The chief manager of Jokerit Helsinki and outstanding forward of past years told our website what the Gazprom Neft Cup means for the Finnish club.
Interviewer: How important is it to you that the Jokerit juniors are taking part in such a major tournament as the Gazprom Neft Cup?
J.K.: The Jokerit youth club operates under the auspices of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association, which tries to let children play hockey as close to home as possible. But, at the same time, Jokerit plays in the KHL and this tournament gives the children’s team a chance to join the KHL community and play in the Gazprom Neft Cup. Our boys have the best of both worlds!
I: How important is it for young sportsmen to take part in competitions like this?
J.K.: A long-term outlook is fundamental to the way we do youth hockey training at Jokerit. This is a chance for the boys to gain unforgettable tournament experience, which will boost their motivation and make them even more committed to achieving their dream.
I: Can you spot a future star among the 11-year-old players?
J.K.: You can’t predict the future of an 11-year-old player — that’s a proven fact. It’s hard enough when they are older. Every year, 4 goalkeepers and 40 field players are selected for Finland’s Under-16 team. Only three or four on average make the Under-20s. It’s already an achievement to make the U-20s, but you still have a long way to go to become a star.
The moral qualities I’d like to see in an 11-year-old are motivation, passion about the game, leadership qualities, and ability to cope with failure. As regards sports ability, of course, there has to be a general level of physical fitness and a good range of hockey skills. Skating is the key skill, of course.
I: What is special about the way you train young players in Finland?
J.K.: I think everyone will agree — there are lots of different ways to the top. But they all have a lot in common. We aim for a high-class structure by using a development model that works on as many key growth factors as possible. Again, there are a lot of different ways of training within such model to achieve the best results. There are a lot of important skills to consider: skating, game thinking, skills on the puck, physical fitness, and so on, and adults have to help the players with each of these. It’s very important to get the right balance of skills and teaching methods.
I: Finland won the 2016 World Junior Championship. Do you have strong young players coming through?
J.K.: The tournament was a success in lots of ways. Finland took gold. That was of huge importance for us. We are a small country with fewer players than most other top countries. This success proves that we are doing things right.
I: What is the most vivid sporting memory of your youth?
J.K.: I have lots of good memories, but most of all, of course, the Finnish championships and trips to Canada and Germany.
I: What are your wishes for the Jokerit juniors and all of the players in the Gazprom Neft Cup?
J.K.: Enjoy yourselves, play hard and soak up the experience! The best way to compare yourself with others is to give it everything you’ve got in every period.