We asked, they answered: Erik Haula
Eric Haula’s connection to Minnesota runs deeper than his NHL debut as a Wild forward on Nov. 29, 2013. Haula, a native of Finland, played a season at prep powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s in 2008-09, and three seasons at the University of Minnesota from 2010-13.
Haula had an assist in his first game with the Wild, but the winger-turned-center turned it on in the playoffs, scoring four goals in 13 games, including the game-winner against Chicago in Game 3.
On June 26, Haula talked with Republican Eagle sports writer Kyle Stevens at a stop at Prairie Island Arena during the Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour.
KS: Let’s start with you, individually. You had quite the season once you got into a Wild uniform, and during the Olympic break.
EH: It was awesome. I got to see every aspect of being a pro hockey player, (whether) it was the AHL or the NHL. They’re obviously different, different leagues, different everything, basically. It was nice, and I think I learned a lot. I think I grew as a player and as a person. It was a lot of fun for me. It was a really exciting year.
KS: Obviously, you need a lot of faith in your abilities to play at a professional level, but did you see this kind of season coming?
EH: I always believe in myself, and I think that one of the strengths as a hockey player is the ability to trust in my own abilities and to keep working at them. It’s tough to answer a question about what you thought or whatnot. My goal before the season was to prove to everyone that I can play at (the NHL) level, and I was able to do that in a way. Now my focus is all on next year and trying to be in the best shape possible for training camp.
KS: Is there a goal for you, individually, next year? You more than got your foot in the door now, is there anything to improve or show?
EH: My main goal is to make the team out of training camp. Last (year) I played close to half the year (in the NHL) so my goal is to try and find a spot on the team after training camp.
KS: Do you like the makeup of the team and how young it is? There’s some veteran leadership there, but there’s a lot of young guys stepping up, you included. Is it nice to come in and it’s not an all-veteran group?
EH: I think we have a good mix of players. We have a lot of skill from the younger guys, and a lot of skill from the veteran guys and our leaders. I think it’s a great mix and I think we have fun within our group, and I think that helps and it shows on the ice when we play well. I just hope we can keep growing on that.
KS: What was the biggest turnaround this season? You had the losing streak around the New Year, then it seemed like the younger guys stepped up, and the goalie carousel which hopefully doesn’t happen again. What was the turning point?
EH: It’s tough to say. Like I said, I didn’t play the full season, so I don’t have the full picture of a full season and what really goes on. I can only speak for the time that I was up, and I think that it was really important that when we had some key injuries, we were still able to compete with the top teams and we were able to get some crucial points. Same thing with the goalies. We had a lot of injuries with the goalies, and a lot of hiccups with all that, but whoever was playing in the net gave us a chance to win. That was huge for our team’s confidence.
KS: Considering your history playing in the state, what’s the feeling like with a home playoff game at the X, especially games 3 and 4 against Chicago, and you had some moments where people who cheered for you (as a Gopher) now get to cheer for you as a professional?
EH: It was really awesome. I know the fans from being a Gopher and how passionate they are about hockey, and especially when things go really well, it can get pretty rowdy. That’s what I honestly expected. I’ve seen Marucci (Arena) be pretty loud, but when you add double the amount of people, you can only expect it to be pretty crazy. It’s awesome as a player to be on the bench after a goal and hear the crowd and get that moment like ‘This is awesome.’ It’s a lot of fun. A lot of credit goes to (the fans). I think they were a part of why were able to be so good at home and to play so well.