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Guy Behind the Guy: Finnish Homecoming a Hit

Monday, 10.11.2010 / 10:30 AM / Tracking the Storm
By Mike Sundheim
Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen sat side-by-side, barely trying to suppress their smiles with a half-dozen cameras pointed at them. Over the course of their hockey-playing careers, they’d faced reporters in press conferences before, but never quite like this.

Mike Sundheim
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As children, Jokinen and Pitkanen played youth hockey together, and off the ice they were good friends in Oulu, Finland. Surely they dreamed of playing professional hockey. Maybe they even envisioned playing on the same NHL team one day. But they couldn’t possibly have imagined the opportunity they had during the first week of October in 2010.

They were doing a press conference, together, after playing and winning an NHL game with the team they both play for. And the questions were in Finnish.

When the Hurricanes opened their season in Helsinki, Finland, it was an amazing opportunity for everyone involved. Players and staff had the opportunity to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, and Helsinki, Finland, places many of us never imagined we would go in our lifetimes. Players had the chance to spend time together, sharing brand-new experiences in unique settings to bond as a team. But there is no denying the trip was most special for three men on the Hurricanes’ charter plane: the three players returning to their home country with their NHL team.

Pitkanen and Jokinen, who grew up a six-hour car ride north of Helsinki, were the second and third stars of the Hurricanes’ 4-3 victory against the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 7. Tuomo Ruutu, who was born just outside Helsinki and still spends his summers there, earned second-star honors in Carolina’s 2-1 shootout win there the following day. The fact that all three Finnish Canes performed well in Helsinki was really just a bonus. The real prize what that the trio had a chance to introduce their teammates to their homeland and culture in a way none of them could have thought possible.

That meant trying reindeer meat, and tasting fresh smoked salmon. It meant enjoying everything the clean, modern city of Helsinki has to offer, from its architecture to its shopping.

It even meant sitting in 180° heat, then jumping into the 50° waters of the Gulf of Finland. Two days before the Hurricanes opened the season against the Wild, every player visited Sauna Island, a smoke-sauna paradise on one of the many islands in the waters outside of Helsinki. Perhaps no one custom defines Finland as much as its saunas – it is estimated that there are more than 2 million saunas in the nation with a population of about 5 million people.

The Hurricanes visited Sauna Island as guests of Ruutu, who is a member there. And although even Ruutu was slightly concerned for how his teammates would react to the unique customs of the Finnish Sauna, it was clear from the smiles afterward that the players-only excursion was a hit.

It was also clear the pride that Ruutu felt in seeing his teammates’ reactions to the culture of his home nation.

“Ever since they published that we were going to play (in Finland), I felt like the Carolina Hurricanes really wanted to come here and see our home country. I felt really honored that they wanted to do that,” Ruutu said in the locker room in Helsinki. 

“Everybody has been so open to try everything from the food to the sauna. And it felt good. This is where I’m from. This is where Joni and Jussi are from. We’re proud of where we are from. It’s so nice to feel that everyone liked it here.”

Clearly, the team’s decision to travel to Finland was worth it, even before the two wins.

Follow Mike Sundheim on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mikesundheim


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STANDINGS

[SSS_STANDINGS.METROPOLITAN_DIVISION_LABEL]
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
2 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
3 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
4 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
5 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
6 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
7 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
8 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 79 21 40 -13 61
J. Skinner 71 33 21 -14 54
A. Sekera 74 11 33 4 44
A. Semin 65 22 20 1 42
J. Staal 82 15 25 2 40
J. Faulk 76 5 27 -9 32
N. Gerbe 81 16 15 -6 31
J. Tlusty 68 16 14 2 30
R. Nash 73 10 14 0 24
P. Dwyer 75 8 14 -2 22
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Khudobin 19 14 1 .926 2.30
C. Ward 10 12 6 .898 3.06
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