Kuva © Timo Savela

From Kasson, Minnesota, to Turku, Finland – Katie Robinson’s leap into the unknown

Katie Robinson, 23, went from being a big fish in small pond to a small fish in a big pond and now she is playing across the pond. Her journey from Minnesota to Finland took her first to California, but she eventually managed to get to her new hometown, to Turku, Finland. She has shifted back to playing defense and is enjoying playing for TPS in Naisten Liiga.

Katie Robinson, 23, grew up playing hockey in Kasson, Minnesota. She first played with boys and then in high school and in college. She played defense in her hometown high school team. Despite being injured at a crucial point in her career, her performances attracted the attention of college recruiters.

Represented the Dodge County High

146 games: 36g+102a=138p

14 playoff games: 5g+7a=12p

– I grew up playing hockey in a small town in southern Minnesota. I wanted to play hockey because my older brother played hockey. I played with boys through the seventh grade and then I joined the women's varsity team. We had a small high school team. We weren't very good back then, but we got better throughout the years. I played with them for six years. We almost made it to the state tournament a couple of times. It's quite the big deal in Minnesota. We didn't quite make it there.

– In my sophomore year of high school I tore my ACL a couple of games in, so I couldn't finish the year. It was a bummer because I was going through the college recruitment process. Luckily a couple of schools still wanted me because they knew I'd come back stronger.

Robinson had some options where to go after high school, but, in the end, the choice wasn't hard for her.

– I wanted to stay close to home. I was looking at the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota. They were my last two options. After talking to my parents, I chose Minnesota just because it was a better fit. I didn't know what I wanted to get my degree in and I thought the academics were a lot better at Minnesota. I ended up majoring in supply chain operations, from the Carlson School of Management.

– I chose the University of Minnesota because I always wanted to go there. The coaches, the atmosphere, their culture, just everything about it is incredible. I committed there in my sophomore year of high school. It was great four years there.

Studying is hard work

The choice was easy for her, intuitive really, but transitioning from her high school routines to college routines turned out to be quite challenging. The life of a student athlete proved to be very demanding.

– It was tough to transition from high school to college. We were at the rink for multiple hours a day. It was pretty much a full time job at the rink.

She spent much of her days training, making sure she'd perform well on ice, but she also had to make sure she'd perform well in exams. Being in class and passing courses was simply not enough.

– You have to excel in all your classes in order to play. We tried to maintain a high level, like an A to B range. It's more student focused than athlete focused. As much as the athlete is a high priority, they make sure the student is the highest priority.


The life of a student athlete may come across as very demanding, which it is, but the university has allocated plenty of resources to make sure that they perform well on and off the ice.

– At Minnesota they have a lot of resources for student athletes specifically. We were offered tutor sessions. The first two years I would go to tutoring sessions at night after practice. They would help with my homework and making sure I got everything done. After that you could choose if you still needed tutoring. We also had study hours, so we'd go into our athlete facility building. We'd have a number of hours that we needed to get signed in and study for, which helped a lot with my academics.

– The university also offers a lot of things dealing with mental health, which is really good especially for student athletes. They have sports psychologists, so if you are struggling academically, on the ice or with anything in your life, you are able to make appointments with them and talk it through. It's very helpful.

Once a Golden Gopher, always a Golden Gopher.
Kuva © Timo Savela

Speaking about her time and her experiences at the University of Minnesota brings up fond memories for Robinson, so that, at times, while keeping her cool, her voice cracks.

– The university is just an upscale athletic program. They offered so much on ice and then, also to help you get prepared for the workforce, there was a program that we started. My team started participating in WILL, Women Invested in Leadership and Learning. Most of the women's sports programs participated in it. We'd meet once every couple of months with female company leaders throughout the state of Minnesota, such as Fortune 400 company leaders, CEOs and such, to learn about what women can do in the workplace after sports.

Playing is hard work

Excelling in class required considerable time and effort, but being part of the team was not an easy task for her either. She was no longer one of the best players in her team, which proved to be a humbling experience for her. Instead of becoming a star player, she became an important player in the locker room.

Represented the University of Minnesota

121 games: 10g+4a=14p

– The University of Minnesota is known for winning national championships, being the best of the best and all of women's college hockey in the US. Going there was very scary, being from a small town and then going into the big city. It was quite transition, going from being the big fish in the small pond to being the small fish in the big pond. I used to be the best in high school, but when I got to the university I learned very fast that wasn't the best anymore. It was tough, but it was a great growing experience there. I got better and better each year.

– It wasn't what I expected on ice. I wasn't the star player that I thought I was going to be. I honestly didn't play that much throughout my four years. I did get my opportunities, but I found myself a lot more on the bench than on the ice. I wouldn't have had it any other way because it helped me to grow as a person. I learned how to be a leader off the ice rather than just being on the ice. I was able to motivate my teammates through that and I think that is, almost, more important than what I could have done on the ice.

