TPS Turku is primarily utilizing forward Viivi Iso-Kouvola for her defensive prowess and forechecking ability, but she believes that she can add a layer of offense in the years ahead. Right now though, she is primed for neutralizing opposing offenses.
“I guess you could say I have that role with our team, yes,” Iso-Kouvola told THW. “At this time with our team I’m mostly focused on defense and I also play on the penalty-kill. But I think that I could also score if I’m called to play a different role with our team. At this time I have the defensive-forward role.”
Nearing the end of her second full season in the Naisten Liiga for TPS, Iso-Kouvola has many more years to go in her career. The Merimasku, Finland native will turn 21 years old in mid-March. She sat down for a chat with THW on how she is developing her game, and what her long-term goals are with TPS.
A Typical Finnish Start
Like a number of Finnish women’s hockey players – perhaps most notably Olympian Susanna Tapani – Iso-Kouvola has excelled at a different ice game in addition to playing hockey.
“This is my seventh or eighth year playing hockey,” she said. “Before that I played ringette for 11 years. I am from a little countryside village, about 30 minutes away from Turku. I have lived there almost my whole life. In Finland younger girls play with boys because there aren’t so many girls teams, but I think it is good for the girls who really want to succeed. There are so many boys teams near Turku that every girl can play who wants to.”
In total, Iso-Kouvola has played six seasons for TPS. From 2016-17 through 2017-18, she served as an alternate captain for the hockey club as they fought for advancement out of Mestis – the second-highest level of women’s hockey in Finland – into the Naisten Liiga, which is the country’s premier level. Iso-Kouvola and TPS have remained in the top league since 2018-19.
“Competition is much harder in the Naisten Liiga than in Mestis,” she said. “Between the different teams themselves, but also inside your own team. You need to be stronger, quicker and you have to work every day to reach your goals. Only working out isn’t enough – you have to eat right and rest enough. You have to live like an athlete if you want to succeed.”
Versatility Rings True
Iso-Kouvola is a battler and is downright ornery at times. In 57 games for TPS in the Naisten Liiga, she has compiled 68 penalty minutes. More than just the battles on the ice, she has a fire in her belly that carries over into being a leader on the bench as well.
“I hate losing – I really can’t stand it,” said Iso-Kouvola. “I think that’s one of my biggest strengths. I’m relentless and I always try my best. On the ice, my strengths are skating and fighting for the team in every situation no matter what”
In those 57 games, Iso-Kouvola has scored four goals and six assists for 10 points.
Tapani (24-8-32 in 16 games) was the club’s leading scorer in 2018-19. This current season the top point-getter has been sizable forward Uche Udeh. Between the pipes is goaltender Isabella Portnoj, who is a winner of three Finnish championships in her career. Meanwhile, TPS is captained by stalwart defender Minni Lehtopelto, who also leads them in penalty minutes this season too.
“There is every kind of player on our team,” said Iso-Kouvola. “We have a very versatile team. Our strength is that we play for the team. There are no quiet moments in the locker room and we like to have fun.”
A Finnish Championship, and Maybe a Career Abroad?
For as self-motivated and determined as Iso-Kouvola may be, she has never relinquished the idea of finding inspiration in hockey heroes. Playing alongside a high-caliber player such as Tapani certainly paid learning dividends to the younger Finn. Separately, Iso-Kouvola has long tried to embody one of her country’s all-time greats.
“I have many players who I admire,” she said. “The biggest is Teemu Selänne, which you can see is my reason for wearing my number-8. Nowadays, I also admire players who can really skate and score. I don’t try to be someone else though – I just try to develop my own style to play with my own strengths.”
For the time being, Iso-Kouvola is focused on wrapping up the 2019-20 Naisten Liiga season and putting her best foot forward for TPS. That does not mean however, that she would not consider an opportunity to play either NCAA collegiate hockey and/or professional women’s hockey in the NWHL.
I am young,” Iso-Kouvola smiled, “so I have many little dreams and also very big dreams for hockey. I want to be as good player as I can. It would be amazing to be able to win a Finnish championship. I also hope that I could play in the USA some day. But first of all I want to find the best way to train and play my style of hockey so that I can make myself better and better.”