Home is where the heart is and former Prince Albert Raider Aki Seitsonen is happy to be home.
Originally from Riihimaki, Finland, Seitsonen has covered a lot of ground in the past decade, but when a decision had to be made to settle down in one place, Prince Albert was the choice for the 26-year-old and his wife Janelle, who Seitsonen met while playing with the Raiders.
“All I did was hockey from when I was 16 to 25,” says Seitsonen. “It was a tough decision (to retire) because I will always miss it.”
“Hockey brought me here (to Prince Albert) and love kept me here,” added Seitsonen with a smile.
Seitsonen was 17 years old when he first came to the city and after three years with the Raiders, with whom he tallied 127 points in 204 games, he spread his wings even further as he pursued a career as a professional hockey player.
Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round (118th overall) in the 2004 entry draft, Seitsonen split his first professional season between Omaha of the American Hockey League and Las Vegas of the East Coast Hockey League.
Seitsonen remained in Las Vegas the next season and in 70 games the speedy right winger notched 18 goals and added 18 assists. That got him another look in the AHL, only this time it was with Quad Cities and in 45 games his production dipped to just four goals and two assists.
Being a Finnish citizen, Seitsonen had to return home the next year for six months of mandatory military service and while back in Finland he played with Lukko Rauma of the Finnish Elite League.
With his military commitment completed, Seitsonen returned to North America the following year and in 2010-11 he played with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL where he enjoyed another successful year scoring 16 goals and adding 16 assists in 50 games.
Then came the decision to continue playing professionally or to settle down.
“I had a few chances to go overseas, but nothing really happened,” says Seitsonen.
Back in Prince Albert, with his wife taking on teaching responsibilities, Seitsonen found he still had a desire to play the game. It didn’t take long to get hooked up with some senior clubs and last year he split his time with the Shellbrook Elks and Lloydminster.
“I was just skating around and Kelly Guard (Raiders goaltending coach and a former Kelowna Rocket) said it would be nice to get you playing,” recalls Seitsonen.
Guard brought Seitsonen out to Shellbrook and together they helped the Elks win the Fort Carlton Hockey League championship along with the provincial senior “A” title. Seitsonen also spent some time with Lloydminster where he competed at a higher level and enjoyed the competition as the border city was the host for the national senior men’s championship.
“I got a little taste of the Allan Cup with Lloydminster last year,” says Seitsonen.
With rumours circulating that Shellbrook was going to move up to the “AAA” level, Seitsonen didn’t return to Lloydminster this year. The Elks are still playing in the Fort Carlton circuit, but they are also playing a series of games against higher-calibre squads to prepare for the Allan Cup playoffs.
The Elks have held their own in a pair of games against Fort Saskatchewan and two others against this year’s hosts, the Bentley Generals, in addition to once again leading the Fort Carlton standings.
Also playing for the Elks are a number of former WHL players who were recruited for the Allan Cup run including Matt Swaby (Tri-Cities Americans and Edmonton Oil Kings), Brett Novak (Raiders), Chris Thompson (Seattle Thunderbirds), Luke Fritshaw (Raiders) and Guard.
“I’m really excited with the league, but even more excited with “AAA”,” says Seitsonen. “It’s nice to get that calibre for Prince Albert and Shellbrook. It is exciting to watch.”
His enthusiasm for his adopted home is contagious. Seitsonen is enjoying life here and being able to continue playing the game certainly helps. Winning a national championship would be icing on the cake!