Skip to Main Content
The Official Site of the Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets' Finns looking forward to showing off home country

Kekalainen, Korpisalo excited for announcement of Helsinki games in NHL Global Series

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

"Tervetuloa Suomeen!" 

That message, which means "Welcome to Finland" in Finnish, will likely be said quite a few times as the Blue Jackets travel to Helsinki for a pair of games next season vs. Colorado, which the NHL announced Friday as part of its annual Global Series. 

Of course, Columbus should have plenty of tour guides for the trip. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen hails from the country, as do goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and defenseman Markus Nutivaara. The top farm team, Cleveland of the AHL, features Markus Hannikainen and Veini Vehvilainen, while Blue Jackets front office members Ville Siren and Jarkko Ruutu are further examples of the Finnish influence on the organization. 

For all of those who grew up in the Nordic country that borders Sweden to the east and Russia to the west, the chance to bring their team to their home country brings excitement and pride. 

"That's great news," said Korpisalo, who boasted a wide smile in the moments after the announcement. "That's something I've been thinking about a little bit watching the (Global Series) games. It's going to be awesome. Playing in front of my family and friends -- I live in Helsinki, so it's pretty cool." 

The Nordic country of fierce national pride sits on the northern edge of Europe, having declared its independence from Russia in 1917. Of the world's capitals, only Reykjavik is further north of Helsinki, the capital and largest city with a metro area of more than 1.4 million. With more than 160,000 lakes, the country is known for beautiful vistas over its more than 338,000 square kilometers of land.  

Kekalainen was sure to point out that it will be more than a tourism trip for the Blue Jackets, as four points will be at stake in the contests with the Avalanche. But at the same time, the Kuopio native -- whose father Kari and brothers Janne and Jari also played hockey -- knows the chance to take the organization to his home country is a unique opportunity, especially considering he's the first European-born NHL general manager in the league's history. 

"I get to go to Finland a lot, but some of these guys probably haven't been," Kekalainen said. "It'll be the first time for some of the guys, and I'm excited to introduce my home country to some of the guys that haven't visited and introduce it maybe a little better to some of the guys that have visited but only seen the hockey rink and the hotel. I think it'll be really great."  

It comes at a time where the Finnish influence in hockey has rarely been stronger. The country's men's team, which featured Vehvilainen, won the IIHF World Championships this past year as well as the Under-20 World Junior Championships. Even on the women's side, the country's national team finished second at last year's World Championships and would have won gold were it not for a controversial referring decision overturning a goal in overtime vs. the U.S. 

That World Juniors team was led by Kaapo Kakko, who went second overall in this summer's NHL draft to New York. He's one of the latest in a string of native Finns who have forced the NHL to take notice; a year ago, Florida's Aleksander Barkov, Colorado's Mikko Rantanen and Carolina's Sebastian Aho finished in the top 25 in the NHL in scoring, while Dallas' Miro Heiskanen staked his claim as one of the top young defensemen in the league and Boston goalie Tuukka Rask came within one game of again winning the Stanley Cup in net. 

Considering Finland has just 5.5 million people -- less than half the population of Ohio -- it speaks both to the passion for the sport in the country as well as the dedication to the craft. In Finland, the sport is passed down from fathers to sons much like it is in Canada and other hockey hotbeds across the world.  

"I think hockey is by far the No. 1 sport in Finland," Kekalainen said. "The NHL is the best league in the world and everybody watches it, everybody follows it in Finland. There are so many good Finnish players in the league, and we have some really good Finnish players on our team as well as Colorado has a star in Mikko Rantanen. It will be an exciting event for sure." 

The Blue Jackets have played overseas once, as the team skated in Stockholm for two games to kick off the 2010-11 season vs. San Jose.  

Meanwhile, Finland has previously hosted seven NHL regular-season games from 2009-18 as well as exhibition games dating back to 1981 when the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals played Finnish teams in Helsinki and Oulu.  

"Hockey is huge," said Korpisalo, whose father Jari spent 12 seasons playing in the country's top league, the Liiga. "It's like Canada, the No. 1 sport by far. Everyone follows hockey -- the NHL, the Finnish league. This doesn't happen very often where they get NHL teams in town for regular-season games. It's going to be a blast." 

View More