Sebastian Ahos facing off for Hurricanes, Islanders in Eastern 1st Round
Carolina center, New York defenseman only players with same name to play against each other in playoff historyby Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Who better to talk about Sebastian Aho than Sebastian Aho?
How about Sebastian Aho?
So, when seeking the inside scoop on the name you'll hear most often during the Eastern Conference First Round between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders, we went straight to the source.
Both of them.
In case you haven't deciphered it through all the double-talk, there are two players named Sebastian Aho playing in the best-of-7 series, which the Hurricanes lead heading into Game 2 at PNC Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN360, TVAS2, BSSO, MSG, MSGSN).
"I don't think about it too much," the Islanders' Sebastian Aho said. "But, yeah, it's a funny coincidence."
Sebastian Aho of the Hurricanes said: "I think it's more for the media and the fans. It's just kind of an unusual thing and people like to make fun of it."
How unusual is it?
NHL Stats found no previous instance of two players with the same first and last name playing against each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Hurricanes' Aho had the edge in Game 1 on Monday, scoring a power-play goal in the first period of Carolina's 2-1 victory.
Video: NYI@CAR, Gm1: Aho one-times in opening goal
Maybe the Islanders' Aho will have his chance to shine in Game 2. Regardless, as the Hurricanes playfully tweeted on the eve of Game 1, "We guarantee Sebastian Aho will win the series."
"Oh, it's funny," Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis said. "It's hilarious. It's awesome."
So, how do you tell the two Sebastian Ahos apart (other than they look nothing alike)?
For one, they have different middle names.
Sebastian Antero Aho plays for the Hurricanes. Sebastian Johannes Aho plays for the Islanders.
The Hurricanes' Sebastian Aho is a center. The Islanders' Sebastian Aho is a defenseman.
The Hurricanes' Aho is from Rauma, Finland. The Islanders' Aho is from Umea, Sweden.
The Hurricanes' Aho is 25 years old, 6-foot, 176 pounds, and was selected by Carolina in the second round (No. 35) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Islanders' Aho is 27 years old, 5-10, 186 pounds, and was selected by New York in the fifth round (No. 139) of the 2017 NHL Draft.
The Hurricanes' Aho wears No. 20. The Islanders' Aho wears No. 25.
"They're obviously two different players, two different positions, so you don't get them confused," said Jarvis, who often skates on a line with Aho. "But it's always funny to hear Aho on the other team."
The Hurricanes' Aho has a much higher profile. Carolina's top-line center, he has led the team in goals in six straight seasons, including 36 this season, and was selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game in 2019 and 2022.
His goal in Game 1 was his 19th in 49 playoff games, moving him ahead of his coach, Rod Brind'Amour, and into a tie with Eric Staal for most in Carolina/Hartford Whalers history.
"Listen, he's our best player and he wants to be the best player," Brind'Amour said.
Ask the Islanders' Aho for a scouting report on his namesake and he says: "He's a good player. He's fast, got good vision, finds plays and he makes stuff happen. He scores a lot of goals. He's a good player. We've got to try and shut him down."
The Islanders' Aho had a slower path to the NHL. He was passed over in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 NHL Drafts before New York selected him as a 21-year-old in 2017 following his fifth season with Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League.
Aho then played 22 games with the Islanders in 2017-18, but he spent the next two seasons with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League and wasn't able to establish himself as an NHL regular until this season, when he set career highs in games (71), goals (five), assists (18) and points (23).
He made his playoff debut on Monday, finishing with three hits in 13:51 of ice time.
"The more playing time he's had, he's gained in confidence," Islanders coach Lane Lambert said. "He has always been a guy who plays hard and attacks the game, and he continues to do that, but I think his confidence level with the puck and in different areas of the game has really helped with more playing time."
The Hurricanes' Aho's assessment of the Islanders' Aho is that he's: "A good skater. Just a solid 'D.' He's good with the puck. He seems like he's taken his spot on that roster, so he's a good player."
[RELATED: Complete Hurricanes vs. Islanders series coverage]
The Ahos don't know each other well, though their paths crossed a few times when they were growing up and playing for their respective national teams. At the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, the Islanders' Aho had an assist to help Sweden defeat the Hurricanes' Aho and Finland 6-3 in the quarterfinals.
