After missing the first half of the season with an injury, Islanders forward Jesse Joensuu is with the team as it embarks on a trip to the Sunshine State to face the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. When Joensuu finally sees his first game action, it will not only mark the final step in his recovery from sports hernia surgery, but also his much-anticipated return to the organization that drafted him.
Taken 60th overall in 2006 by the Islanders, Joensuu moved to North America to play for the Sound Tigers in 2008, when Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano was head coach for the Islanders’ farm team.
“It was oil and water to start,” Capuano said of their relationship. “He’ll be the first to tell you that. A long time ago he had to figure out who he was and how he has to play.’
In Joensuu, Capuano saw a large frame, perfect for grinding in corners and planting firmly in front of opposing goalies. Joensuu prided himself on playing a more skilled game and initially had trouble adjusting to the AHL’s physical play.
“I just felt like Cappy was on me the whole time,” Joensuu said. “But as time went on, I can’t believe those moments in the beginning, considering how the situation is totally different now. I was with him almost the whole three years and I guess you just have to earn his respect and work hard.”
The two had a tumultuous relationship for a few seasons, as Joensuu struggled to adjust to Capuano’s expectations.
“Coming from Europe I thought I had to play a certain kind of game and Cappy didn’t expect that from me,” Joensuu said. “I’m a stubborn person and I just kept that in my mind, that I’m going to do what I want and I’m going to prove him wrong.”
Ironically, it took playing in Sweden for Joensuu to embrace the more physical, North American style that Capuano had been preaching. Joensuu played the 2011-12 season for HV71 in the Swedish Elite League.
“You can still make a really good career playing in a different kind of role,” Joensuu said. “When I went to Sweden I was able to play with great guys, but I was the one that was doing the hard work and not that much finesse play. I hope I can bring that here too.”
Joensuu brought his grinding game to this past year’s IIHF World Championship, finishing the tournament with five points (2g, 3a) in nine games. He also scored one of the tournament’s most memorable goals, which came in the final seconds in regulation to eliminate the United States in the quarterfinals.
“I hadn’t scored any goals before in my entire international career and then I got two in the quarterfinals,” Joensuu said. “That was special. There were a lot of downfalls in my career between getting sent down and not scoring. I feel like I earned those goals. It was definitely special that I got them in that game and it was something positive in my career.”
After what he saw in Joensuu’s play last season and in practice, Capuano is convinced that the now-power forward has adapted to using his body the way the coach had initially hoped.
“He brings size and net presence while grinding teams down,” Capuano said. “He goes to the net. He gets pucks deep and over the last couple of years has had a lot of success playing that way.”
Joensuu understands his role now and, finally back from injury, is eager to prove that on the ice with the Islanders.
“I’m at my best when I can be physical and play aggressively. Try to win pucks for our team and try to drive pucks to the net and be tough to play against that way,” Joensuu said.
Now more than six weeks after surgery, Joensuu is ready to return to the lineup and prove on-ice just how much he’s embraced his new style and how well his relationship with Capuano has blossomed.