SOCHI, RUSSIA – Andy Kent was raised from birth in Lake- ville, played hockey for Augsburg College and coaches goalies for the Gophers women’s hockey team. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool Minnesotan.
Now, he’s at the Winter Olympics trying to win a medal with … Finland. Yep, Finland.
He’s the goalie coach for the women’s team, even though the only Finnish words he knows how to say are hi and thank you.
Weird, right? Not to him.
“I really feel part of this team,” he said.
Well, he should. Kent likely could play an integral role in helping Finland accomplish its goal of earning a medal. The Finns play Sweden on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
Kent’s association stems from one person: Finland goaltender Noora Raty, the former Gophers star and one of the top female goalies in the world.
Raty is competing in her third Olympics after finishing her marvelous career in Dinkytown. Finland’s women’s team didn’t have a goalie coach so Raty took the initiative.
“I told my coach, ‘I know one who’s a pretty good guy,’ ” Raty said.
Kent first had to get accredited by the International Olympic Committee. Then Finland’s hockey federation had to sign off. If there was any internal grumbling or hesitation, Kent didn’t hear about it.
“I think Noora pushed pretty hard to get me out here,” he said.
Kent found out right before Christmas that he had a new title — Finnish assistant coach — in addition to serving as volunteer goalie coach for the Gophers women and Augsburg men.
Kent joined the team in Finland for a quick pre-Olympics training camp. He never felt out of place until Finland played Team USA in the Olympic opener. He looked on the ice and saw familiar faces wearing the other uniform, including a few ex-Gophers.
“That’s when it really kind of felt weird,” he said.
That feeling vanished in the heat of competition. Kent seems so comfortable with his new team that he uses “we” and “us” in conversation. The only real obstacle is the language barrier. The coaches and players generally communicate in Finnish, though they speak in English if a conversation involves a specific question or detail meant for Kent.
“There are some meetings where I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “At the end, I’ll grab Noora and say, ‘Hey, do I need to know anything?’ She’ll be like, ‘Yeah, we have practice at 11.’ ”
It’s obvious those two have a special bond. He calls her the best women’s goalie in the world. She refers to him as her “therapist.” Her faith in Kent’s insight is reflected in how hard she pushed to have him hired as her personal Olympic coach.
“He knows me so well,” Raty said. “Any problems I have, I know where to go.”
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