VANCOUVER -- Jussi Parkkila is making history this season with the Colorado Avalanche.
The 40-year-old native of Tampere, Finland, is the first European goaltending coach to work in the NHL without any playing experience in the League.
"It's always been my dream even if I've never said it out loud," said Parkkila, who also is the first full-time goaltending coach in Avalanche history. "It's fantastic, but I never took it for granted. All the pieces have to fall to places for something like this to happen. … Is the time right for the first Finnish goalie coach? I was lucky to have this opportunity, but it didn't come easy, there hasn't been red carpet on my career anywhere. I've worked a lot to make all things happen."
Parkkila isn't the first goaltending coach from Europe to work in the NHL. Arturs Irbe, who coached two seasons with the Washington Capitals and one with the Buffalo Sabres, and Johan Hedberg, who is on Peter DeBoer's staff with the San Jose Sharks, each had a long NHL playing career.
NHL playing experience isn't required to become a goaltending coach in the League -- recently retired Francois Allaire, semi-retired Mitch Korn and Ian Clark, who has been with the Columbus Blue Jackets since 2011, are but a few examples -- but that had been the case for Europeans prior to Parkkila.
It's a bit of a mystery given the success of Finnish goaltenders in the NHL the past 15 years and how much of it has been linked to their position-specific national coaching programs.
"Not even in the minors or anything, to me that is a little surprising because for years and years there have been good Finnish goalies," said Pekka Rinne, a native of Kempele, Finland, who has played 558 games for the Nashville Predators in 12 seasons. "It's great, though. I think it is going to open a lot of doors because I know for a fact there is a lot of interest from younger goalie coaches."
Parkkila, who coached 12 seasons in professional leagues in Russia, Finland and Austria, heard rumblings of NHL job opportunities before.
Semyon Varlamov, the No. 1 goalie for the Avalanche, worked with Parkkila with Yaroslavl in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2007-08. He publicly touted Parkkila in the past, but no job offers emerged before this season.
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Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, a native of Savonlinna, Finland, who worked with Parkkila as a teenager in the Ilves Tampere system, said he thinks Parkkila's decision to work in Russia rather than pursuing jobs in junior or the minor leagues of North America may have slowed his path to the NHL.
"I know it was his goal from the beginning, but as a young European goalie coach, it's really not that easy to make it here," said Rask, who won the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL in 2013-14. "He always wants to get better, he's always trying to find ways to make goalies better. He's very passionate about his job and he's been learning a lot from different goalies. Those are the keys."
Differing playing styles may have been a barrier. There tends to be a lot more east-west passing in Europe, especially in the KHL, where Parkkilla coached for five seasons, compared to the direct attacks of the NHL.
"Just talking with Jussi and the Finnish goalie model, we were really confident in his background and the coaching ability he has," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "For me, the one thing I wanted to talk to him about was net play, because in the NHL, players are right on top of your guy and the way to score goals in this league is to come to the net hard and there is always a lot of pressure on the goalies physically and scrambles in front.
"Once we talked about that and the plan and how he feels about that aspect of the North American game, we were pretty comfortable with him and we're really happy with the hire. Just because no one has done it in the past doesn't mean we should steer away from that. We felt he was our guy."
Parkkila didn't worry about adjusting to the NHL style of play.
"Yes, the game is different, but you are watching the goalies, focusing in on the goalies," Parkkila said.
Parkkila hopes there will be more opportunities in the NHL for goaltending coaches from Europe. He realizes he is something of a trailblazer, having also been the first Finland-born coach hired in Russia, where he worked with Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina winner in 2013 and 2017.
"Of course, there is always pressure to get good results, but I am confident in myself and you have to show to everyone you can do it, earn trust," Parkkila said. "Here, it's just hope some other people get future chances too, hopefully give some positive things about coaches in Sweden or Finland and they can try to dream big too."
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