Finnish newspaper reporter Tommi Koivunen, who covers the Seattle Kraken and all of the NHL for the Ilta Sanomat (“the evening news”) newspaper, has a huge responsibility. Keep track and write about as many of the 35 or so regular NHL players from Finland as possible.
During the hockey season, it pretty much means working every single day.
“One off day a week, but it often doesn’t work out that way, especially during the playoffs,” Koivunen told us.
All told, 50 different Finnish players made it into the NHL for some length of time this past season.
Koivunen is just wrapping up his first full year in the gig.
“I believe we’ve had this position at the paper since 1996,” he said, “so it’s the longest streak in Europe, and I don’t think there’s that many European writers over here. It’s a nice tradition that we’ve had and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.”
The concept makes a lot of sense considering about 30% of the NHL is made up of Europeans. Swedes, Finns, and Russians make up the largest portion.
Per Bjurman writes quite a bit about hockey for the Swedish Aftonbladet newspaper while based as a correspondent in New York, and occasionally European TV crews will pop up, particularly in the latter stages of the playoffs.
Swedish Kraken center Alexander Wennberg says it’s unusual to run into media from his country, other than in New York when playing the Rangers and occasionally in Los Angeles or Anaheim.
“Not a lot of pressure,” Wennberg told us after the season, “I feel like the media there, it’s not more about pressure, it’s more about excitement and joy about the game, which I think is really nice. Obviously you have different places in Canada like Toronto where there’s more pressure, to me I like it a little calmer.”
Koivunen is Vancouver based, again, following part of a tradition set by his predecessors. Those that came before him have set up base in either Ontario or in British Columbia.
“I really didn’t realize how far it is from the East coast, but my boss was here in North America three times in two-year stints and he was twice in Vancouver,” Koivunen explained. “Another reporter stayed in Vancouver in 2013 and ’14. A couple of others were in Toronto.”
Ironically, there are no Finns on the Canucks.
“Aatu Raty was traded (to Vancouver) from the Islanders (in January), he maybe played eight on nine games,” Koivunen points out. “Still a minor league player.”
It means using Rogers Arena as a base to speak with other Finns as they come in on other NHL teams. It also means popping down to Seattle to do the same thing at Climate Pledge Arena and to speak with forward Eeli Tolvanen.
“Great story. He was maybe, I think 18 or 19 and played for Jokerit in the KHL in Finland and he scored a lot of goals and he was the young phenom after Patrik Laine,” Koivunen says of Tolvanen, who the Kraken acquired off waivers from the Nashville Predators this past December. “He was very much spoken about and he played in the 2018 Olympics, that was quite good also, because it was without the NHL players.”
Tolvanen was the center of attention in the Finnish hockey world then, a focus that followed him to North America along with great expectations. He was the 1st-round pick of the Predators, 30th-overall, in 2017.
“He was such a big name at 18, 19, he got a lot of media attention, I think he could have easily gotten fed up at some point,” Koivunen adds.
“There’s the Finnish media, always put something out, but I don’t really read about that stuff and I really don’t think that’s going to help you as a player to read about the media stuff,” Tolvanen told Seattle Hockey Insider at the end of the season. “Definitely there’s always pressure, I put pressure on myself too, to be the best player I can be, but that’s it.”
The recent change did Tolvanen good. After drifting and not producing consistently in Nashville, he hopped into the Kraken line-up at New Years and ended up with 16 goals and 11 assists in 48 games.
“The story’s been great and as we’ve seen he’s … I think when he was younger he was known only for his shot, but now he’s quite a complete player and he’s on a line with (Yanni) Gourde and they’ve been working very well together,” Koivunen said.
Koivunen doesn’t pull for one team or another, but certain situations and content opportunities are better than others. When the Kraken faced the Stars in the 2nd-round, Dallas had a 6-to-1 Finn advantage.
“To be honest, yeah for sure,” Koivunen said. “For me, it doesn’t matter who wins or not, but if you compare those two teams, Dallas for me, a lot more to write about, and also the public interest is higher than Seattle, so yeah.”
That Western Conference round worked out well. This next one, not so much. The Vegas Golden Knights, up three games to none on Dallas, do not have a player from Finland on the roster. Neither did the Edmonton Oilers.
Meanwhile, matters shape up a bit better for coverage in the Eastern Conference.
“Already in the east we have Carolina with five Finns, Florida with three Finns, so that’s at least three guys in the Stanley Cup Final,” Koivunen pointed out. “It would be a cool story if Dallas went through because Carolina has (Sebastian) Aho as a number-one center, Florida has (Aleksander) Barkov, and Dallas has (Roope) Hintz, so that’s three Finnish number-one centermen in the conference finals. Cool story.”
Speaking of Hintz, Koivunen’s favorite feature this season was about the Dallas Star.
“I did a really big story on him this year, probably spoke to him for 45 or 50 minutes and then spoke to several of his coaches and opponents and teammates,” Koivunen stated. “It’s probably the story I’m most proud of this year, at least it’s one of the best stories I’ve done.”
Koivunen lists star winger Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche as one of his favorites to speak with, at least up until his club lost to the Kraken in the playoffs. That made it a bit tougher for the talkative star from the municipality of Nousiainen.
“He’s the best player at the moment so there’s a lot of media interest on him,” Koivunen said. “He’s good with media also. He’s a really easy guy to work with even though he did a lot of (playoff) media, which for sure might get frustrating for players.”
Aside from all of the aforementioned big names, the Columbus Blue Jackets garner a bit of extra attention with Laine playing there, now a seven-year NHL veteran at age-25, coupled with the league’s lone Finnish GM Jarmo Kekäläinen.
Time To Fly
Off he goes. The Eastern Conference Final is working out well for Tommi. There are direct flights from Vancouver to Miami, not so much from Vancouver to Raleigh, North Carolina.
With the Dallas Stars close to being bounced on Thursday night, Koivunen has turned his attention east. He’s in attendance in the press box in Florida on Wednesday evening for Game-4.
He’ll be at the Stanley Cup Final regardless of the participants, working hard and serving the needs of the hockey fans back in his native land.