Saint Petersburg (17:00)
Nizhny Novgorod (18:00)
Saint Petersburg (19:30)
As owner and general manager of Jokerit Helsinki, Jari Kurri has navigated a challenging season unlike any other. He discusses the team's migration to the KHL, his preference for larger ice sizes in Europe and memories of the iconic Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.
02:04 Celebrity farming in Finland
05:10 Returning from injury
09:28 Evolution of Russia’s women’s hockey
13:00 Playing in subtropical China
15:15 PWHPA updates
18:27 From player to owner
21:10 Dealing with quarantine and season stoppages
22:34 Finland’s success in development
24:24 Transitioning to the KHL
30:42 Memories of playing
This episode of Icecast was originally published on March 22, 2021
Hello everybody, this is Jari Kurri. I’m Noora Räty, and you’re listening to Icecast.
Gillian Kemmerer (GK): Welcome back to KHL Icecast — Gillian Kemmerer here, and I hope you have packed your bags because we are headed to Finland. For a country of just 5.5 million people, Finland has contributed some incredible talents to the men’s and women’s game. Today, we’ll be talking with two legends who embody sissu, a Finnish word used to describe the nation’s resilience and tenacity. We kick off with four-time Finnish Olympian and two-time Russian league champion goaltender Noora Räty, and then we’ll catch up with Jari Kurri, a five-time Stanley Cup champion who is both the general manager and owner of Jokerit.
Noora Räty is widely regarded as one of the best netminders on earth. She has represented Finland on the international stage and taken home the IIHF’s best goaltender award at Worlds more times than I can count. She is a two-time winner of Russia’s WHL, and currently represents reigning champions the KRS Vanke Rays, based in Shenzhen, China. The first time I met Noora, she had just come off of a reality tv show involving celebrity farmers in Finland. We didn’t know it at the time, but she had actually won — which perhaps should not have come as a surprise, because she’s won just about everything else. We discussed those adventures in the country and a miraculous RECENT return to the ice after an injury that nearly ended her career.
GK: I don’t know if I want to start this interview talking about hockey or asking for your tips on how to rotate my crops, because apparently you’re quite an impressive farmer on top of everything else! So I would love to hear how that opportunity came about, because the first time I met you, you had just come back from the farm.
Noora Räty (NR): Yeah, so, gees — two years ago? A year and a half ago. I’ve done a couple reality shows in Finland. Obviously when you play in four Olympic Games, people kindof know your name. I played men’s hockey. So that’s kind of how the public, how they know my name in Finland. So they produced the first season of the show called The Farm. It’s just really popular in Norway and Sweden. They’ve done several seasons there. And then they called me and I was like, “Oh, why not? Sounds like a nice little vacation.”
And then it’s pretty much, you go out to an old school farm, no electricity, no running water, and you produce your own food and take care of the farm animals and all that kind of stuff. And then it’s also a competition. So there was 12 people to start, and then every week someone goes home — and if you make it till the end, I was there for 30 days and I got to the final, and then I ended up winning the final and won 30,000 euros. But I think that the coolest thing is that you’re really living in a bubble for thirty days because you have no connection to the outside world. Like you literally don’t have a phone. You can’t talk to anyone in your family, no friends, you’re just talking to the producers and the other competitors on the farm. So that’s pretty cool. So yeah, it was good. And I actually got to donate the winning money to youth hockey and unprivileged youth hockey players. So that was pretty cool, to be able to support the grassroots.
GK: That’s so awesome. And I have to wonder, I mean, you’re a fierce competitor — so obviously that would have translated, but were there any transferrable skills from goaltending or hockey to farming or vice versa now that you’re back?
NR: Yeah. I mean, you put together 12 different people from totally different backgrounds and fields. It’s athletes to music industry to actors to, you know, everything, YouTubers and models. So it’s an interesting dynamic. Really the kind of social skills and teamwork and how to work in a group really helped me on the farm because I pretty much got along with everyone, and I got along with different types of people. You can kind of tell that people who were used to acting and working in a bigger group did well, whereas those who work alone in their industry, they had a little bit of trouble fitting in. And then it’s a competition, so you of course want to win. So you have to have that perseverance and good tactics. And I mean, I think the biggest one was that I fit into the group pretty good. No one wanted to target me because they didn’t like me.
