Aspen Jr. Hockey teams with Finnish Hockey |

Aspen Jr. Hockey teams with Finnish Hockey

Kalle Valiaho
Courtesy photo |

Aspen Junior Hockey is going international.

“This is a home run for Aspen Junior Hockey, “ said Shaun Hathaway, the executive director of Aspen Junior Hockey who mixed his sporting metaphors. “This is a game- changer for us.”

Hathaway on Wednesday announced that Aspen Junior Hockey is partnering with the Finnish Ice Hockey Association to bring Finland’s top youth hockey coach/director, Kalle Valiaho, to Aspen.

“Coach Valiaho, who is one of the most influential coaches in international youth hockey, plans to take a six-month sabbatical from his position in Finland and immerse himself exclusively in Aspen for the season,” Hathaway said of the international partnership. He’ll be involved in all aspects of Aspen Junior Hockey from coaching and instruction to player development.

Since 2009, Valiaho has worked as a regional coach in Finland, responsible for two of the eight regions.

He’s been an International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) mentor coach since 2007. His coaching experience includes stints in Hungary, China and Finland.

A 2006 graduate of Haaga University in Vierumaki, Finland, with a bachelor’s degree in sports and leisure management, Valiaho is completing his masters degree in sports studies.

The Finnish Ice Hockey Association organizes and operates youth hockey in Finland with 72,176 registered players last season, compared to 542,583 registered U.S. players.

The men’s and women’s team from Finland currently are ranked third in the world in their respective divisions.

And in the recent NHL draft, three of the top five players selected came from Finland.

“With similar small Nordic communities that promote multiple sports and a healthy lifestyle, incorporating the Finnish model into the Aspen Junior Hockey curriculum will greatly benefit both players and coaches,” Hathaway said. “And it will make an impactful and lasting impression on the program for years to come.”

He’s set to work with Hathaway in strengthening the long-term athletic development plan of the Aspen Leafs and Aspen Junior Hockey.

“Being the Rocky Mountain District ADM regional manager, one of the best parts of the job is helping youth hockey programs become world-leading programs within their community,” said Joe Bonnett of USA Hockey.

“I have watched Shaun Hathaway and his staff work with conviction and excellence to improve Aspen Junior Hockey significantly over the past three years and become leaders of youth sport in their region. By adding a mentor coach and FIHA coach in Kalle Valiaho, AJH again has demonstrated a commitment to continual improvement and continues to raise the bar for their athletes.”

Hathaway said the arrangement in the future will allow for university graduates in Finland to have coaching and teaching opportunities in Aspen.

“It’s unprecedented really,” Hathaway said.

Valiaho is scheduled to arrive in Aspen in October.

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