Hurricanes star Sebastian Aho took another key step forward during the 2019-20 season, setting a career high with 38 goals.
If the team is going to take the next step to being a title contender, Aho will have a key role to play. The Finnish forward had his end of season media availability on Zoom Friday morning; here’s a full breakdown of everything he had to say:
On what the team needs to do to take the next step: There’s a lot of things, but obviously we want to learn from past years and move forward. Obviously we’re not happy with how things ended this year or even last year, but it’s just a matter of if we learn and go forward. I think having those experiences from the tough games and tough series is going to make us a better team. We’re still a young team, and I feel like a lot of guys still have more to come, so I’m pretty excited about our team. We just have to get a little bit better every year, and hopefully next year we can take the next step.
On life in the bubble: Obviously the bubble works, which is good to see that there’s no positive cases in the bubble. So that’s the number one thing, that everyone’s safe in the bubble. That was really nice to see. Obviously life in the bubble, it’s different. You hang out with your teammates 24/7, and it’s all the time. You don’t get away from hockey. You’re always in it. But I didn’t mind it. It’s a little bit different, for sure, but I would gladly stay there for an extra couple months and play for the Stanley Cup.
On what his offseason and training looks like: I’m actually in Finland right now. It’s pretty normal, I guess. You just try to work hard and get back an even stronger and better hockey player. So that’s always my goal going into the offseason, just to be better overall. I for sure want to be ready whenever the next season starts.
On if the team is more successful with him, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov together or split up: I really enjoy playing with those guys. I feel like we play pretty well and produce some big goals for us. But, that’s more of [Rod Brind’Amour]’s decision, what he feels like we need at the time. Sometimes it’s different if you’re the home team or away team if you get the matchups and stuff like that going. So I feel like that’s more of a question for Roddy, but for sure I like playing with those two.
On how he grew the most individually this year: I felt that even though I had a really bad start personally, I battled through it. I felt like that was a good thing to learn. Even though you have a bad start, you can still have a good season. It’s not always going your way and just stay with it. I think I really improved my game in the sense of small details, especially on the defensive side of my game. I felt like the more the season went on, my line played against other team’s best lines. You can’t go all offense there, you have to be aware and be able to play defense and shut down those best lines. I feel like I improved my game on those things a lot.
On the uncertainty of an abnormal offseason: For sure, it’s easier when you know exactly when the date is. Normally, when you’re done with your season, you take a few weeks off and you have the somewhat same routine with how you do things. This year, it’s for sure a little different. I think it was kind of similar when we were waiting on the playoffs. We weren’t sure when or even if we were going to play at all, so I just worked hard and I talked a lot with our strength coach, Bill Burniston, and just worked. I talked a lot about when I should do things, when I should go hard and stuff like that. So it’s just be ready whenever we start and try to work hard.
On Vincent Trocheck and Brady Skjei: They’re great guys off the ice. Everyone likes them. They fit right in, which is always nice to see nice people around you. They both played really well. Skjei was really dynamic. He can really skate, fly around and make some plays. And obviously adding Trocheck as a right-handed center brings some help in certain situations. They’re good players and good people.
On if he’s a Pesapallo (Finnish baseball) fan: It’s Finnish baseball. Instead of the pitcher throwing the ball at you, he just kind of throws it up in the air and you basically hit it every time. So it’s more action, I would say. It’s a fun sport.
On the family atmosphere in the bubble and team chemistry: We’re a really close team. I feel like we have a lot of good guys on our team. Everyone likes to hang out with each other, and I think that shows on the ice. We really battle hard for each other and those things are actually huge when it comes to if you’re going to block the shot, make an unselfish play on the ice and I think those things matter a lot. We were a close team before the bubble, and I think we’re even closer now.
On his disappointment with losing and how he expresses it: Obviously it’s something you don’t really think about and it comes from somewhere. You just try to compete as hard as you can and try to help your team win. Obviously, when you don’t win, at the moment it feels bad, but at the same time you just have to learn from it, focus on the future and try to get myself better. I think Roddy knows a lot about players since he’s been there. He’s been one of the guys and played a long career. So he probably knows a lot about guys and how different players react on different things.
On Justin Williams: He’s one story himself, just looking at his career and looking at him as a guy or a teammate. You can’t really say bad things about him. Everyone who’s been around him can agree with me. He’s just a world-class guy, and that’s not even mentioning his career. He’s an awesome leader and awesome guy to have on your team.
On changing the perception of the Hurricanes and the next step: The next step for me is to be the best team in the league and win the Stanley Cup. We’ve shown everyone that we can play good hockey and we’re a confident team. But it’s not good enough to just get to the playoffs or have good runs. Everyone on our team feels the same way that we can really raise the bar. The past two years, we’ve been pretty good to get to the playoffs and beat some good teams. But the next step is trying to aim to be the best team. That’s next year, in our mindset.
On what he learned about himself: I learned a lot, and it’s more like you have to adjust on certain things. Especially this year, when everything is kind of unstable and things have changed really quick. You just have to adjust on things and not sit back. You’ve got to move forward, and it’s been a good year in that way for me, just learning a lot about myself and a lot of new stuff.