Ohio State then-freshman forward Sara Saekkinen (25) drives the puck down the ice in their game against Minnesota on Jan 26. Credit: Cori Wade | For The Lantern

With her already being an Olympic medalist and former team captain in the premier women’s hockey league in Finland, one might think Sara Saekkinen could rest on her laurels. 

But despite her acumen on the ice, Ohio State’s sophomore forward is determined not to plateau.

“I still have dreams to be a better player and achieve something else,” Saekkinen said. “It’s just day-to-day, working hard, and you know how good the best players are. So you have something to work towards.”

One hockey dream became reality for Saekkinen when she took home a bronze medal from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea with the Finnish national team, after representing her country at the 2016 and 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships.

“That was a dream come true. I had been dreaming that for a long time,” Saekkinen said. “It was unbelievable. That’s one of the best memories I have.”

Saekkinen also played locally for Team Kuortane in Finland’s Naisten Liiga and served as a captain from 2015-17. She decided to come to the United States in search of a higher level of competition.

“Many of my friends in Finland came here a long time ago, and it was one of my dreams to come here when I was younger,” Saekkinen said. “I think the hockey here is fast and good, and you get the degree on the academic side. Also, as a human person, you’ll grow a lot because it’s a different culture.”

Saekkinen said culture shock was among the biggest challenges she faced when moving to Columbus, Ohio, especially the way people communicate.

“The culture is a lot different, I think. That’s one of the biggest things because you don’t think about that. There’s kind of like silent rules,” Saekkinen said. “Small talk was really hard to me because we don’t really do that. But the team helped me a lot.”

Junior defenseman Lisa Bruno said Saekkinen quickly gained kinship and respect among team members with her play and personality.

“She’s a great player. She had a hip injury, and she’s doing super well coming back,” Bruno said. “She’s a very down-to-earth, sweet girl, and she’s definitely learned her English very well. She’s a great asset to the team, and we’re excited to have her this year.”

Saekkinen said she’s learned a lot from the team, and with any obstacle she faces on or off the ice, the players are all there to help her.

That chemistry has led the Buckeyes to a 7-3-2 overall record on the season, helmed by head coach Nadine Muzerall. Muzerall, in her fourth season, said the team culture and university are what make the program attractive to international players like Saekkinen. 

“You have to go out there, and you now have to sell OSU. It’s starting to sell on its own because of our record and the institution itself,” Muzerall said. “And if you like athletics, we’re the pinnacle of athletics in the whole entire country. Anyone who denies that is just lying.”

Saekkinen said she doesn’t ponder much on her future. She wants to enjoy her time in Columbus as much as possible while she becomes the best player she can be.

“I haven’t really thought about [after Ohio State] yet. I like to go year by year and live in the moment. Of course, I want to try and be professional as long as my body is good, and after that focus on my career,” she said.

Saekkinen and the Buckeyes continue their season Friday at home against Minnesota Duluth, searching for their eighth victory of the season.