KENT: Eight months ago, Okko Boger had never been to the United States and had no idea that the school he would spend nearly a year attending had a hockey program.
Fast-forward to the present and Boger, a native of Jyväskylä, Finland, is a key piece of the attack for a Roosevelt hockey team that has amassed a 19-11-5 record and has high hopes for a long run in the state tournament. The Rough Riders will compete against Mayfield at 3 p.m. today at Kent State Ice Arena.
Boger, who has posted 19 goals and 23 assists while playing in coach Ben Barlow's wide-open offensive scheme, arrived in the U.S. prior to the start of the school year at the end of August and admits that at the time, he had no idea that the school fielded a varsity team in the sport he had played for 10-plus years in Finland.
"I didn't have any idea they had a hockey team here at Roosevelt," Boger said. "The coaches went to my host family and asked if I wanted to play, so I went to the weight room and to the rink and tried it and found out that I liked it."
His host family, John and Jane Gwinn, have helped acclimate Boger to American culture. He was able to experience Thanksgiving for the first time, as well as Christmas with his host family as relatives came to town for the usual Christmas festivities.
"We don't have Thanksgiving in Finland, so I got to eat all of the food and do that. My host family has also driven me around Kent, around Ohio and allowed me to see what's here. We're also going to fly to Boston and drive up to Niagara Falls," Boger added.
He has learned to adjust both on and off the ice. Even though he has played hockey for more than a decade, American hockey is different in style and approach than Finnish hockey and Barlow's unique offensive system took a while for Boger to learn.
The atmosphere around games is also very different than it is for Boger back home. Like many exchange students from Europe, his school in his home country does not offer sports. Players compete on club teams and in programs with no school affiliation, so the atmosphere around games is not nearly as enthusiastic or collegial, Boger explained.
"In Finland, we don't play any sports at school,” Boger said. “Here, I love it, it's so much fun. We've had the pep band at a couple of games, the students come too. In Finland, it might just be one or two friends you invite to come."
As odd as it may sound to his fellow students at Roosevelt, Boger said school is not nearly as demanding in the U.S. as it is in Finland. Typical tests for American students include true or false questions and multiple choice, but Boger explained that isn't the case at his home school.
"School in Finland is harder. Here, you have multiple choice questions and study guides, but there, we just have all essay questions and you just write," he said.
Boger has worked to make new friends during his time in Kent so he can have a full American experience. He has made a point of getting to know his peers, both on the hockey team and in school, and not waiting on others to take the initiative and ask him to hang out.
"The biggest adjustment has been getting to know everyone, but I've been asking if they want to hang out, see a movie or play video games. If you come here and expect them to ask you to hang out, it might not happen, but I've been asking them," he added.
When his year in the U.S. is over, Boger will return to Finland for two more years of high school. His year at Roosevelt will not count toward graduating in Finland, so even though he is a junior at Roosevelt, he will still have two years of schooling left. After seeing what America is like, Boger said he is definitely open to the possibility of returning for college.
"Now that I've been here, I would like to go to a college in the U.S., but it is expensive, so I might stay in Finland or even go to Germany," he said.