Christina Fuoco-Karasinski • College Times
Finn Larson was born to play hockey, but maybe even more.
When the Minnesota native arrived as a freshman last September at ASU’s Barrett The Honors College, she wasn’t planning on playing sports, except at an intramural level. She was serious about studying materials science engineering.
However, that all changed when Larson, a longtime hockey player, was recruited to play a little-known sport in the United States called bandy for Team USA. Officials asked her to join them at the World University Games held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, a town in Siberia, in March.
To keep her “feet fresh,” Larson returned to her love, hockey, by joining the ASU women’s team. Upon arrival, she rallied the troops, inviting her ASU hockey teammates to join Team USA/bandy, which is based in her home state of Minnesota.
“I joined the team, maybe a month late,” says Larson, who has played hockey since she was 6. “I went six months without skating, and I was expected to skate every day in Russia. I knew that wouldn’t be good. I reached out to the coach and asked if I could be a practice player.
“The coach said that wasn’t possible, so I joined the team. The initial purpose was to be ready for Russia, but I loved the team and playing for ASU.”
The freshman center played for ASU and she left for Russia the day after the season ended. As Larson alluded to, she’s going to continue hockey and bandy, a sport that has been battling to get into the Olympics. The Federation of International Bandy has 27 members.
“The goal is to maybe get the sport into the Olympics,” she says. “I’d like to stick with it and maybe have a shot on that team. I remember when we were in Russia, there was a lot of networking that my coaches and team were doing to get the word out there.”
Bandy is played on a sheet of ice the size of a soccer field; North America’s only bandy ice is in Roseville, Minnesota. It’s a team sport in which skaters use sticks to direct a ball into the opposing team’s goal.
Larson went to a small, private Catholic school and yearned for an out-of-state experience, so she followed her mother, Mardi, here. Mardi took a job at Petsmart and now works as director of marketing and communications for Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.
“I was visiting her for spring break one year; I never thought of going to school in Arizona,” she says. “We ended up on an ASU tour to see a dorm. I looked at the honors college dorm, where I would have my own room. I was impressed so I applied to ASU and Barrett, and I got in.”
Larson was introduced to bandy years ago—in 2012 when she traveled to Sweden on an international sports exchange trip with her club youth hockey team. For this incarnation, her team was assembled “in an interesting way.” She was recruited and then she discussed the team with her hockey friends at ASU.
“We ended up getting 12 women; 11 people play on the ice at a time,” Larson says. “We had one sub for the whole tournament.”
Larson and her teammates didn’t meet up until they reached the New York airport.
“Everyone is from Minnesota, playing hockey at different schools,” she says. “The first time we were together as a team was at the airport. We never had practice time. One of the struggles of the tournament we had was we never had the chance to practice together. Most never played bandy.”
When the women arrived in Siberia, none of them expected the pomp and circumstance that followed.
“This tournament was a very big deal for them,” Larson says. “I never understood how big of a deal this was until Vladimir Putin came to the opening ceremonies. I thought, ‘This is legit.’ The opening ceremonies as a whole were really surreal. It gave the whole Olympic experience.”
The ladies arrived and six hours later hit the ice to play Sweden, which arguably has the world’s best team. This is after a 20-hour journey.
“They did not go easy on us,” she says with a laugh. “None of us play bandy. We never played together. We just traveled from the United States. They destroyed us. It was 20-0.
“Throughout the tournament, people were apologizing. Even one of the Swedish assistant coaches said it wasn’t fair and they were sorry it happened. By the time they were up by 10, normally they turn it into a practice for themselves. That didn’t happen.”
Larson is quick to add her team did something remarkable: It was the first U.S. women’s bandy team to score against Russia.
“Russia was well supported,” she adds. “When we played them for the first time, the arena was filled with 5,000 people. There were 10 people for us; the rest for Russia.”
Although they’re spread throughout the states, the ladies stay in touch via Snapchat group message. Not only did the team gain experience, Larson forged friendships with Amber Galles, her ASU hockey assistant coach. She graduated in 2018, but athletes can play in the World University Games if they graduated within six months.
“We had to go through a lot of adversity to go through the tournament,” Larson says. “But my team was so high spirited the whole time. We joked about it.” CT