On the 2nd of December, 2018, Helsinki will host the KHL's first ever open-air regular championship match, timed to coincide with and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the League and the 50th anniversary of the famous Finnish club, Jokerit. The opposition on this special day will be the reigning KHL champion, SKA Saint Petersburg, and KHL.ru has decided to mark the occasion by presenting you with a few fascinating facts about one of the most popular clubs in Finland.
The official date of the foundation of Jokerit is October 27, 1967, but the team's first gathered together on the10th of November the same year. The father of the club is acknowledged to be Aimo Makinen, a constructionmagnate who previously had interests in baseball. He bought out a debt-ridden hockey team by the name of Toolon Vesa, from which he formed Jokerit. The first taste of success came in 1973, when the team won the championship of Finland, which in those days rejoiced in the grand name of the Canada Cup. This was a high point in an era of hard times for the team, but the a sharp upturn in fortune occurred in the early 90s.
In February 1991 the then owner of the team (and later the President of the Finnish Hockey Federation), Kalervo Kummola, persuaded a well-known and popular businessman, Harry ”Hjallis” Harkimo, to invest in the club. This ushered in a golden era, during which the club won five league titles (1992, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2002), and then, in the 2014-15 season, the Jokers joined the KHL.Harkimo, whose relationship with the club stretches back more than 25 years, is still the Chairman of the Board of Directors.
At the time of Harkimo's arrival at Jokerit, the team - to put it mildly – was not exactly setting the hockey world ablaze. and in November 1991, thoughts turned to legendary Soviet forward and coach Boris Mayorov, who had already spent two seasons in charge of the team back in the 70s. The story behind the coach's return reads like a passage from a Le Carre spy novel. Boris Mayorov described the curious episode in an interview withSovietsky Sport:
”In the Summer of 1990, I traveled to see representatives of the Finnish club Lukko of Rauman. Their team hadstarted the season with five straight losses, so they wanted a change of coach, We talked, and we agreed all the terms. However, by the time I had arrived to take over they had won five games in a row. Understandably, they changed their minds about their staff, but they had no idea what to do with me. We agreed I would leave, but I would stay in touch. And then things began to resemble a spy novel. The next day, I was waiting at the Helsinkistation when two strangers approached me. One said, “Are you Mayorov?” I confirmed that I was, and one said, “We want you to come and coach our team, Jokerit.” The team was last in the standings, and 8 points adrift of the team above them. We immediately began to discuss financial terms, and by the 15th of November I had already started work in my new job.”
The club persuaded up-and-coming star, Teemu Selanne, to stay on for another year, and in the spring of 1992, under the guidance of Mayorov, the Jokers won their second Finnish Championship.
Mayorov had previously, albeit indirectly, helped Jokerit produce a rare season of good form during the wilderness years of the early 80s. Boris helped facilitate the transfer to Jokerit of Soviet defenseman Nikolai Makarov, a world champion in 1981 and the older brother of Toronto Hall-of-Famer Sergei Makarov. The move was a success: Nikolai had an outstanding season and helped the Jokers reach the final series, where they were defeated by their eternal rival, HIFK of Helsinki.
The club is understandably proud of the fact that the Finnish Flash, Hall-of-Famer Teemu Selanne, wore no other jersey than that of Jokerit while playing club hockey in his homeland. He made his debut in 1989, and bythe 1990-91 season was already the club's finest forward. A year later, at the age of 21, he was alternate captain under Boris Mayorov when he helped the team claim the Finnish Championship, after which he crossed the Atlantic to embark on a glittering NHL career, including a Stanley Cup triumph with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. Four years later, and still with Anaheim, he played in what must have been for him one of the mostemotional exhibition games, against his former club Jokerit in Helsinki. That evening, a packed Hartwall Arena was supporting just one player.
It is a curious fact that Jokerit has not, to date, retired Selanne's Number 8 jersey. The current list of unavailable numbers reads:5, 15, 17, 23, 24 and 91.
The retired number 5 belongs to Esa Tikkanen, who first donned the Jokerit jersey at the tender age of four – he was the team mascot. Three decades were to pass before he would wear the uniform again, in the 1999-2000 season, after finally calling time on an NHL career which saw him claim five Stanley Cups. Number 15 was worn by Henry Leppa, who played for Jokerit throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, clocking up 11 seasons in all. The number 17 adorned the jerseys of Timo Turunen, who played for the club from its inception, and Jari Kurri, who made his debut at the age of 17. Kurri played for the club for three seasons, before setting off for his glory years in the NHL, and is now General Manager of the club. Number 23 belonged to Petri Varis, the club's all-time leading scorer with 420 (200+220), points, while 24 was worn by Waltteri Immonen, the team's longest-serving captain.
Otakar Janecky, a native of Pardubice in the Czech Republic, arrived in Helsinki in 1991, just in time to become part of the championship-winning side, and he stayed on in Helsinki almost until the end of the century, becoming a firm favorite with the fans. Janecky's number 91 jersey has also been retired, and this season he was acknowledged as the finest player in the club's history. An indicator of the fans' love for the Czech forward is the fact that the club mascot has been christened “Otto,” the name by which Otakar was known during his years with the Helsinki Men.
This is not about Ryan Zapolski, whose shutout series in the current season has smashed so many records, but about Tim Thomas. In the late 90s, Thomas, seeking time off from trying to break into the NHL, came to Helsinki and played for HIFK. He returned to Finland during the 2004/05 lockout, but chose Jokerit, for whom he amassed 15 shutouts in under a season – a club record – before returning to North America, where he eventually tasted Stanley Cup glory with the Bruins.
Coach Erkka Westerlund first came to Jokerit in 1999 from HIFK, and the team won silver under his stewardship. After two seasons, he left to take charge of the Finland national team. In 2010, he returned for another two-season stint with the Jokers, but this time, success on the ice proved elusive. Then, after leading Team Finland to bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Westerlund came back for his third spell with the club, which was now a member of the KHL.
It was in Westerlund's third tour of duty with Jokerit that he put together one of the League's most excitingand memorable offensive lines. Fans called the Linus Omark – Petr Koukal – Steve Moses troika the LoKoMo Line. In its first year in the KHL Jokerit proved a formidable and combative force, and this line, while nominally the third, became widely feared as the sharpest weapon in the Jokerit arsenal. Moses even set a new KHL snipers' record of 36 goals in a season, although this was later surpassed by a certain Sergei Mozyakin.
From the moment Jokerit was born, its fiercest rival has been fellow Helsinki resident HIFK, and this crosstown rival has often gained the upper hand in contests between the two. Curiously, the upcoming match under open skies will not be Jokers' first, but their fourth, and the previous three were all against HIFK. On the 5th of February, 2011, Jokerit suffered a narrow 3-4 loss in front of a crowd of 36,644, then a European hockey record. The following year, the Jokers lost in the shootout (2-3), and again in regulation (1-2).