The man is driven.
Look at him these next few weeks. He’s in better shape than ever before. He’s walking with a chip on his shoulder. He’s so driven to succeed he spent nearly the entire off-season sprinting, lifting, skating and stretching. He flew in a coach from Finland to lead informal practices over the summer. He opened his home to sponsors and teammates to make sure they felt part of the team.
To put it succinctly, Panther captain Olli Jokinen isn’t kidding around.
“This is the year we’re going to all step it up,” he says. “This is the year we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
This isn’t false bravado on Jokinen’s part. From nearly the moment the 2006-07 season ended, Jokinen, who posted career-highs in goals (39), assists (52) and points (91), has been on a mission with a core group of other Panthers.
It’s the playoffs or bust, and Jokinen, the man wearing the ‘C,’ is driving the bus. The way Jokinen sees it, it’s his job to pull this team together, and there’s no question about his role this season. There are no veterans to defer to with Stanley Cup rings. No prima donna free agents.
Jokinen, called the “unknown superstar” recently by TSN and the ‘Terminator’ by defenseman Mike Van Ryn, is large and in charge.
“This is the year I have to step up and be a better leader,” he says. “And some other guys have to step it up as well, guys who have been in the league four, five years. They can’t use the excuse anymore of being young guys. They’ve been here long enough.”
Jokinen believes a captain must “pull a team together.”
“You want to make sure everyone feels comfortable,” he said. “You try to help guys out and it’s very important to get a chemistry going.”
Jokinen started working on chemistry two weeks after the season ended. The captain and several players worked in the BankAtlantic Center weight room and at a local track with strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien. Later in the summer, Jokinen flew in Finnish coach Vesa Surenkin to lead the Panthers through demanding, informal practices at IncredibleIce.
One of the players working with Jokinen during parts of the summer was defenseman and former Harvard captain Noah Welch.
“If you look at great leaders they are who they are,” Welch said. “They’re guys you want to follow. I can stand on a chair and scream, ‘Follow me. Follow me.’ But if I can’t back it up…
“In Olli’s case, I worked out with him for a couple weeks with Andy and then he set up the stuff at (IncredibleIce). This is a guy who’s been in the league for a while, and he’s out here with young guys doing track work two weeks after the season. I don’t know how many veterans, established players, are doing sprints and working like that.”
Jokinen believes building chemistry had to begin early.
“Sometimes it takes three or four months before you even know your teammates because the first month of training camp is crazy and then you start playing and don’t even think about your teammates,” he said. “It’s better to build chemistry early. We did a lot of team dinners last year. This year it’s going to be a lot more. You don’t want to overdo it, but you want to have team bonding.”
Jokinen also knows the most important part of being a captain is leading by example.
“If you work your (butt) off every day, that’s leadership,” he said. “You don’t need a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ or any letter on your chest to work hard. I’ve been lucky enough to play with good leaders like Rob Blake, Scott Mellanby, Luc Robitaille and Russ Courtnall. All these guys led different ways. But I was lucky enough to be on the same team with those guys and I watched what they were doing. They all did some things differently, but they all led by example.”
Ville Peltonen, Jokinen’s teammate with the Panthers and Team Finland, believes Jokinen is well schooled on what it takes to be a captain.
“The most important part is what happens on the ice,” Peltonen said. “If your team has chemistry, if you block shots for your teammates, you’re going to get along off the ice, too. It’s about leading by example.”
Yes, Jokinen agreed, leading by example.
“It’s something you have to do every day,” he said.
A role he’s ready to fulfill.