Senior forward Aleksi Kuuri might be thousands of miles from his native land, yet he feels right at home lacing up his skates for the hockey team.
Kuuri, an exchange student from Tampere, Finland, registered his first multi-goal game as a member of the Tigers on Tuesday, finding the back of the net in both the second and third periods. His effort, however, was not enough, as Brecksville withstood a late rally to defeat the Tigers, 3-2, in the second round of the Heights Holiday Hockey Tournament at the .
With his team trailing 2-0 midway through the second period against a foe it has never beaten, Kuuri put Cleveland Heights (5-5) on the scoreboard in impressive fashion. Senior defenseman Sam Brown ripped a slap shot from just inside the blue line, forcing Brecksville goalie Bob Seitz to make an acrobatic save, but Kuuri was there to knock in the rebound. Kuuri again narrowed the deficit to a single point in the third period, when his wrist shot from the wing caught Seitz by surprise for an unassisted goal, Kuuri's sixth of the season.
"Hosting exchange students has been a , and this year we're fortunate enough to have two on our team with both the Aleksi's [Kuuri and senior defenseman Aleksi Vihanto]," said Cleveland Heights hockey coach Eddie Babcox. "Overall it's a great cultural experience for them on and off the ice, and it certainly benefits our team a great deal."
With its victory, Brecksville snapped Cleveland Heights' and advanced to the tournament championship game Wednesday evening against Strongsville. But the Tigers — who face Rocky River Wednesday in the tournament's consolation match — proved pesky for the Bees.
When sophomore forward Ben Urbas' aggressive play induced a Brecksville penalty with 1:47 remaining in the game, Babcox called timeout and instilled his two-minute offense for the ensuing power play. The fourth-year coach inserted his first-line squad consisting of Brown and fellow defenseman Sean Robinson, as well as Urbas and his forward counterparts Tyler Rudy and Ian Kraus. Cleveland Heights pulled goalie Aidan Hall in order to add Kuuri to the ice and maintained steady offensive pressure the remainder of the contest, though the Tigers were unable to tally the equalizer.
"That was definitely one of our best third periods of the season," assistant coach Jeremy Holmes said. "We don't have the best depth and sometimes in the third period we have to fight fatigue, so to keep pace with Brecksville and win the third period was a big accomplishment for us."
Accomplishments are piling up for Kuuri individually as well. Since arriving from overseas in August, he has adapted well to American culture and his temporary home, and that comfort level has translated to the ice. The first-year player has notched at least one goal in three consecutive games while developing into a leader for the team's second line.
"It's been different, but I'm really enjoying it here," said Kuuri. "The people are very friendly, the food is great and I always like playing hockey."
Brecksville – 11:17 – Kyle O'Donnell (unassisted)
Brecksville – 11:13 – Aaron Gerow (assisted by Kyle O'Donnell and Mike Sullivan)
Cleveland Heights – 6:25 – Aleksi Kuuri (assisted by Sam Brown and Ian Kraus)
Brecksville – 2:14 – Kyle O'Donnell (assisted by Evan Harcourt)
Cleveland Heights – 8:34 – Aleksi Kuuri (unassisted)
Brecksville – Bob Seitz – 14
Cleveland Heights – Aidan Hall – 30