In one of Olli Jokinen’s final seasons as an NHL player, Paul Maurice was hired as the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets.
Although Jokinen played in all 82 games for the Jets that season — and was extremely productive with 18 goals and 43 points — Maurice asked Jokinen what he wanted to do when his career ended.
According to Jokinen, Maurice wondered if he had ever thought about getting into coaching.
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In 2014, Jokinen signed a free agent contract with Nashville.
He ended up being traded twice in what would be his final NHL season, playing in 62 games for the Predators, Toronto and St. Louis.
Jokinen, for the first time in his early days with the Los Angeles Kings, found himself a healthy scratch at times, watching games from the press box.
Maurice’s words stuck with him.
Yeah, Jokinen thought, coaching is something I could get into.
Instead of just hanging out and eating popcorn on the nights he wasn’t in the lineup, Jokinen was observing not only what his team was doing but what the opponent was doing as well.
“Paul Maurice asked me if I had ever thought about coaching and, to be honest, that wasn’t something I wanted to hear as a player,” said Jokinen, who spent seven seasons with the Panthers from 2000-08 and, upon being traded to the Coyotes, was the team’s all-time leading scorer.
“He planted the seed. I was an assistant captain, so I was dealing with the coaches all the times. He taught me to start looking at things from a coaches’ perspective. That offseason, I started thinking about it. I was realistic. I knew I was not going to play that much longer, so what would be next?
“That’s when I came up with the idea started for the academy. I was on three different teams that year, I wasn’t getting a lot of ice time and was a healthy scratch for the first time in many years. I wanted to play, but this made it easier to be in the press box. I was taking notes. I was studying the game and preparing for a life after playing hockey. I soaked in as much information as I could get.”
Upon the end of his playing career, Jokinen came back to South Florida, the place he and his family continued to make their home from their time when he was the captain of the Panthers.
He started the South Florida Hockey Academy along with former Florida teammates Radek Dvorak and Tomas Vokoun among others.
“Coaching today is about knowing your players,” Jokinen said. “You have to communicate and this has been a learning experience for me.
“I learned how to be a coach by helping these players who came here from all over the world and they are here by themselves.
“As a coach, you have to care about your players.
“As a player, I always wanted to play good for the coach because if not, they wouldn’t play me. As a coach, I have learned that you are there to help the player, work for the players. Not the other way around. That’s my coaching style. I will be available to them, help them. It is easy to rip them apart; the No. 1 mindset has to be to work together.”
As he continued coaching the high school age players, he spoke with numerous professional teams about a coaching position.
During the pandemic, Jokinen said he had numerous interviews with teams in the KHL, AHL and in Finland.
Earlier this month, he landed his first pro gig.
Starting May 1, Jokinen will take over as the head coach of Mikkelin Jukurit which plays in Liiga in Finland.
The team is located in Mikkeli which he says is about a two hour drive from his hometown of Kuopio as well as a two-hour drive from Helsinki.
Jokinen still has family living in Finland as does his wife Katerina.
Not only is this an opportunity for Jokinen to get some real-world professional coaching experience, but it’s a chance to go home again.
“I had been looking actively for a coaching job at the pro level and it turned out I ended up in Finland which is a nice thing,’’ Jokinen said.
“I had some other options in other countries, but I think this worked out best. This is a great place for me to start. I will be in the middle of Finland so everything is like a few hours away. My family is very excited, not only on my side but my wife’s side as well.”
Jokinen says he will be headed to Finland in the next few weeks.
Jukurit will not make the playoffs this season as has been the case since the team joined Liiga in 2016.
There is work to be done.
As for the South Florida Hockey Academy, it will carry on.
After moving out of the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, the SFHA has returned to where it started at the former Glacier Ice Arena in Lighthouse Point.
The academy will relocate to a new ice rink in Boca Raton off I-95 and Congress when it is completed hopefully sometime in the spring of 2022.
The SFHA plans to have teams for every age group and has a 10-year operational agreement with the new Boca rink.
“When I started the academy, I was hoping it would lead to a job coaching in the NHL,” Jokinen said.
“I didn’t want to jump into pro coaching right away, I wanted to see if I enjoyed doing it first and I think it was the best thing for me. I was offered some jobs a few years ago, but I think the best decision I made was to stay.”