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Poked for a cause: Finlandia hockey team promotes getting vaccine

Haley Bussell/Finlandia University Finlandia Lions center Tyler Vanuden fills out paperwork before hearing his name called to receive his vaccine Wednesday at the UP Health System Home Care and Hospice building in Hancock.

HANCOCK — In the early afternoon Wednesday, several members of the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team crowded the entryway to the UP Health System Home Care and Hospice building in Hancock. The buzz around the group was one of excitement and a little nervousness.

For the student athletes, the meeting served multiple functions. First, it gave them a chance to gather off-campus. Second, it gave them a chance to step into a community leadership role. The Lions gathered Wednesday to get a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The young men were proud to get the vaccine. According to several of them, getting poked with a needle meant that they were one step closer to “normalcy.”

“It means a return to normalcy,” said Houghton native Marcus Gloss. “We’re getting back to how things should be. I’m looking forward to how things are gonna be next year, kind of just getting back to normal.”

The Lions have been through, just as the rest of the Copper Country and, really the country at large, a lot this past year. COVID-19 and its variants wreaked havoc on their chances to play college hockey, which is one of the reasons the student athletes chose to travel to the Copper Country from areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, New York, Canada, Finland, Austria and Russia to this corner of the Upper Peninsula to go to college.

Head coach Joe Burcar was excited for his players get the vaccine, especially those who hail from other countries, because it ensures that they will be able to travel home after the spring semester ends with less concern that they might be bringing an unwanted visitor along.

“As soon as I told the team that (they were going to get vaccinated), there was a lot of relief,” Burcar said. “We have a lot of international players, whether it’s Finland or Canada. It’s just a relief for them to travel back home at the end of the month.”

Burcar was also quick to thank Don Simila, the chief executive officer of the Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center, who helped coordinate the process of getting students from Finlandia vaccinated.

“It’s a big deal,” said Burcar. “Thanks to UGL and Don Simila, and our school, for making this happen.”

It is easy to forget, when thinking about student athletes, and professional athletes, that they are people first.

“I think that’s where all the relief comes from,” Burcar said. “With the school stepping up, and the support of UGL, it means the world to them.”

With the Copper Country being small, but proud, Burcar feels that collaborations like this UGL shows young adults that the area is tight-knit.

“That’s one of the special things about our community,” he said. “That’s something, a selling point, when I go on the road recruiting. It’s just this community supports each other. This is another great example of people stepping up and a facility like this, a company like this, through UGL, it just means a lot.

“For the school, just the importance of the safety and the health of their students, it means a lot. So it means a lot to all of us. It’s really important that we’re getting this done.”

For Simila, collaborating with Finlandia University is just something you do.

“My mother taught me to take care of your own, right?” he said. “So I feel obligated and responsible, as a member of that community to bring the resources that we’ve been able to kind of connect with, through the federal government, as a community health center, to our community.

“It’s actually a privilege for us to be able to do this in a community. It’s our opportunity to work in collaboration with area healthcare providers, and then with the university, who’s made a big contributor for us.”

Simila was excited to see Finlandia students jump on board with getting the vaccine, since they fall into the 18-39 age group that has been showing some reluctance nationally to get the vaccinated, now that there has been an increase in doses available thanks to the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“The pandemic is real,” he said. “We know that, just yesterday, Michigan had over 11,000 new cases and B 1.1.7 variant is really the majority of those cases that are spreading in a community. Right now, we have that variant in the community.

“The vaccines are effective. They’re more effective than your annual flu shot. (There are) vaccines are 90% effective. They were able to, through science, develop these vaccines really quickly. They’ve been scrutinized by independent panels of experts.”

The vaccination event was part of Finlandia’s #CrushCOVIDWeek on campus.

Thursday, the university held a Remembrance Ceremony behind the Chapel. Friday, students who receive the vaccine will have a chance to help smash a car in the Old Main parking lot.

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