DJ Saari has lived in BC for most of his life, but when he stepped onto the floor for the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Langley, BC, at the end of September, he wore the Finnish team jersey.
“My grandparents were from Finland,” explains Saari. “One of my old coaches was coaching the Finnish indoor lacrosse team and asked me to play for them a while ago. I was just starting my apprenticeship then, so I couldn’t make it work, but they asked me again this year, and I was proud to join the team.”
Born in Powell River, Saari began to play minor lacrosse when his father moved to Cowichan Valley. He played for the Port Coquitlam Saints before being scouted to play for the Coquitlam Adanacs. He also played for the Nanaimo Timbermen and New Westminster Salmonbellies in his three-and-a-half-year junior career.
Saari was drafted 39th overall by the Vancouver Stealth but did not make the team, and has played the last four years in the Western Lacrosse Association for the Maple Ridge Burrards.
“Lacrosse is such a fast-paced sport,” said Saari. “I just fell in love with it when I first started playing. The sport has been growing so much even from when I first started playing. It’s now worldwide, and the world federation has applied for lacrosse to be included in the Olympics.”
Saari plays defence, and finds that the role fits him well.
“I am kind of a rough and tough defender,” he said. “My job is to stop players from scoring and protect my teammates, sometimes stepping in to have a chat or fight with other players. But I also leave it all on the floor; I have so many friends in lacrosse, and people like me, no matter what team they play for.”
Saari is proud of his contributions to the Finnish team’s performance this year.
“We finished sixth of 20 teams,” said Saari. “At the previous Worlds in 2015, Finland came in ninth of 13 teams, so that is a big improvement. Most of the team came from Finland – there were only four other Canadian players – but we all got along great and played well together. I was one of the better defenders and played a lot of minutes. My teammates started calling me the Finnish Warrior,” he added with a laugh.
When he is not playing lacrosse, Saari works in Vancouver as an HVAC technician, and tries to come up to Powell River as often as he can.
“Family and friends are very important to me, and I am so proud to be from Powell River,” he said. “I wore number 39 for the Finnish team because my late grandmother was born in 1939, so it seemed fitting for me to wear her number.”
Saari will continue to play lacrosse as long as he can, and is planning to don the Finnish jersey for the next worlds in four years.
“I’ll definitely also go to the Olympics if lacrosse gets in,” he said. “My grandmother almost made the Finnish Olympic team in gymnastics, so I think she’d be proud to see me there representing her home country.”