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Jussi Jokinen Breaks Away

by Lonnie Herman / Tampa Bay Lightning
Jussi Jokinen finished the season with 14 points for the Lightning. Jokinen video

Jussi Jokinen never saw it coming.

Well, actually, there had been some rumors before Christmas, but those had ceased long ago. “Juice”, as he’s called, was taping his stick before the morning skate in St. Louis when Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett sent for him. He’d been playing very well, so Jokinen figured the coach wanted to discuss the upcoming game. But in the NHL, just as in real life, the world can change in a flash, especially at the trading deadline. When Tippett told him he had been traded to Tampa Bay as part of the Brad Richards deal, Jokinen was incredulous.

“It was a tough moment; a huge shock,” Jokinen recalled. After all, he had been part of the Dallas organization for seven years, since being drafted in the 6th round in 2001, and had been playing well. The team was preparing for the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Now, the post-season was not in his immediate future.

“Being out of the playoffs is the hardest part,” Jokinen said. “I’ve never been out of the playoffs in my life. Not in juniors, not in the NHL. Never.”

In short order, Jokinen was on his way to Tampa, along with Jeff Halpern and Mike Smith. There would be adjustments ahead, he knew, but adjustments had never proved troublesome for the kid from Finland. He had jumped directly from the Finnish League in ’05 to the Dallas Stars in ’06, posting 17 goals and 38 assists. That was a daunting adjustment which he took in stride. But this move meant different teammates, a different style of play and a different coach.

“The style here is totally different,” Jokinen said. “In Dallas, we play a modified trap and try to stay safe all the time; it’s more a puck position game, but here we go more north and south.

My strength is to play with the puck, use my hockey sense – be in the right place on the ice. But I have to get harder on the puck, win the physical battles. I need to win more battles for the puck.”

His new coach, Tortorella, agrees.

“I really don’t know who Jokinen is yet or how he fits,” Torts explained. “I haven’t made a decision. His strength is he has great puck skills in a small area, when he’s in a tight situation. ‘Juice’ has some offense to him but he needs to play harder with the puck.”

One skill which Jokinen has not been able to display yet is his dominance of the shoot-out. When he entered the league he tallied on his first nine attempts before finally missing, but continued on a torrid pace of success which constantly put Jokinen among the top players in shootout efficiency. Video of one of his shootout goals, vs. Boston in January, ’06, has been viewed on You tube more than 63,000 times.

His strength is he has great puck skills in a small area, when he's in a tight situation. - John Tortorella
“Four or five years ago, I wasn't that good at breakaways,” Jokinen said. “I didn't score that much. So I started practicing breakaways and shootouts.”

He succeeded so often that Dallas instituted an organized play on the power play which was designed to spring him on the breakaway. While most other shooters will have one or two moves at the most, Jokinen has a repertoire of three or four different breakaway moves which he can call on. It’s a skill Jokinen is anxious to show off to his new team and fans.

“Seventeen games here and no shootout,” Jokinen lamented. He did get free on a power play breakaway against Carolina on March 29th and faked goalie Cam Ward to the right while backhanding the puck into the twine.

So, as the season winds down, Jokinen concentrates on fitting in. Pursuing his hobby, golf, has already taken him to a few area courses, and most of the rest of his spare time is spent watching movies or on the internet, keeping up with events back home in Finland. He’s also looking ahead to next season, his first full year with the Lightning.

“I think we have a bunch of solid players here in the room,” Jokinen observed. “I think we can be a great team again next year.”

One thing for certain, he doesn’t plan on missing the post season two years in a row.

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