EVERETT — It’s not difficult to identify Rasmus Rissanen in the Everett Silvertips locker room before games.
Rissanen is the one sitting silently in front of his locker, staring straight ahead into his own little world of concentration, an expression of pure intensity on his face.
definitely gets himself into a zone,” fellow Tips defenseman Ryan Murray observed. “He doesn’t say too much and he’s quiet. You try and make him laugh sometimes, but there’s no chance he will.”
Explained Rissanen: “I like to focus. I don’t really talk a lot, I do my own thing. It’s been my t
hing my whole career.”
The blueliner from Finland is the player who sets the bar for Everett in the intensity department, and his example will need to be followed by the rest of the Tips if they are to pull off a first-round playoff upset of the mighty Portland Winterhawks.
Rissanen is in his second season with the Silvertips. The 19-year-old joined the team at the start of the 2009-10 season after being selected by Everett in the first round (17th overall) in the 2009 import draft.
This season Rissanen has become one of Everett’s leaders, serving as one of the team’s alternate captains. He was also Everett’s lone representative at the World Junior Hockey Championships, where he helped the Finns reach the quarterfinals.
Rissanen’s numbers are modest: one goal, 11 assists and 89 penalty minutes in 68 games with the Tips this season. But his contributions are those that don’t appear on the scoresheet, specifically those related to intensity.
“He’s intense, yeah,” Everett coach Craig Hartsburg said. “He’s exactly what you want in a player. He cares, he wants to win. Just watching this week in practice, you can see he’s a guy who’s taking everything in and wants to make sure he’s doing everything right.”
Intensity has always been the name of Rissanen’s game. While growing up in his hometown of Kuopio he took a cue from his older brother, Roope, who also played hockey with intensity. Therefore, even as a youth player Rissanen was always the intense member of his team.
“I was like that when I was a kid,” Rissanen recalled. “It’s part of my game. That’s who I am.”
After being picked in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Rissanen decided to come and play in North America on the recommendation of some of his Finnish friends, who enjoyed their time playing in the Ontario Hockey League. Rissanen went through an initial adjustment period, but his play picked up during the second half of last season. This season he’s been a workhorse for the Tips, particularly after returning from World Juniors in early January.
But as important as Rissanen’s play has been for Everett, his intensity is what stands out most. That intensity is something the Tips would like to see emulated by everyone on the team.
“He’s probably as competitive and hard a player as we have,” Hartsburg said. “He cares. He plays with some real passion and it’s been great coaching him. He cares every day. He’s like any player this age — they’re not perfect and they make mistakes — but his are never because of not caring or not trying.
“If I was a teammate of his I’d certainly love him because he goes to war every night.”
Rissanen is going to be a key player in Everett’s playoff battle against Portland. The Winterhawks finished with the best record in the Western Conference, and the eighth-seeded Tips are heavy underdogs in the best-of-seven set. Portland also features one of the league’s most-explosive offenses, putting that much more responsibility on the shoulders of the defense.
“He plays best when he’s a real hard guy and wins his battles,” Hartsburg said about Rissanen’s role against the Winterhawks. “He’s going to play a lot of minutes, obviously, and he’s going to play against good players. Defensively he has to be real solid for us and really be a hard guy to play against.”
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Rissanen is also Everett’s biggest defenseman. That makes Rissanen that much more important against Portland, which has several forwards with good size. Rissanen will need to lead the way against that physical challenge.
“It’s going to be a big challenge, but I like it when it’s tough for me,” Rissanen said. “It’s good for me.
“It’s fun battling with those (bigger) guys,” Rissanen added. “You know every shift is going to be hard, so you can’t rest out there.”
But with Rissanen there’s never any worry about taking a shift off. His intensity won’t allow it.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.