by Jess Mikula || AHL On The Beat Archive
First impressions are everything, and Hershey left winger Oskar Osala leaves a lasting one.
Since recording his first AHL goal on Oct. 10, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound left winger has quickly established himself as one of the league’s top rookies.
In just 26 games, Osala has amassed 16 goals, six assists and a plus-17 rating. He ranks second on the team, first among rookies and third overall in the league in goals. He shares the AHL’s plus/minus lead with linemates Francois Bouchard and Mathieu Perreault.
In return, Hershey and the AHL have had a considerable impact on Osala.
“The rink is awesome, and the fans are great, so it’s really a pleasure to play in this city. After seeing a lot of different AHL cities, I can say that this is by far the best city to play in in the American Hockey League,” he said.
Giant Center is “totally different” from other AHL arenas for Osala. “The atmosphere is unbelievable, and the fans get excited. It’s just a real pleasure,” he said.
Osala’s favorite opponent to face on Giant Center ice is the Philadelphia Phantoms. “They’re a big rival, and the fans get excited here at home to play against them. Our line has had success against them, too, so Philly is a lot of fun to play,” he said.
Though he misses his friends and family at home in Finland, Osala gets support from teammate and fellow Finn Sami Lepisto.
“When I played junior in Canada (OHL), we didn’t have any other Finnish guys,” he said. “Certain things are different, and having a guy from Finland has really helped me a lot. He (Lepisto) always helps me out. He’s been a big help for me.”
Osala gets tremendous help on ice as well. “I can’t say enough good things about Perreault and Bouchard. Both are really skilled and talented offensively. One thing that many guys might not know is that they’re really responsible defensively, too, which makes the biggest thing in our line,” he said.
“We all play a solid two-way game. We play good defense and good offense, so that makes it really fun. It doesn’t matter who goes down low, we can always trust any of the three of us to take care of defensive stuff, too. That’s probably one thing people don’t really know.”
After having a successful season in Finland and earning that league’s rookie of the year honor last year, one might not be shocked that Osala is having a breakout season in the AHL.
“After having a good year last year, I was expecting to get a lot of ice time and have a good year [in Hershey]. I was expecting offensive production. I had a lot of confidence. I didn’t have too high of expectations, but I was hoping to get something done in this league also,” he said.
It is evident that Osala has already gotten something done in the AHL. However, he did have to adjust to the North American style of play.
“The rink is a little bit smaller, so you have to react quicker,” he said. “Everything happens faster, and it’s more physical over here. The game is more open back home in Finland. It’s very defensive-minded. It’s a very strict system.”
“Here it’s more run-and-gun. You go hard both ways, skate a lot, shoot and don’t worry that much about getting odd-man rushes. There are more odd-man rushes coming both ways. I really enjoy the American style of hockey.”
Despite the adjustment, Osala has flourished with the Bears. He attributes much of the success in his career to the influence of Greg Gilbert, current head coach of the Toronto Marlies.
“He coached me my first year in Mississauga. He really taught me a lot,” Osala said.
“So far I would say he (Gilbert) has had the biggest influence, but two guys I want to thank are my trainers back home who trained me over the summer — Saku Martikainen and Esa Puolakka. They make my programs in the summer, and they really help me out a lot.”
Osala continues to leave an impression on North American hockey. He made his NHL debut on Dec. 10, logging 11:15 of ice time as number 48 for the Washington Capitals.