Ida Kuoppala laced up her first pair of skates, figure skates, when she was 4 years old.
She grew up in Finland, where her older brother, Oskar, played hockey.
“He was a goalie. So I tried hockey and stuck with it,” Kuoppala said.
It was the start of what has already been a productive career for the left winger.
The University of Maine skater is among the top first-year goal scorers in the nation and heads that category in Hockey East with 17 goals, including 14 in league play.
“She is a sniper,” said UMaine senior center Tereza Vanisova, the school’s all-time scoring leader.
The seventh-seeded Black Bears (13-13-8 overall, 9-11-7 HE) will need production from Kuoppala during their best-of-three quarterfinal series at No. 2 Boston University (24-6-4, 18-6-3 HE), the nation’s eighth-ranked team.
Games are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday and a third game at 3 p.m. Sunday, if necessary.
Kuoppala, who has posted 12 assists in 32 games, ranks second among Division I freshmen with 0.53 goals per game.
“She shoots with her head up and her feet moving. She picks corners and she doesn’t miss,” UMaine senior goalie and captain Jillian Flynn said. “She has a high hockey IQ.”
Kuoppala has built her resume by playing for the Finnish national team. UMaine head coach Richard Reichenbach said the Finnish coach told him she was one of the best goal-scorers in Finnish women’s hockey.
Kuoppala said her shot has been her strength as a player.
“I release it quickly and try to beat the goalie from different angles. Sometimes you can surprise the goalie,” Kuoppala said.
She admitted to struggling early in the season, as she learned the systems and adapted to the higher level of hockey.
“It overthought everything. I was used to having the puck a lot in Finland. Here you have systems and you have to know how the other team plays,” she said.
Kuoppala has blossomed as a result of her hard work. She was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month in January, when she tallied six goals and four assists.
Reichenbach said Kuoppala has a variety of moves so she can score a lot of different ways. He also praised her weight training with making her stronger and faster.
She leads the team with six power-play goals.
“She gets her shot off pretty quickly and it’s a bit deceptive with how she shoots it,” senior goalie Carly Jackson said. “It’s a pretty heavy shot.”
Kuoppala said her growing familiarity with the rinks and her Hockey East opponents, particularly the goalies, has been beneficial.
Kuoppala, who is from Pedersore, Finland, said she is enjoying UMaine and said she has made a lot of friends. She is looking forward to this weekend.
“I love the playoffs,” said Kuoppala, who was once a playoff most valuable player in Finland.