GK: On the topic of perseverance, as you just mentioned, I remember when I was thinking about having you on the podcast, it was right around the time that you were injured and we didn’t really know what the future held, particularly at that exact moment. I remember you posted on Instagram that the cliche “play every game like it’s your last” was not really a cliche for you anymore. Can you describe what this whole experience has been, and how it led to this miraculous return to Russia? Because you you’re here, and there’s a potential that you’ll play.
NR: Yeah. I mean, on top of living in the middle of a pandemic, my season’s been kind of a big mess, I would say. In the fall, I was out with concussion for a month, so I missed games back then. And we went home for Christmas for a month. Then when we got back, and I finally got into the playing groove and I actually got more than two games going in a row, you know? And as a goalie, you just have to play games to be good. We were playing an exhibition game against Russia and then literally I just went down to my butterfly, and ended up straining my ACL, MCL tear, 80% tear. And then a little tear in my meniscus — so it was like a combination injury. At first they were like, “No way you’re going to play, probably going to have a surgery. You’re gonna be out for a year.” So I’m like, okay, well the Olympics are in a year. I might as well go and bury my gear and retire, you know? That was my first thought because, of course, the world’s ending when you get injured. But then I started talking to Finnish doctors and they looked at the MRI that I got right away after the game. And they were like, “Yeah, we think with good rehab, you could be back in two to three months. Because you’re a goalie, it’s a lot more strain on knees than the skaters.” And then the team left for a road trip, and when they left, I thought I was leaving home for good and not coming back for this season anymore. So I was going to pack all my stuff in Russia and head to Finland to do rehab.
And then when I got home, I was still in quite a lot of pain, but I started working with the physiotherapist three days a week. And then he just started making me do all of these movements. He does a rehab called blood flow restriction training, where you kind of block the blood flow to your legs. So you’re going to have to work a lot harder and it like compares to lifting weights. So you get a lot faster results than normal. It’s pretty cool that he started helping me out. He’s actually a physiotherapist for Jokerit, the KHL team. He took his time to help me out until they left to play Lokomotiv in the playoffs, and now they’re actually done. After three weeks, I was jumping and stuff and it was like, well, you should just try skating because I got my knee brace too. And then I got up, tried skating and it was a little bit painful. There wasn’t a whole lot of pain and I was able to skate. So then I was like, “Wow, I’m still under a job contract. It’s my responsibility that if I’m able to play, I need to be with my team. I think it would be wrong to tell my team ‘no, I can’t play,’ even if I can play.” So then I talked to the GM and the head coach, Brian. They were like, “Yeah, you’re more than welcome to come back and join the team. And either you can play or you can’t play.” But it was a plus that I’m actually with the team and I’m able to finish the season, instead of having a sad ending to a season. I actually, hopefully, get to have an actual ending to the season. Even if it’s on the ice or on the bench, I don’t really care at this point. I’m just grateful that I am actually able to put my gear on.
GK: Well from retirement, to out for a year, to out for months, to out for weeks — it’s sort of a roller coaster. I can’t imagine what you were going through at the outset of that. Did you see your career flashing before your eyes in a sense, or did this experience make you more grateful for it all?
NR: Yeah, I mean, for sure. The day it happened, I was like, “If it’s a year, why even bother? I’ll just start focusing on coaching.” And the world is ending when stuff like that happens, but you sleep overnight, and then you have a whole new reality. And then I decided, they’re saying six to eight weeks. maybe two to three months. It wasn’t really sure. I told someone, “I’ll give myself four weeks, and I’ll be back to finals.” I just decided, and I didn’t give it an option that it would take me longer. So I was kind of ready to do whatever it takes to be able to come back and have an ending to the season, because no one knows how my hockey career will continue. So I just decided that this was not the end of my career. It taught me that perseverance and the Finnish sissu, that not giving up attitude.
GK: You won the Russian Women’s League, the WHL, last season with the Shenzhen Vanke Rays, but I think it’s an under-appreciated fact of your career that you won it years ago as well with SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. How have you seen the league evolve over the course of your time here?
NR: Yeah, I mean, my first year with SKIF was 2014 and I just flew in to play some games. So it wasn’t really like a whole consistent season with SKIF. I think I only went on one road trip and played home games, but back then we weren’t under the KHL. So you could really tell that it wasn’t necessarily as professionally organized as it is right now. Back then, we didn’t have playoffs. You would just play a regular season soccer style, and whoever is top of the standings gets the championship. Back then, I think it was seven years ago — so as a whole, women’s hockey has come a long way. But if you compare it to now and being under the KHL, I think the resources and the facilities that the players have are very professional. I would say maybe one of the best in Europe that I’ve seen.
