Among the greatest blueliners to wear Vermont green, Sini Karjalainen provided a tremendous skill set, serving as the heartbeat of the defense. An integral contributor in the Catamounts gaining a place in the national rankings, her final season proved to be her finest.
Gaining acclaim as the 2023 Hockey East Defender of the Year, such recognition provided the crowning touch in a brilliant career for Vermont. Enjoying 139 career games, highlighted by 65 assists, Karjalainen, hailing from Posio, Finland, the numbers attained in the 2022-23 season speak for themselves.
Accumulating a solid 27 points, on the strength of 24 assists, both new personal bests for Karjalainen, she displayed a highly disciplined side. Serving only four penalty minutes, the Catamounts enjoying 12 wins when she logged at least one point.
Leading up to Defender of the Year honors, Karjalainen enjoyed the privilege of winning the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Month Award for February 2023. Amassing a solid nine points during February, her eight assists led all players in the NCAA. With a three-game scoring streak to close out the month, the most unique coincidence in such an epic month saw Karjalainen log points in four games versus the New Hampshire Wildcats.
Statistically, her finest performance took place in an emotional shootout win at New Hampshire on February 17. Scoring a goal in the third period, the last of her Catamounts career, it was part of an impressive performance including two assists, involved in every goal scored during regulation.
“It was obviously a great honor although I would trade it for the championship at any time. We as a team know that was our goal, but we could not acchieve it. However, this award was a nice bonus and a good way to end my college hockey career.”
On a roster with seven European talents, including players from Austria (Theresa Schafzahl), Czech Republic (Natalie Mylnkova and Tynka Patkova), Denmark (Sofie Skott) and France (Julia Mesplede), Karjalainen enjoyed the opportunity to skate alongside Finnish player Krista Parkkonen.
Raised in Lappeenranta, Parkkonen is also a member of the defensive corps, the number 14 adorning the back of her jersey. In her first season with the Catamounts, she made her debut on September 30 at Gutterson Fieldhouse, a 5-2 win versus RIT. Worth noting, Parkkonen’s first point involved elements of serendipity and national pride. Along with Karjalainen, the two assisted on a goal by Corinne McCool during an October 21 contest against the Colgate Raiders.
Their mutual presence allowed for common ground. Speaking the same language, it represented a pivotal connection to their homeland. Even teammates in the aftermath of the season, both earned roster spots for Finland’s entry at the 2023 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Brampton, Ontario.
“I really enjoyed having another Finn on the team. I obviously loved playing with her and it was nice to have someone around who is coming from a similar culture as me. Just talking Finnish to her, training or spending time with her made it feel like home.”
Perhaps the proudest statistical achievement, involved breaking the Catamounts record for most assists in one season. Setting a new standard with 24 helpers, the achievement brought with it another element of serendipity. A mark proudly shared with fellow graduate Theresa Schafzahl, whose season also consisted of 24 assists, it served as prologue towards another proud place in program history.
Fittingly, both closed their proud careers as members of the New England Division I Women’s All-Stars. Having both enjoyed their Catamounts debut in the same game, an October 6, 2018 affair versus the Connecticut Huskies, it marked the beginning of a dual journey, and wonderful friendship. With tremendous respect for her teammate, the opportunity to share in this record intertwines them both in a proud era for Catamounts hockey, their collaborative efforts raising the program to unprecedented heights, while providing fans and teammates alike with high quality play.
“I have to give some credit to my awesome teammates who finished off of my passes. Also, sharing this record with Theresa Schafzahl, one of my best friends and a great player, makes it that much more special. We both hate losing but I think that in this situation can accept the tie.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated ”