Janne Laukkanen’s face breaks into a wide grin as he ponders his return to Scotiabank Place for the first time in at least four years.
The din rattling through the building after an Ottawa Senators goal only helps fuel the memories that bounce through his head.
“It brings back very good memories,” said the former Sens defenceman, who is part of the coaching staff with the Karhu-Kissat Cats major peewee A/BB team that journeyed across the pond from Finland to take part in this weekend’s Bell Capital Cup. “I love to play here. The team was great, and the managers and coaches … they gave me a lot of confidence to play in the NHL.
“I can say (Ottawa) is like my second home.”
|Former Senators defenceman Janne Laukkanen is back in Ottawa this weekend with a Finnish team entered in the Bell Capital Cup (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images). |
So it has been a treat, indeed, for the 37-year-old Laukkanen to accompany a team of young Finnish boys – including his son, Matias – back to Ottawa for the world’s largest minor hockey tournament. The players were billeted with families in Ottawa, and Saturday night they found themselves in a Scotiabank Place suite, watching the Senators face off against the Washington Capitals.
“Everybody is so happy,” Laukkanen said of the team’s excursion. “The kids are staying with families and it’s been a great experience for them.
“The best thing I see is that the kids love it. There’s so much energy and they love to play here. It’s a great idea, a great experience for them.”
Laukkanen is listed as a trainer for this team and the major peewee AA Bears. But he calls himself a “fifth coach” for the Cats, who won their first three Bell Capital Cup games before falling to a powerful Gloucester Rangers team on Sunday morning.
“I try to make some smart moves, (pass along) some of the experience I had,” he said. “I want to make some progress for them and so far, so good.”
After starting his National Hockey League career with the Quebec Nordiques, the native of Lahti, Finland, was dealt to the Senators during the 1995-96 season. Laukkanen’s timing proved fortuitous – the Senators made the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time the next season, and they’ve been post-season participants ever since.
Laukkanen wore a Sens uniform for four-plus seasons, until he was shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the NHL trade deadline in 2000. He still harbours a fondness for the city and the team, and avidly follows the team on the Internet.
“There’s still I think seven guys I know (with the Senators), so I follow those guys,” said Laukkanen, who spent much of Saturday night’s game catching up with old friends. “Alfie (captain Daniel Alfredsson
), (Wade) Redden, (Chris) Phillips, (Shean) Donovan … I’m very happy for them. Alfie has had a really good season. I hope it continues and he can bring the Cup here. Then I would be very happy.”
And the ex-Senators blueliner expects to be smiling about their success come June.
“They have everything they need,” said Laukkanen. “In my honest opinion, I think they’re going to win the Cup this year.”
He doesn’t doubt for a second that the ultimate triumph would be savoured and celebrated by the fans in Hockey Country.
“The fans (in Ottawa) are great. They’ve always been great,” said Laukkanen, who guesses he last played here as a Penguin in 2003. “The best thing for me, when I played here, is (seeing how) the fans love the game … whenever you do something good, they cheer for you. It gives you more energy to play a great game.
“The atmosphere is great. I love it. Everyone loves it.”For all the latest tournament information and schedules, visit www.bellcapitalcup.ca.