Having to adjust to a smaller role made her realize that there is more to hockey than just the personal accomplishments.

– My team was incredible. They are my family, my best friends. The coaching staff is, I want to say, the best in the nation. They don't care how you are as a hockey player, they care more how you are as a person. They really get to know you and your family. Their motto is "we recruit the best hockey players, with the best families, with the best personality". They recruit great people who happen to also be great hockey players.


Season canceled

Robinson's time in the NCAA came an abrupt halt when the season was canceled in mid-March, 2020. Minnesota had managed to win the WCHA title in her sophomore season, but the national title had eluded the team during her time in Minneapolis.

– In my first three years, we came close but we never quite made it. In my freshman year, we made it to the Frozen Four, which is the last four teams competing for the national title. We lost in the first game there. In my sophomore year, we didn't make it to the Frozen Four. That was disappointing because it was hosted at home that year. In my junior year, we made it to the national championship game. We lost to the University of Wisconsin. That stung a lot because Wisconsin is our big rival.

Not getting to finish her senior season, to try to go all the way, provoked a calm but emotional reaction from her, making her voice crack up at times again.

– Going in my senior year, we all wanted that national championship. We didn't want to be the group to not win it. Senior year was all fun, the whole time. We had a great group of girls. A lot of talented people. The freshman class coming in was extremely talented. We had all the personalities just kind of clicked. We made it to the top eight and we were finally in playoffs. That's when COVID hit. We were set to play against the Ohio State University to get to the Frozen Four when we heard that our game was canceled and our season was canceled.

The cancellation was very difficult to come to terms with as it was the last chance for the seniors to win the national title. There was no next season for them, only a deep feeling of emptiness.

– That was just heartbreaking. Us seniors were stunned, shocked, hurt, caught by surprise. There were so many emotions that we just didn't know what to do with ourselves. I can't even explain how it felt. I was just numbed.

Not only did the seniors miss their last chance to win the national title, but they also lost their opportunity to experience one of the memorable portions of their time in college.

– Also, us seniors, we missed out on our whole spring of our senior year. That is supposed to be like the best time of your college experience. Usually by your senior spring you aren't taking a lot of classes, everything is kind of winding down. You don't have to worry about hockey because, as a senior, you aren't training to play the next year. It would have been the first time for us to experience college without being the athlete at the same time. Knowing that we couldn't experience that just hurt extra.

Robinson shifted back to playing defense after spending her senior year as a forward.
Kuva © Timo Savela

Life after college

When the dust had settled, Robinson and her teammates realized that they need to make a decision: either hang up the skates or move abroad in order to keep playing.

– I took a few weeks off to kind of collect myself and I realized that I didn't want into the workforce just yet. I wanted to continue playing, at least for one more year.

– I started talking with my roommates, Patti Marshall and Alex Woken, about playing overseas. They were both going to take a gap year before going to dental and veterinary school, so they wanted to play overseas too. We were looking for a team together, reaching out to a bunch of people, but with COVID not many teams had space for three players.

Finding a team proved difficult for the former roommates. The overall uncertainly didn't make things easy for them, nor the teams they were in contact with.

– Alex [Woken] decided to play for a team in Germany. They only allow two imports and they had only one extra spot left, so me and Patti [Marshall] had to look elsewhere. We hired an agent and tried to find a team that would take both of us. After talking to multiple teams, we decided that going to different teams would be the best for each of us. She is now playing for Brynäs IF in Sweden and I was able to find TPS in Turku, Finland, which was a good decision for me.

A leap of faith

Robinson didn't really know much about her new hometown, except that it was in Finland, but that wasn't really a problem for her. The biggest hurdle for her was to make the decision to move abroad.

– I didn't know much about this town or the team when I decided to sign, but I decided to take a leap of faith, go overseas and play for TPS. If you know me and know me super well, it's very surprising that I actually came over here. I'm not one to take big risks or go out of my comfort zone. It was definitely a scary decision, but I thought it's once in a lifetime opportunity. I get to play again, I get to visit a place I always wanted to visit, Finland. Why not? I'm young. I can work the rest of life.

Everything was set in place. She only had to pack her bags and head to the airport.

– So, I signed and then did a little bit of research, mostly figuring out how to get over here with COVID, which was tricky, to say the least. There was so much hassle that I can't even remember it all.

– My sister was getting married at the end of August, so I told my coaches that I was able to come right after the wedding. With COVID and everything we were trying to figure how to get me here as soon as possible. We got the flight for, I think it was August 31. I got a negative COVID test, a letter from the team, my contract and I thought everything was set in place and it was going to be smooth from there.


It all seemed to be well and good, but only on paper, as getting to Finland proved to be a nightmare.

