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Jokipakka turning heads on World Cup stage

by Evan Sporer @ev_sporer / CalgaryFlames.com

TORONTO, ON --  Jyrki Jokipakka is 25 years old, but in many respects, he still considers himself a student.

Luckily for Jokipakka, he has the right teachers in Calgary to show him the ropes.

Those guiding the way are the likes of Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, and Deryk Engelland -- talented, veteran defencemen who patrol the Flames blueline.

"Those guys, they work hard every day," Jokipakka said. "That's the one thing: You have to work hard every day. They are really good players, and I can learn a lot from them."

After being acquired by the Flames last year at the NHL trade deadline, Jokipakka skated in 18 of Calgary's final 19 games.

"I really liked my time in Calgary last year, and I'm excited to get back there," Jokipakka said. "We have a good young team, and a new coach, and it's a new start for everyone. Everyone is really excited to start the new season."

Part of that young core himself, Jokipakka is representing Finland at the 2016 World Cup in Toronto, a sign that his NHL greenness (109 games played over two seasons) hasn't held him back.

"He's a good player," said Mikael Backlund, at the tournament representing Sweden. "He's pretty poised with the puck, and a good skater for his size."

Though his schooling will continue once he gets to Calgary, class is already in session in Toronto, where Jokipakka is getting put through the paces by Finnish defence icons like Kimmo Timonen and Teppo Numminen, who played a combined 161 games for Finland's national senior team.

Those players, and the likes of Teemue Selanne and Jere Lehtinen are gone, making way for a new generation of Finnish hockey talent.

"Now it's time for these young guys to step up and play," Timonen said. "These guys are good players."

It's not just on Finland where youth is being served. Jokipakka is also part of a young core that's hoping to take the next step this season.

There are players like Sean Monahan (22) and Johnny Gaudreau (23) who have already accrued appreciable NHL experience, and have been in starring roles.

Dougie Hamilton (23) and Sam Bennett (20) are expected to continue to blossom. Along with a new goaltender in Brian Elliott, and a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan, there's a fresher feeling surrounding these Flames.

"It should be a good, better year for us," Backlund said. "Getting [Gulutzan] in there too should bring some energy after a tough year, and give everybody a fresh, new start. I'm excited about it all."

Backlund also said likes what he has seen thus far from Jokipakka.

"It was a good addition for our team," he said. "Watching him these first few games for Finland I thought he played with a lot of confidence. Hopefully he can build off this tournament and be a big part for us this year."

QUOTABLE

"My strength is moving the puck, and skating, and defending. I can help the team with offence. I can play an all-around game." - Jokipakka on his style of play

"To play against Swedes, you always want to win against them, and it's fun." - Jokipakka on the Sweden-Finland rivalry in international competitions

"Obviously now in Finnish hockey there's a transition going on. We go younger. We had a group of guys for years, almost 10 to 15 years, we knew each other. Teppu Numinen, and a bunch of other guys, we played so many tournaments together. But now it's time for these young guys to step up and play. These guys are good players. Obviously they haven't played many NHL games, but they've played in their own league, and they're going to be good players. There's not much we can say other than these are the Finnish best D so far, but we need more. That's the problem we have right now; there's not many D coming up right now." - Timonen on the youth on Finland's blueline

"He's a good, young player. He just needs experience and some good games, and he will be here for a long time. Obviously he's a good size, and he can skate pretty well. He sees the ice pretty well." - Timonen on Jokipakka's game

"It takes a little bit of time. I'm not saying you need to play a year or two in the minors to learn how to play this game, but you need some time. It is a total different game. You don't have that much time anymore with the puck. It's a lot more one-on-one battles with a bigger ice surface. From what I heard, and I saw a few games last year, he played pretty well in the minors. It is a good experience for him, but now it's another step. He has to take another step to make it to the NHL, but I'm sure this tournament will help, and he will get his chance for sure." - Timonen on Jokipakka's transition to the North American game

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