- Growing up in the small, southern Finnish town of Kirkkonummi, Boston University junior Ahti Oksanen never dreamed of playing in the Frozen Four.

After all, very few people in his native country even know about college hockey or the Frozen Four that starts Thursday at the TD Garden. "I think my mom and dad might watch it, but that might be pretty much it," said Oksanen.

The Frozen Four, for Oksanen and his teammates, was still a pipe dream even last May. The Terriers were coming off a dismal 10-21-4 season, certainly subpar for one of the most prestigious programs in college hockey history.

"The last two years we maybe weren't as good as we hoped, so now it's an amazing feeling to be in the Frozen Four," said Oksanen.

Oksanen, as a defenseman, was the second leading scorer on last year's BU team. He had seven goals and 17 assists, but had a -13 plus/minus.

After having watched Oksanen for a season, head coach David Quinn was convinced the tall Finn was destined to be a forward.

"You know, we had a glaring need up front, and after coaching Ahti for a year, I thought all his strengths were going to be highlighted up front," explained Quinn, a former defenseman. "The way he sees the ice, his shot, his hockey sense, his strength around the puck. I don't know if anyone has got a stronger set of hands or a stronger stick in college hockey, and we needed a left wing.

Oksanen wasn't as convinced, fighting the change when the subject was first broached.

"When I told Ahti that's what we were going to do, he didn't react with a huge smile. There was definitely some reluctance on his part. I had to do some convincing and some arm twisting," Quinn said.

Even the prospect of playing with incoming freshman Jack Eichel did little to change his mind.

"I told him we're not going to put you on the third or fourth line, we're going to put you up front and we think you're going to be one of the top six forwards.  I said you're going to have a chance to play with Danny O'Regan, Cason Hohmann or Jack Eichel," explained Quinn of his time spent persuading Oksanen.

Oksanen certainly wasn't following BU recruiting or early returns on who might go in the top two of the 2015 NHL Draft.

"When I told him Jack Eichel ‑‑ this is in May ‑‑ he said, 'Who is that? Never heard of him,'" said Quinn with a smile.

Back in his native Finland for the summer, Oksanen continued to practice as a defenseman.

"It was a huge change for me. I practiced the whole summer as a 'D' man.  I still believe that I would play 'D' here at BU," said Oksanen.

An ultimatum from Quinn was what finally forced Oksanen to reluctantly switch over to playing up front. Quinn was very blunt, saying, "Well, Ahti, you're never going to play another second of defense at BU.  We'd love to have you back at left wing."

It didn't take long for Oksanen to change his mind, and to validate Quinn's insistence on converting the big Finn from defense to forward.

Oksanen scored four times in the first 24:39 of Boston University's exhibition game against St. Thomas. Eichel, who Oksanen had never heard of less than six months before, had the primary assist on all four.

"20 minutes into his forward career he had four goals and he's never looked back," said Quinn.

Oksanen had two assists in the regular season opener a week later at UMass before lighting the lamp once each in the next three games.

Now with 24 goals and 11 assists on the season, the rest, as they say, is history.


Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.