– I got to the airport. As soon as I went to drop my bags, they said that I'm not all allowed to travel because they are not letting Americans into Finland. I told them that I need to get over there, that my season is starting in a couple of days. I showed them all the stuff, my dad was calling the consulate attorney from Minneapolis, trying to figure it out, but in the end I was not able to get on the flight.

– We drove an hour and a half home. I had all my stuff packed. At that point I thought there was no way I was going to be able to get over here and play. I kind of lost hope, but my dad specifically said that it's going to happen, just keep the faith, and that we'll figure it out.

Going out west

Things weren't going as planned, but her father managed to convince her to not give up. To get to Finland, she and her father made a trip to Los Angeles, California.

– I was at home one to two weeks. Me and my dad were working on it every day, calling people, trying to figure it out. We figured out that I needed to fill out a residency permit. I then had to visit a consulate, either in Los Angeles or New York. We called the consulates and we figured that New York was still pretty strict on people coming in and Los Angeles was a bit less strict on that. We were able to get a date at the consulate, on September 9, I believe, and so me and my dad, we've never been to California, been out west before, so it was kind of fun, took a flight to California. We spent two or three days there, went to the consulate, it was a half an hour meeting, and flew home the next day.

– I contacted the coaches again, I told them I got that in order, printed out more information and waited until they sent me another ticket. A few days later I went to the airport and the same thing happened. They said that I wasn't going to be able to get through, so I was freaking out again. We finally talked to the right person who, somehow, had overheard us earlier and she let us through. After I got through that, it was smooth sailing. I didn't have an issue the rest of the way.

Robinson is no stranger to hard work, but the first day practice proved to be tough.
Kuva © Timo Savela

Home alone

Anyone who has moved abroad can vouch that getting used to your new surroundings is crucial. In her case, this proved to be difficult due to the 14-day quarantine.

– I was set in my own little hostel type of a thing where I had to do my 14 day quarantine before I could play. The quarantine was pretty tough because I was in a new country, by myself, not to see anyone, not talk to anyone, just kind of distance myself and try to figure everything out by myself.

The quarantine time was, however, nothing compared to all the hoops she had to jump through just to get to be in quarantine in Finland.

– It was a lot better than I thought though because, for the most part, I found things to do each day. I tried to sleep in, as late as possible, so that it would waste most of my day away. I was able to work out, go outside, explore the town, walk around, see some things from the outside, go to the grocery store. I went to the castle, which was cool, the downtown area, saw the river, walked to a nice farmstead and explored that. I tried to do and see new things each day to get comfortable with the area, so that after the two weeks I'd be kind of familiar with what I was doing and where things are.

In practice

Having spent 14 days all by herself, she was craving for human contact, for all the social interaction that makes one's life worth living.

– After the two weeks I was able to go to practice for the first time. I was scared and nervous, but I was super excited because I was finally going to have human contact.

Her new team, TPS, had been practicing since mid-June and had played its first practice game in early July, which she quickly realized as her new teammates were skating in circles around her in practice.

– The first practice was tough, to say the least. I was very out of shape, breathing a lot, sore after the first five minutes on the ice. The last time was on the ice was July 4, for a week, and before that I was on ice in March.

– The first week of practice was tough. I'd wake up and I'd barely be able to walk up or down the stairs. I was super sore. I was surprised by how good everyone is here and by the level of competition. I just automatically thought that US hockey was the best of the best and that it would be more of a breeze here.


Despite everything that she had to go through to play in Finland, the timing of her arrival to Finland proved to be excellent.

– Luckily we didn't have games in the first weekend, so I was able to get two weeks of practice under my belt before the first games. I got my cardio back up and back into shape. It's been fun playing here. Competition is good. It's nice to be back playing defense.

New team, new faces, new things

A new team, in a new league, in a new country, means new faces. It also means that the group dynamic is going to be different. For Robinson it is certainly different, yet remarkably similar to what she is used to.

– The group dynamic here seems fun. I have to come out of my shell a little bit more, but everyone has been super nice to me. I'm starting to get more comfortable with the team and everything.

– Back in college you'd get used to an age range of 18 to 22. It's the same age, everyone's going to school and you're around everyone, all the time, even when you are not at the rink. It's completely different here. Everyone is in a different spot or stage in life, some are in high school or not even in high school yet, some are in their mid-twenties and have a full on career, while someone else might just be looking for work. What I found here is that despite all that it still seems that everyone gets along. I was super surprised by that.

Robinson was glad to have some human contact after the quarantine.
Kuva © Timo Savela

In addition to differences in the team dynamic, she has noticed that there's less pressure in the Finnish system than there is in the US system, despite the competitiveness.

– There's a lot of competitiveness on this team. We all want to win and there's that drive, that competitiveness that I love, but there's also not a lot of pressure on the players. I can just do my own thing and play hockey like I know how to instead of trying to impress everyone in order to feel good about myself."