We go on road trips, we play in KHL rinks. You get the locker room a day before, you stay at hotels, you get good meals. Resource-wise, I’ve never had anything to complain [about]. I think the league is very well organized, very well run, and that comes with having KHL help there. They have the infrastructure that women’s hockey is looking for. I think it’s a good thing for a league to be attached to them. Maybe level wise, we were kind of talking about this before, there’s a really top-end pool of players that are really skilled. But I think this league is kind of still lacking quantity and quality players. So you have quality, but you don’t have quantity. Our team is really mature, but we also operate on a different budget than some of the Russian teams I’m sure. Some of the Russian teams have a top-end first line, and then there’s a drop, and then you have these young and upcoming players. They’re young and have potential, but they’re not necessarily up to the best standard of this league, or the best quality players that they could be. But they can be those players in five years.
GK: You’ve referenced the budget and the situation at Kunlun Red Star. At the outset of your career, could you have ever dreamed that you’d be playing professional hockey in China — or the situation that you encountered when you arrived to Shenzhen?
NR: I mean, not at all. This is my fourth year with the team, and it’s still surreal. I was telling someone the other day, when I wake up in the morning, I’m like hitting my face or saying “is this real life?” You’re just so grateful that someone wants to pay money for you to do what you love to do. I probably would be doing this for free, because I just love playing so much. But then you’re actually making a sustainable salary, which is, especially in North America, they are pushing for a league where you can make a sustainable salary. And our team is really setting the standard for what a professional women’s hockey team could be like. We get spoiled, we get treated so well. There are of course things that could be better, but in the end, if you look at how we get treated — I’m just grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had for the past four years.
GK: Obviously we see that hockey in the NHL, for example, does very well in Tampa or in Vegas or in these very hot climates. But I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a hockey city as hot as Schengen. It’s just unbelievable. You go out from this subtropical environment into an ice hockey arena. It’s crazy. Did it require any kind of adjustment for you? I remember feeling lightheaded just walking to the rink. For you guys, putting on skates after being in 100% humidity, that’s a big adjustment!
NR: I mean, definitely. Shenzhen where we are based in China is like Florida in the U. S., or the Canary Islands in Europe. It’s definitely hot. It’s pretty weird because you’re biking with a top and shorts to the rink, and then you step in the rink and it’s ice cold. Definitely when we were in China, you really have to pay attention to hydration. I’ve had so many muscle cramps and so many dehydration moments because I haven’t properly hydrated my body. So I think that doubled the amount of water and the electrolytes I drink when I go to China just to survive through the game.
GK: Another thing we can’t ignore is the awesome season that your goaltending partner Kim Newell has had. She’s a Princeton grad hoping to represent Team China at the Beijing Winter Olympics. As someone who’s been to four Games, are you helping her to potentially prepare for that opportunity?
NR: Yeah, for sure. I really hope they get the passports and are actually playing the Olympics. You never know if it’s going to happen tomorrow, two weeks before the Olympics — when they’ll know if they can go or not. I really hope they can go. And I mean, it’s been a pleasure to see how much better she’s gotten the past few years. I feel like I’ve been privileged to be able to help her a little bit on the technical side. We’d have a discussion, like, “Hey, you do this in this situation. But I found out this could work — give it a try.” And then a lot of times, she’s tried it and she’s liked it. And then watching on the bench, a lot of times I see her doing stuff that we’re working on, and it just makes me happy. There’s been so many times in this season, it’s like we worked on something during the week and then I see her do a save in the game using that technique. I was like, “Heck yeah! It’s working.” It has been a lot of fun to have another purpose here too, not just stopping pucks. Obviously this season, I haven’t been able to help her as much as I’d like to since I’ve been out with injuries, but we also have a good goalie coach here that can help her and prepare for her for playoffs if she needs to be ready to play.
GK: One of the other things that you’ve been engaged in has been the PWHPA. I’d love to hear a little bit about what’s coming down the pipeline. It sounds like you’re working on some cool things ahead.
