I was born in 1995 into an athletic family in Tampere, Finland. My parents, Aleksander Sr. and Olga, are originally from Novosibirsk, Russia where my older brother Juri was born. We moved to Tampere, Finland in 1994 at which point my dad started his 10-year career in an ice hockey club. Currently, Tampere remains our home, even though my mom and I stay in Florida and my dad is temporarily in Russia pursuing his ice hockey coaching career. My brother shares his time between the US and Finland and he helps me with my digital media channels and endorsements.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
My first touch with ice hockey happened at the tender age of 4, when my father took me to a local outdoor ice rink in Tampere. Because of cold weather, Finland provides extremely good conditions for winter sports including ice hockey. There are numerous free and well maintained ice rinks around the country where youngsters can spend their free time practicing and playing various skill games (höntsy in Finnish). Being one of the most popular sports in Finland, ice hockey has become a favorite hobby for many young kids who dream about playing in the NHL one day. Influenced and inspired by great role models such as: Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurre, Saku Koivu and numerous other legendary Finnish players, already at a young age Finnish kids have professional approaches towards the game of ice hockey. I was no exception to the rule and was determined to become a professional ice hockey player since very young age. With the help of well-developed Finnish junior training program and my family’s strict but supportive parenting, I managed to acquire the right set of skills allowing me to pursue my dream.
During my early teens, I was interested in other sports as well. I played competitive tennis and football until the age of 12. Then I decided to completely dedicate myself to ice hockey. My first team was called “Villihaukat” (Wild Hawks), which was one of Tappara`s many junior teams formed for boys born in 1995. Tappara has well developed junior system that provide great conditions for ice hockey enthusiasts of all ages and levels. Those youngsters who are truly motivated and aim to become professionals are enrolled to the main junior teams classified by their age. As these young players grow up, each one of them has an opportunity to develop their skills and one day be selected to play for the main Tappara Sm-Liiga (Finnish championship league) team. My first chance came when I was 16 years old. Tappara´s head coach Risto Dufva enrolled me to the team to play my first Finnish SM-Liiga game. I tried to make the most out of the opportunity and fought hard to grab a permanent spot on the team breaking several SM-Liiga records as well. We also had very good season and earned a silver medal that year. In 2012, I was selected to represent Finland at U20 World Championships in Alberta, Canada. During the tournament, I was lucky to break Sidney Crosby´s goal scoring record and become one of the youngest players ever to score at U20 World Championships. I think that this together with a strong season in SM-Liiga helped me to become a strong candidate for 2013 NHL Draft. My dream finally came true in 2013 when I was drafted 2nd overall by Florida Panthers. I became the highest drafted Finnish ice hockey forward of all time. Now this title is shared with another talented kid from Tampere, Patrik Laine.
NHL & FINNISH NATIONAL TEAM
My first season in the NHL started with a goal scoring record where I became the youngest player in the modern ice hockey to score a goal in the National Ice Hockey League. The record breaking goal of mine was recorded in my first NHL game against Dallas Stars. I continued to play strong ice hockey with Florida Panthers and made 24 points in 54 NHL games which increased my chances to be selected to represent Finland at Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. It was the most memorable moment in my career so far when Finnish head coach Erkka Westerlund chose me to play centre forward together with Finnish legend Teemu Selänne and talented Mikael Granlund in a starting lineup for team Finland. Unfortunately, I was unlucky in the 2nd game against Norway when I suffered a knee injury, which forced me out from the rest of the tournament and the NHL season. The injury was a tough test for me, but I fully recovered and became mentally and physically stronger. Now I continue to play with Florida Panthers and it is my 4th season. I am aiming high and hopefully one day I can bring the Stanley Cup home to Florida
I hope that my career so far has had an impact and inspired numerous young kids to pursue their ice hockey dreams as well.