Kimmo Timonen caps career with first championship

Tuesday, 06.16.2015 / 1:14 AM
Arpon Basu  - Managing Editor

CHICAGO -- Kimmo Timonen's past opportunities to experience the thrill of winning a championship didn't turn out the way he wanted. This one erased all the disappointments.

When Patrick Kane scored to give the Chicago Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, it became clear Timonen was going to win the first championship of his career.

The weight of the moment caused Timonen to break down on the bench.

"I was crying a little bit," Timonen said moments after raising the Stanley Cup for the first time. "There were tears coming out of my eyes because I knew that it was going to be … two goals against this team, it was going to be hard to score. I knew we had a really good chance to win it."

The veteran defenseman previously played in the Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers against the Blackhawks, the Olympic final, the IIHF World Championship final, and the World Cup of Hockey final. He lost them all.

Timonen was a key piece of each of those teams that came as close to victory as possible without winning. On the Blackhawks, Timonen was a role player, getting limited minutes on defense and serving more as a morale booster on the bench and in the dressing room.

But that doesn't matter now. At age 40 and at the finish line of a remarkable career, Timonen is a champion.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told Timonen on Monday morning that he would be the first one to receive the Stanley Cup, so he had all day to prepare. But when Timonen got it, he was far too eager to give it to the next person in line and his teammates had to push him away so he could take a skate around United Center.

For all the experience Timonen gathered over his long career, this was one area where he was a rookie.

"I didn't know what to do with it," Timonen said. "I didn't know you could go around the rink with it. It was my first time. I played this game a long time and battled hard for years. I've been on the losing side of the story so many times that I know guys realize that. They know that I'm going to retire. This was my last game, my last time with skates on. The respect level goes both ways."

The thought of Timonen skating with the Stanley Cup raised above his head would have been inconceivable a few months ago, when his primary concern was not how heavily he was breathing on the ice, but just breathing, period.

When he was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs in August, playing hockey again was the furthest thing from his mind. But as his recovery began pushing into December, Timonen permitted himself to think about this situation.

"I'm living in a dream," Timonen said. "Where I left in August and I'm standing here, it's crazy. It's crazy what I went through. There's a risk involved obviously, but I wanted to do it. It was totally up to me and I wanted to take that chance, to have one more chance."

Without having played a game this season, Timonen was traded by the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline to the Blackhawks, which he figured to make that one last chance at a Stanley Cup a pretty good one. But it hasn't been easy.

Timonen had to shake off a year's worth of rust on the fly, against NHL players at a time of year when the pace begins to ramp up as the Stanley Cup Playoffs approach. And in the back of his mind was the considerable health risk he decided to take.

"It's been a long journey, I can tell you that," Timonen said. "Last August I didn't know if I could play anymore, but my desire was so deep inside that I wanted to give it one more shot. But obviously doctors said, 'Hold on boy.'

"But I just had to have so many meetings to get to this level. I don't really know what to say; it's been unreal."

Timonen needed his wife, Johanna, and three children to sign off on his return to the NHL, and his wife spoke to the doctor herself before she gave her blessing. Even then, she could not bring herself to watch Timonen's games, preferring to send him a text message afterward.

"[To make sure] that I'm alive," Timonen said.

Johanna Timonen made an exception Monday; she was in the arena to watch her husband’s ultimate professional achievement in person.

Timonen did not arrive at his championship moment the way he had for most of his career. He was a top-pairing defenseman for the 2010 Flyers, who reached the Final before losing in six games, and was always a key member of Finland's national team whenever he represented his country.

But with the Blackhawks, Timonen received shifts sparingly and spent long stretches on the bench, if he was in uniform at all. It's a different role, but one he embraced with his trademark good humor.

"I just want to make sure the water bottles are full of water," Timonen said with a smile. "But, no, I just try to be part of the team and be positive. If guys make a good play, say 'Good job' and that kind of stuff. It is a great team sport and I'm part of the team.

"Not as big a part as I used to be, but I'm still there."

Timonen contributed to the Blackhawks' success by mentoring Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen, who solidified their secondary scoring while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane took some time to get going in the Final.

Teravainen, 20, is half Timonen's age, and Timonen's presence on the Blackhawks helped the rookie's adjustment to the NHL.

"He's been like a second dad for me right now because my real dad is far, far in Finland," Teravainen said. "Just helping with some little things. Just a lot of experience, just great to have him here."

It's been the same for the young defensemen who spend a lot of time on the bench alongside Timonen, with the top four of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya playing the majority of the minutes.

Timonen does not act as a second coach on the bench, preferring instead to serve as more of a cheerleader.

"He's just a great guy, a positive influence," Blackhawks rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. "He's always keeping it positive on the bench even when things are going a little bit tougher over the course of the game, going through ups and downs. He's always staying positive and keeping the morale up.

"He's not overly vocal. He just knows when to say certain things. He's learned that over his great career."

It's a career Timonen might have considered incomplete before, but won't now. This was his final NHL game, and his last NHL moment was to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time.

A career that spanned 16 seasons, 1,108 NHL regular-season games, 105 NHL playoff games, 272 games in Finland's top pro league, and more than 100 games internationally for his country came to a perfect end Monday.

"I leave this game as a Stanley Cup Champion," Timonen said. "I can't ask for anything more than that."

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