University of Manitoba Bisons forward, Venla Hovi in Vancouver, B.C. on Friday, October 6, 2017.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The Manitoba Bisons are in for a fight atop the Canada West standings. The Bisons earned their first ever USports number one ranking in the first half. Manitoba sit second in Canada West, with a 14-6-0 record, one point back of UBC. Coach Jon Rempel has constructed a strong veteran roster that will look to contend for first overall, and hope to advance to the USports Nationals in London, Ontario, next spring.

Forward, Venla Hovi is a big part of the Bisons offence. A two-time Olympian with Team Finland, Hovi decided that she needed a new challenge after the 2014 Sochi Olympics. She took some time, and eventually decided to make the move to Winnipeg, Manitoba to further pursue her education at the University of Manitoba, while also playing hockey.

“I got offers from different universities after the Sochi Olympics,” Hovi said. “Then I had a year off after the Olympics. I kind of figured out that I didn’t want to stay in Finland anymore, and I just needed a change, in terms of playing hockey, and I just ended up here.”

As soon as you watch Hovi, she stands out from the rest of the players on the ice. She has terrific speed, and acceleration you don’t typically see with North American hockey players. Hovi’s vision, closing ability, and creative play-making, make her a special player at both ends of the ice.

“I would say that I’ve always been pretty fast,” Hovi admitted. “I use to play soccer growing up, and tons of other sports, it was my strength. It was for sure in my blood already since I was born, so it’s in genetics. Now that I’m getting older, you have to maintain that speed, and work way more to actually have it, and not to lose it. I do some extra foot work on the ice, and work on my skating technique’s, speed lifting, and things like that.”

Growing up in Tampere, Finland, Hovi started playing hockey when she was four-years old. Her brother played, and she wanted to play as well. Women’s hockey wasn’t as established as it is now. Hovi first played on boys teams, and was able to switch to girls teams when she was a teenager.

Having played club hockey with Ilves, HPK, and KaiPa, and internationally with Finland. The 29 year-old knows all about the differences in speed, physicality, style of play, and tactics between a league like Canada West, and internationally.

“I feel like they’re all a little different,” Hovi said. “Our conference here in Canada, it’s really good, competitive. All the teams are really good. When you go out and play, you really don’t know what the result is going to be. When we go to the international level, playing with Team Finland, the game gets faster, and way more physical. There’s just less time to do anything. It’s definitely another level from playing here in Canada.”

It has already been a busy 2017 – 2018 season for Venla Hovi. The Manitoba Bisons are a favourite to battle for the Canada West title, and Hovi could be named to represent Finland at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Hovi made her debut for her country in 2007. Finland will name an Olympic roster on Monday, January 22. Hovi would then prepare for a quick training camp in Finalnd, before flying to South Korea to compete at the Olympics in February.

Understandably, Hovi isn’t ready to pack her suitcase, and grab her passport. She’s taking everything in stride as it comes.

“Well, I’m not on the team yet, so I’m not jinxing it,” said a superstitious Hovi. “I don’t think I can tell you how excited I would be. I played in two (Olympics), but then you get to the first one when you’re young, and you don’t really know what to expect. It’s just amazing.”

Team Finland will be in for a battle with Canada, U.S.A., and Russia in Group A. Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea make up Group B. Finland will be trying to improve on the bronze medal they won at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“Every team is tough at that level,” said Hovi. “You can’t really go out and play anybody thinking you’re going to win. Every team is tough, and obviously the North American teams are the toughest out of all. That’s who we’re going to challenge.”

Women’s hockey is growing with more popularity, sponsorship, and talent. The opportunity exists to play professionally in the CWHL, NWHL, or Europe. Gone are the days when you would only see top-level hockey every four years at the Olympics. Lopsided scores are no more, and the gap in talent and skill level is quickly closing.

“Women’s hockey historically is pretty young still,” revealed Hovi. “Men’s hockey went down the same path back in the day, a couple of teams were kind of ruling everything. It’s definitely, the gap is getting smaller. We beat Canada last year at the World Championship tournament. It’s going to happen more and more for sure in the future.”

Hovi has one more year of eligibility following this season with the Bisons. She isn’t sure what her future holds. Canada West, CWHL, NWHL, all remain possibilities. Hovi is going to keep her options open, see how this season goes.

“Honestly, my mind is kind of empty right now in terms of my future,” Hovi said. “I’ll go day by day, and try and enjoy the season. We’ll see where I end up.”

The Bisons very own ‘Finnish Flash’ loves playing hockey, and she will likely do so on the biggest stage an athlete can have. Manitoba and Team Finland will hope that she can help them win a gold medal come February and March.


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