At one point, a Finnish newspaper got them together for a photo and wrote an article on these two players from different countries with the same name.
"It was like one of the first times we played against each other, I think we were 14 or 15, and they made a little story about it," the Hurricanes' Aho said. "It was a local newspaper or whatever. Maybe that time it was kind of funny there's actually a guy with the same name as me. … That was the first time we talked about it."
How did a player from Finland and one from Sweden wind up with the same first and last name?
The Hurricanes' Aho's father, Harri, was a defenseman who played professionally, mostly with his hometown team of Karpat in Liiga, Finland's top professional league (he was later Karpat's general manager). But Harri also played two seasons with Kiruna in Sweden's first division (1994-1996) before Sebastian was born in 1997.
"I guess Sebastian would be, internationally, kind of (common)," the Hurricanes' Aho said. "But Aho is somewhat popular in Finland. I don't know in Sweden. He's the only Aho I know in Sweden."
The Islanders' Aho's last name came from his father, Pasi.
"My father was born in Finland," he said.
Predictably, the Ahos also have the same nickname, "Sea bass," though Carolina's is one word, "Seabass." The Hurricanes also call him "Fishy."
The Islanders' Aho, who has a tattoo of a sea bass on his left arm, also goes by "Sebbie."
To their credit, neither "Sea bass" is ill-tempered about the subject of their names or nicknames. They simply smile and let others have fun with it.
When the Hurricanes were prepping for their regular-season games or this playoff series against the Islanders, there was no confusion when discussing the other Aho.
"In the locker room, they call me by my nickname," the Hurricanes' Aho said. "And he's just Sebastian Aho."
It was even simpler for the Islanders when talking about the Hurricanes' Aho.
"You just use his number, 20," Lambert said.
The Ahos have played against each other in seven regular-season games since the Islanders' Aho made his NHL debut on Dec. 31, 2017. In their second meeting, on March 18, 2018, the Hurricanes' Aho was penalized for hooking the Islanders' Aho, giving Brendan Burke of MSG Networks the first chance to reference, "A little Sebastian Aho-on-Sebastian Aho crime" during the Islanders' telecast.
The roles were reversed on April 2 of this season, with the Islanders' Aho being penalized for hooking late in the third period. And when the Hurricanes' Aho scored a hat trick in a 5-2 win at UBS Arena on Jan. 21, his first goal, which broke a 2-2 tie, deflected in off the Islanders' Aho's skate.
"You have to be cognizant of it, but it is funny," said Mike Maniscalco, who does play-by-play on the Hurricanes' telecasts on Bally Sports South. "You can get comfortable in the second period and kind of take it for granted."
Burke, who also calls NHL games for TNT, said it's more difficult for Islanders radio play-by-play announcer Chris King because, "Every single time they touch the puck, you have to make sure you differentiate somehow which one of them it is."
On television, the viewer can see the players and which team they play for.
"I just as part of my call tend to normally throw in what team has the puck, too, certainly, or if I'm just throwing out names if there's a scrum for it or whatnot," Burke said. "With these guys, it's pretty much as simple as Aho for the Islanders or the Canes' Aho."
The Ahos were on the ice together for 12 shifts and 3:56 of ice time in Game 1, according to NHL Stats. Their most notable encounter came with 3:12 remaining in the third period, when the Hurricanes' Aho raced down the left wing on a short-handed rush against the Islanders' Aho.
When the Hurricanes' Aho lowered his right shoulder to drive to the net, he knocked the Islanders' Aho to the ice. But before falling, the Islanders' Aho knocked the puck away with his stick, eliminating the scoring chance.
Call the battle a draw.
"When 'Fishy' was driving to the net and hit him, that's hilarious," Jarvis said. "I love that."
The Hurricanes' Aho said he doesn't notice when the other Aho is on the ice with him. As a defenseman, though, the Islanders' Aho needs to be aware when a forward as skilled as Aho is out there.
"He's a key player for them, so, of course, you know when he's on the ice," the Islanders' Aho said. "But that's the same for everyone."
Jarvis insisted there's been no verbal confusion when the two Ahos are on the ice, despite opposing players having the same name and nickname.
"'Fishy,' he knows my voice I like to think," Jarvis said. "I work on my Finnish, too. The other Aho is Swedish, so he doesn't understand like we do."