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Finnish support

by Todd Kimberley / Calgary Flames

CALGARY -- For the Calgary Flames' star Finnish duo of forward Olli Jokinen and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, their trip to the Pengrowth Saddledome on Tuesday was something extra special.

Jokinen and Kiprusoff were waving the blue and white, and stumpin' for Suomi, as their young Finnish countrymen took on the host Canadians in a World Junior Championship pre-tournament exhibition game in Calgary, bowing 3-0 before 10,756 fans.

Jokinen, a member of Finland's last World Junior Championship gold-medal team in 1998, even visited the Finnish locker room Tuesday afternoon to give a little pre-game pep talk.

"I told them there's going to be a lot of support from the Finnish NHL players and all the people who live here who are from Finland," Jokinen told reporters. "I remember myself, when I saw the NHL guys (12) years ago, I was pretty nervous, and some of those guys looked pretty nervous today when I went there.

"It brings a lot of memories back," added the 31-year-old center from Kuopio, Finland. "It was so long ago, you forget how big an event it was. But if I can help a little bit, to get them pumped up, and ready, I'm willing to help them."

Tuesday night's crowd got a first-hand look at the Willie Desjardins-coached Canadian entry that's gunning for a sixth straight World Junior title in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5.

Meanwhile, from Calgary's owners' suite, where Jokinen threatened to "paint my face, wave the Finnish flag, and be here rooting for them," the two member of the Flames watched goaltender Joni Ortio, a Calgary Flames draft choice, play a solid game between the pipes, stopping 21 of 24 shots.

The Finnish entry, led by head coach Hannu Jortikka, includes five players toiling in the ranks of Canadian major junior -- forwards Toni Rajala (WHL Brandon) and Matias Sointu (OHL Sudbury), defensemen Rasmus Rissanen (WHL Everett) and Jyri Niemi (WHL Saskatoon), and goaltender Petteri Simila (OHL Niagara).

For Jokinen and Kiprusoff, it was also a chance to walk down memory lane.

Kiprusoff, one of the NHL's elite goaltenders and a former Vezina Trophy winner, was a member of Team Finland in 1994-95, the year the World Junior tournament was held just up the road in Red Deer, Alberta.

"They gave us a tour of the (Flames' locker room) and the goalie had like three pairs of gloves, two sets of pads," Kiprusoff told the Calgary Herald. "I'm like, 'Oh my God, so cool.' "

As for Jokinen, he was part of the Finnish entry that captured gold during the 1997-98 season on home soil, when the tournament was held in Helsinki and Hameenlinna.

"That's a long time ago. I still feel I'm 18, though," said Jokinen, who, like Kiprusoff, was animated and jovial while discussing the subject. "Somebody pointed out it was 12 years ago, and I'm thinking, 'Aaaaaagh.'

"A lot of good memories," added Jokinen. "For your career, it's like the biggest thing at the time, to play and be part of it. For every young athlete like that, some guys getting drafted, some already drafted, it's like a dream come true to play for your country. It makes it even more special when you win, and we were able to do that my year.

"Before the tournament, all the media were saying we'd be lucky if we stayed in Pool A. They didn't give us a chance and we won every game, so it made it special."

By Wednesday, though, it was all business for Jokinen and Kiprusoff, whose Flames (20-11-4) had lost five of their past six and were preparing to face off against a surging St. Louis Blues (16-14-5) squad at the Saddledome during their final pre-Christmas test.

"Definitely, I'm going to be ready to get a win," said Jokinen. "Those kids are going to be watching us (Wednesday), so we've got to put a show on."

Author: Todd Kimberley | Correspondent

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