International Ice Hockey Federation

Jortikka’s big challenge

Jortikka’s big challenge

Finnish coach looking for scoring solutions

Published 29.12.2014 12:44 GMT-5 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Jortikka’s big challenge
MONTREAL, CANADA - DECEMBER 27: Finland's head coach Hannu Jortikka follows the play from the bench during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
There’s a joke about Finnish men and their silent ways that definitely does not apply to Hannu Jortikka, the head coach of the 2015 World Junior team.

Two Finnish guys are sweating in a hot sauna. After two hours of silence, one says: “Man, it’s hot in here!” Two hours later, the other guy says: “Boy, you sure are chatty today.”

Jortikka, a 58-year-old Turku native, isn’t shy about expressing his opinions. Perhaps that’s a by-product of confidence born from experience.

Including this year, he’s coached the national U20 squad six times at the World Juniors. The highlight was winning Finland’s first gold medal ever in Czechoslovakia in 1987. He also claimed the bronze in 1988 in the Soviet Union.

This year, things aren’t looking so good for the Finns after two straight 2-1 losses to the U.S. (in a shootout) and Slovakia. The defending champions need to get their offence going with Monday’s showdown against undefeated host Canada coming up.

“[Slovak goalie Denis] Godla played good, but I think the problem was more our scoring,” Jortikka told “We had so many empty nets. Maybe the concentration wasn’t as high as you need in this level. Every game is very tough at this level. Look at Russia-Denmark [a 3-2 shootout win for the favoured Russians]. There are no easy games in this tournament.”

Despite having 2014-drafted NHL prospects like captain Artturi Lehkonen (Montreal) and puck-moving defenceman Julius Honka (Dallas), the Finnish power play has failed to click so far with 10 man advantages.

“We must think about it,” Jortikka told “It’s clear we don’t have the team together. Maybe we must change the unit and find something.”

Last year, playmaking centreman Teuvo Teravainen sparked the Finnish attack. With 15 points, he became the first Finn to sit alone atop the tournament scoring race since Esa Keskinen (1985). His linemate Saku Maenalanen was third with 11 points. It’s a different-looking Finnish team this year.

“You know, everybody must understand that every tournament is only one tournament and you either have the players or you don’t,” Jortikka said. “In Finland, we have about 30 players [for me to choose from]. Some years we have two good goalies, one super centreman. That’s it.”

Mikko Rantanen, a TPS Turku product who’s making his World Junior debut at 18, is the only Finn who has lit the red lamp in Montreal. Jortikka expects more.

“Rantanen had only one goal all season in Finland, and now he has two goals,” noted the coach who won six Finnish championships with TPS. “Of course, I’m waiting for [Kasperi] Kapanen, Lehkonen, and [Aleksi] Mustonen. They score in the Finnish league, and they must score here too. It’s clear.”

Reportedly, one change against the Canadians will involve Kapanen moving to the second line, with Juuso Ikonen taking his place on the top line.

Like Canadian coach Benoit Groulx, Jortikka also faces some interesting decisions in terms of which of his two top goalies will start in the playoff round.

Juuse Saros looked a bit weak on Slovakia’s winning goal by Matus Holenda, but he proved himself last year as the tournament’s all-star netminder, carrying Finland past host Sweden in the final. Meanwhile, Ville Husso faced more rubber against the Americans, and has amassed a 2.14 GAA and 92.0 save percentage with IFK Helsinki this season, better numbers than Saros has posted.

If the Finns regain their 2014 form and march to gold again, the scenario will be very different from Jortikka’s first World Junior title in 1987. That tournament is primarily remembered for the infamous “Piestany Punch-up,” where a bench-clearing brawl led to the disqualification of both Canada and the Soviet Union. But if you bring up those circumstances with Jortikka, he gets a little combative himself, and points out that the Finnish accomplishment needs to be appreciated in both a historical and mathematical context.

“We had a medal, and why not?” said Jortikka. “If there’s that kind of fight, I don’t feel sad for Canada or Russia. Everybody must understand that the name of the game was that Canada must win with four goals. Is it so easy at that time to beat Russia with four goals? We beat Czechoslovakia in Nitra, and we came back to Piestany. We had the silver medal [already]. We knew that Canada had to win with four goals. When I look at the rosters, Russia had an unbelievably good team.”

Point well-taken, sir.

Jortikka spent the last three seasons coaching in Russia, spending 2011-12 and 2012-13 with Amur Khabarovsk before jumping to Admiral Vladivostok for part of last season. Now his attention is fully fixed on the juniors, especially with the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship coming to Helsinki. Jortikka is under contract for that tournament too, and it’ll be the sixth time the Finnish capital has hosted, an all-time record.

For the Finnish team, the pressure isn’t going to let up, either in Canada or in Finland. What is Jortikka telling his young players?

“I’ve coached before in Helsinki and Turku in the World Juniors,” said Jortikka. “It’s not so easy for the young guys with the pressure. But it’s a question of being yourself and enjoying the whole time of playing here. I say to them: ‘Enjoy this week in Montreal. This could be one of the best weeks in your hockey career. When you are older, you’ll have good memories, on the ice or outside too.’ That’s experience for life.”


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