Out on the Pacific coast, league newcomer Admiral Vladivostok is preparing for a testing week of home games. On Wednesday, as the KHL returns to action after the international break, Eastern Conference leader Ak Bars sails into town, then on Sunday it’s defending champion Dynamo Moscow which comes to the Fetisov Arena.
Jortikka, already renowned in the Far East for leading nearby Amur Khabarovsk to its only KHL play-off to date, is by nature cautious. The Finn understands better than most that with less than half the regular season completed it’s too early to celebrate a successful start for Admiral. Speaking after the team’s recent win at Spartak, he was keen to emphasize that his team is still developing, despite its rapid progress in the first two months of the season.
“Up to now I’m happy. We are a new team, and every point we can get – especially points on the road – is very important for my players,” he said.
“It’s been an unusual situation for us. It’s not just a new set of players or a new coaching staff – when the whole club is new and you start out with nothing at all, maybe that’s quite a difficult thing. We only had two days in Vladivostok before the start of the season.”
Happily for Jortikka (right), that draft has enabled him to assemble a squad of highly-motivated hockey players. “They want to show what they can do,” he said. “Maybe a few of them have a point to prove [after being allowed to leave their previous clubs].”
One man who has certainly made his point in Admiral colors is Lisin. The 27-year-old forward arrived from Metallurg Magnitogorsk with a reputation as a middling second-liner. In Vladivostok he has blossomed, averaging 20 minutes of game time for the first season in his career and reveling in the responsibility of leading the offense and captaining his team. A return of 16 points from 23 games was enough to get him a Karjala Cup call-up.
While in Finland he scored twice and had an assist in the 5-2 win over Sweden, a return which helped him pick up the award for the best forward at the competition. But he also picked up an injury and is waiting on a medical verdict before facing Ak Bars. That didn’t stop him rushing back to training in Vladivostok, though, telling Admiral’s unofficial website that he was eager to get back to a team which has become ‘like family’ to him in the past three or four months.
Meanwhile, if the club’s latest arrival is finding it difficult to settle in the Far East, he can always turn to Jortikka for advice. The Finn is fast turning the remote region into his second home, following that earlier stint with Amur, and he remains philosophical about the challenges of expanding the KHL’s Eastern frontier.
“It’s almost the same wherever you are based,” he said. “During the season there is only hockey, there’s no private life. There’s a bit more flying, but you quickly get used to that and learn to sleep a bit on the planes. So it’s not so hard for me.”