The Providence College Friars are just one game into their 2018-19 and have already suffered a significant loss – not from injury or suspension, but simply by choice. Freshman center Mikael Hakkarainen has decided to leave the program after just his first collegiate game. Hakkarainen will return to his USHL club, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, who broke the news this morning by announcing his change of heart. The Providence Journal’s Mark Divver later confirmed the move and added context to Hakkarainen’s decision.
Divver spoke to Providence head coach Nate Leaman, who expressed disappointment in Hakkarainen’s sudden decision. Leaman states that Hakkarainen was unhappy balancing academics and hockey, an obvious aspect of life as a student-athlete. Divver points out the irony of that reasoning, as a return to the USHL would seemingly indicate that Hakkarainen is open to returning to the NCAA later on. Hakkarainen could instead follow in the footsteps of former Muskegon teammate and Buffalo Sabres prospect Matej Pekar, who was selected by the Barrie Colts of the OHL in this year’s CHL Import Draft after making it known the NCAA was no longer in his plans. Hakkarainen could also return home to his native Finland at some point, although he has played in North America now for four years.
Hakkarainen, 20, was a fifth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks back in June, an overage pick who enjoyed a breakout season last year in the USHL. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 USHL Draft out of the NAHL, a slow start at the next level saw him traded away from the team that drafted him, the Chicago Steel. In his first full season with the Lumberjacks last year, Hakkarainen led the team in per-game production with 46 points in 36 games, superior numbers to even Pekar, a fourth-round pick. As such, Hakkarainen was expected to play an important role for the Friars this year and potentially take over as a top scorer down the road. He even anchored the team’s third line in their season opener. Instead, the future remains a mystery for the talented, but uncommitted forward. The Blackhawks may have some incentive to intervene and ensure their prospect gets back on the right track.
Hakkarainen’s departure makes that two on the year for Providence. Swedish import Calle Ehrnberg left the program just last week to return home for what Divver cites as “homesickness”. The freshman defenseman was not nearly the caliber of prospect as Hakkarainen, but nevertheless a capable offensive defender who had a role to play with Providence. In the uber-competitive Hockey East Conference, any loss can be a blow, both this season and in long-term plans, and the Friars have had tough luck this season. They can only hope that those players who have remained committed to the program can pick up the slack in their ex-teammates’ absence.