– I think there was lot of pressure on me in college because I thought that I needed to better than I was, to excel. Now that I'm older, I know what I'm good at and what I'm not good at. I've kind of accepted that. I now focus on what my strong suits are rather than try to fix every little thing that I know I won't be able to fix right now.

When it comes to being on ice, the thing that took her some getting used to was the size of the ice surface. This also means that the defense needs to move the puck up the ice quickly. It also emphasizes the importance of conditioning.

– Playing wise most of the rinks here are a lot bigger than back at home. The sheet of ice is a lot bigger, so there's a lot more time and space to play on the ice. I've learned to deal with that and adjusted to it.

– The teams we've played against, they've all been pretty good games. It's been fast. You definitely have to skate, move your feet and move the puck quickly. I'm also playing a lot more than I'm used to. In college I didn't get to play too much. That was a big adjustment here.


Robinson's played her first game in Naisten Liiga in Rovaniemi, which is situated over 800 km (500 miles) north of Turku, followed by another game in Oulu, which is situated over 600 km (400 miles) north of Turku. TPS won both games and she netted one goal and two assists in first game.

– We went way up north. It was really cool. It was a long trip, like 9 or 10 hours, but we were able to break it up a bit, stopping a few times. It was awesome because I scored my first goal in the league in my first game. It was super nice. I don't remember the last time I scored a goal in a competitive hockey game, so that was really fun and I also got a couple of assists.

Overall, she has been happy with the team performance and that with little further improvements the team could be ever better.

– We've started hitting our stride with this team. I think there's big potential with us with the rest of the season. I see lines clicking a lot more than they used to. Obviously the French girls, [Estelle Duvin and Lara Escudero], are amazing. I think our team has a lot of skilled girls, but what's going to make us win more games and push us to the next level is grittiness, keeping your feet moving and shooting the puck on net from wherever, scoring the gritty, dirty goals, rather than going for all the pretty goals. That work ethic is what's going to push this team to the next level.

Settling in Turku

Robinson has lived in Finland for over a month now, of which the first two weeks she spent in quarantine. She has adjusted to her new surroundings well. For her, it's all the little things that count.

– I've been here a little over a month, a month and a half. I definitely think I'm almost or fully adjusted. Once I got my bedroom kind of done, it was almost like something flipped in me and I felt like I was home, rather than I'm just visiting. I realized that this is my home for the next six months.

Similarly to her teammates, Duvin and Escudero, she emphasizes the importance of getting around town quickly.

– I got a bike, finally, after not having one for about three weeks. It's a little thing but it's a life saver here. It's so nice having a bike. Instead of walking home 40 minutes or taking the bus, it takes 15 minutes to bike home. It's huge. I also like to bike around and see different places each day if I can.

Running a household is also something that she is accustomed, which has helped her to adjust after moving abroad.

– My parents taught me well. They taught me to be self-sufficient. Even though this is my first time living abroad, college really prepared for that. I lived on my own, I learned how to cook, I just learned how to do things by myself.

Robinson is happy to back, this time in black.
Kuva © Timo Savela

Things may also not always go as planned, as apparent from what she had to endure in order to get to Finland, but her composure and good attitude towards difficulties make life easier for her.

– For the most part, I'm a pretty laid back person. I just take the punches. It is what it is, so I just kind of go day by day and figure things out. I haven't really had any issues here.

Her attitude has also helped her to deal with the so called new normal of 2020. It would be tempting to say that opting to play abroad during a pandemic is foolish or unwise, considering that there is little to do besides practice and play hockey, but, as also apparent from her calm demeanor, she doesn't seem to mind the situation that much.

– It is what it is. COVID definitely sucks. Even though I'm not able to experience certain things because of it, I still can do things. I went to a guys game with Lara [Escudero] a couple of weekends ago, which was super cool. Seeing the places outside is more up my alley than doing stuff indoors. Honestly I don't mind being by myself and just hanging out with myself, I'm a big introvert, so all this doesn't bother me too much. I'm definitely built for this kind of situation.

– For the most part, I haven't been doing anything too exciting, going grocery shopping every couple of days and the like. I'm going to be looking for a job soon, to fill up my days.

The similarities between Finland and Minnesota have also helped her to adjust to life after college.

– It's pretty much like Minnesota but with a different language. I'd like to say that I know some Finnish, but it's a tough language to learn. Luckily nearly everyone speak pretty good English here. That's been super handy.

People don't sound the same, but not everything looks the same either. The dark days are certainly something that she needs to get used to in Finland.

– Turku reminds me a lot of Minnesota, but as much as I say it reminds me of home, it's a little bit different. At home there's snow right now and it's a little bit more sunny. Here it's a lot more cloudy and dark all the time. There's less sunlight than back home in Minnesota.

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