NR: Yeah. So we’ve had a good thing going with the PWHPA, which I’m on the board for. And then there’s some good discussions going about potentially starting a pro league with the NHL and other individual investors. But then this whole pandemic started, so all of those discussions kind of ended right there. And now a year later that the NHL is playing again and the other leagues are starting, those discussions are picking up again. The PWHPA went without playing for almost a year, but now two weeks ago, they played at Madison Square Garden live on TV, national broadcast, which was pretty cool to get women’s hockey in front of the fans’ eyes again. Then last week, they played in Chicago, and again it was on national TV so fans could watch the best players in the world on the ice to compete finally, after being off for a year or so. I feel like we have a lot of momentum going.
GK: PWHPA board member competing in the WHL playoffs after miraculous injury recovery, champion farmer, reality TV show star. But I would imagine that of all these roles you have, dog mom is probably up there too. So I have to ask, how are the little ones doing at home?
NR: The little ones are good. I have the two cutest dogs ever. I miss them a lot, but hopefully I get to see them in a couple of weeks. I mostly feel bad for my fiancé because they absolutely do not listen to him. I always tell him, it’s like, “Why do they always not behave when I’m not home, and when I’m home, they’re like two angels who never do anything?” The other puppy just ripped up the carpet in the living room. And when I’m home, he’s like the most well behaved puppy. I don’t know if they miss me, or if they just want me back home — maybe because I spoil them more than he does. But they’re all good, and hopefully I get to see them soon.
GK: Fingers crossed, the WHL Finals resume quickly. Best of luck to yourself and to the Vanke Rays. Wishing you a continued speedy recovery. It has already been pretty miraculous, I would say.
NR: Thank you so much. Hopefully we get to play here soon, but as you know, COVID is nothing to mess with. So health first, and then if we can play — we’ll play.
GK: Jari Kurri will forever be associated with one of the most dominant hockey teams in history. A member of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s, a team that boasted the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr, Kurri won five Stanley Cups and solidified his place in the Hall of Fame. His number 17 has been retired by Helsinki, Edmonton, and the Finnish National Team. As the owner and General Manager of Jokerit, Kurri has helped to solidify the legacy of the club where his career began. We caught up recently to discuss his transition to ownership, Jokerit’s move from the Finnish League to the KHL and more.
GK: You were one of the greatest players to play the game, and then you became a general manager — and most recently, an owner. What has that transition been like for you? From the locker room to the board room, so to speak.
Jari Kurri (JK): Well, of course, the long career helped a lot. Of course, you love the game so much and you have a chance to work with different people — great hockey players in your organization. Overall, a lot of things. This was a big challenge, when we joined the KHL seven years ago. I thought this was hockey-wise going to be a great league, and we tried to survive in this league with a certain amount of budget, all of the traveling. All of the [new] stuff we had to face because the Finnish team was not used to doing that a lot. It was a lot of things, but being a part of the team — the players, the management, the coaches — I really enjoy it. I always try to help every way I can.
GK: I can imagine navigating a year like this with COVID as a player would be extremely difficult. But as an executive, can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve approached the uncertainty and the quarantines and everything else that came along with playing hockey through a difficult year?
JK: It’s no question, it has really been a difficult year mentally, all of the different things players had to go through. As an organization, we had to go through and prepare ourselves, and I have to give a lot of credit to our players and coaches for the way they’ve been taking care of themselves. We really had to tell them not to go around too much, to restaurants. All of them stayed at home, went to the rink and then go back to their home. Same as on the road. We kindof lived in a bubble all year long. So it has been tough. And of course, we had some cases that players got sick and also a lot of players that hadn’t been sick and had to be quarantined in Finland. Not able to practice, get together. Sometimes we would miss a player for a month, we hadn’t seen him. So it has been a really difficult year that way. I’m really proud of the team, the way they handled that. We started the season, of course, we played all of the games with a certain situation going on in the world now, and now we are in the playoffs. So I am very happy with the situation right now.
GK: Making the post season in a year like this is no joke. It’s never a joke, but in a year where players were on and off the ice — I mean, I’ve spoken with some of your players during the season, your goalie, for example, Janins Kalnins. He was telling me it was quite hard to keep up in quarantine because maybe you don’t have access to ice, or for a goalie, keeping your eyes and your mind fresh is so important. So they have faced just an absolutely unbelievable challenge.
JK: Yes and also we had some injuries at some times to both goalies. Our third goalie had to play eight games but he was outstanding, and we were very lucky to have such a great goalie as a third goalie. It has been a very, very difficult year and a different year in a lot of ways. But we just have to move on and go ahead.
GK: You make a great point. We’ve had some unlikely heroes pop up during the season, whether it’s your third goalie or some of these junior players that came up and played for some of the teams when they got hit hard. We had some youngsters and some unlikely figures shouldering a lot of responsibility this season. That’s for sure.
