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by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE – Defenseman Sami Lepisto returned to the Coyotes on Monday, about 36 hours after winning a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Lepisto is the first Coyotes player to win an Olympic medal since 2002, when Danny Markov won bronze with Russia.

Sami Lepisto proudly displays the bronze medal he won at the Winter Olympics. (Photos by Dave Vest.)
Lepisto brought his medal, which he and his Finnish teammates earned by beating Slovakia 5-3 on Saturday night in Vancouver, with him to Coyotes practice, and he received much-deserved pats on the back from teammates, coaches and observers.

“It was fantastic,” Lepisto said after being asked to describe his experience. “The weather was beautiful there and it was good to see all the other athletes. The (Olympic) village was pretty cool. The whole atmosphere at the city was amazing.”

Lepisto played in all six of Finland’s Olympic games. He averaged 15:37 of ice time, took six shots on goal and notched one assist. Finland rallied to win the bronze medal by outscoring Slovakia 4-0 in the third period of the bronze-medal game.

Lepisto, a first-time Olympian at age 25, said winning the medal was gravy.

“We went there to win the gold, of course, but I wanted to make it fun and it was fun,” Lepisto said. “It was very much fun. And we got the medal, too, so it was perfect.”

Lepisto’s mother and father flew to Vancouver from the Netherlands and Finland, respectively, to watch him compete on the global stage. Sunday was his father’s 50th birthday. They celebrated by flying to Phoenix together; his father plans to watch him play a few NHL games this week.

Lepisto is having a good season. He’s already played a career-high 55 NHL games, scored his first NHL goal, and has earned an Olympic medal.

“I can’t complain,” Lepisto said with a smile. “I get to play in the NHL and now the Olympics. It’s a dream come true from when I was a little boy. But now we have 19 games left here, and I’m happy and pumped to go back to work. I can’t wait to play again.”

Lepisto and the Coyotes will resume their season on Tuesday night with a home game vs. the St. Louis Blues.

Phoenix also was represented at the 2010 Olympics by Ilya Bryzgalov (Russia) and Zbynek Michalek (Czech Republic), both of whom advanced to the quarterfinal round. The Coyotes will congratulate all three of their Olympians during Tuesday’s game, as well as David Backes and Erik Johnson of St. Louis. Backes and Johnson earned silver medals playing for the United States.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check back to later this week to watch a video of Lepisto discussing his experience at the Olympics in greater detail.
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