JK: Yes, I also like to see our youngsters get a chance to play once in a while. It is some kind of dream come true to show what they can do. Hopefully that will help their careers to see how the best players are playing and how they practice, how they care for themselves. I think that’s very important.
GK: It brings up a point that I was going to make later, but it’s good to chat about it now. Finland has had so much success in development in recent years. There’s such unity within the national team system and how players are growing up. For such a small country, you continue to ice an outsized number of outstanding hockey players. What do you think has been the secret to success?
JK: I can’t tell what’s the secret. I think that our system is good. I think we really pay attention to coaching and coaches. And also the goaltending coaches are getting involved at an early age. I think that’s very important that the program is good, and you have a chance to get better and better. You’re working with good coaches. The Finnish Ice Hockey Federation and the local teams in Finland, they work together and the federation, whenever they go to a tournament, they come back and they get the feedback for the club teams. They know what’s the level in the world right now, and what we need to do. Of course, we are a very small country. We have to be awake all of the time and maybe hopefully be a little bit ahead of everybody else so that we can succeed. I think that’s a good thing that we are awake and we have good coaches. And now we spread the news. We spread the knowledge of hockey to everybody, so communication is good and we work together.
GK: Some of these teams are pieced together, of course. The players aren’t all playing together all season long. But with the Finnish teams, there is always this feeling of cohesion in the system, no matter where the players were playing beforehand.
JK: I think that in Finnish hockey, we play well as a team. I don’t think we have these big, super, super stars, but we really put attention to playing well together. We believe that we can beat no matter who we play against. I think that’s very important.
GK: Now you brought this up earlier on, but obviously Jokerit moved from the Finnish league to the KHL. It would be interesting to hear, first of all, some of the differences in playing styles that you noticed when the team moved into what is a predominantly Russian league, but of course the KHL spans six countries.
JK: Of course, the traveling. Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of players were not used to that. Time changes, you have to live with that. We stay in Finnish time all of the time, no matter where we go or where we travel. We are always on Finnish time.
GK: That’s not so easy, either. You have to black out the buses and everything else.
JK: [Laughs] Yeah, we could play the games at 10:00 in the morning. But I think that’s been helping us a lot with recovery. When we come back to home, we arrive right away in Finnish time. Seven years ago, of course, we had a lot of open questions about the league, how to travel and a lot of different cities. Very quickly we learned that this is a great league. Great towns, great hockey teams no matter who you play against, you have to be top of your game. That makes the players be better. They know that there’s no nights off anywhere. Everything is taken care of and the rinks are nice, and the hotels are good, food is good. We didn’t have to worry about those things — we learned quickly that no matter, we have to get ready every night, play well, and I think we’ve been able to do that in seven years. I think we pulled the team together, competing every night no matter who we play. I think that’s very important for our team and our organization.
GK: Do you sense that there are any advantages that Jokerit has playing in the Russian league, but having a definitively Finnish style? Do you see that there may be some places where having a different background is actually serving you up against some of these more traditionally-coached Russian teams?
JK: Hard to say. I think, of course, we have been very lucky to have great coaches all these seven years. Jukka Jalonen and now Lauri Marjamaki. They’re all top coaches in Finland, the National Team coaches. We’ve been able to put together a good team that works together, has fun together, and wants to win. And of course the game has changed a little bit in the last couple of years, the size of the ice rinks are getting smaller. You know we changed our rink to 28×60. I know a lot of the rinks are NHL size. So that will definitely change the game. Different-sized rinks, it’s not the same size everywhere — so of course it changes the games a little bit. You have to know that.
GK: It’s funny. I interviewed Brian O’Neill last season or the season before — "Mr. Helsinki," as it were. And he was telling me about how difficult that transition is at first to the larger ice size, which of course now is being phased out. It does force some of these players to change up their game a little bit. Maybe they have a little more time on the puck than they realized or anticipated. I know some of them have faced that coming to Hartwall Arena. But it’s interesting. It sounds like from what you said, and from what I’ve observed, that we may see some stylistic changes in how teams play as we see these ice sizes normalize.
JK: Yes — and to be honest, even though I played most of my career in the NHL-sized rink, in today’s game, 26×60 can be too small for today’s hockey players. The way they skate, the speed. It just seems it’s not enough room for these types of players anymore. We are 28×60 back home, and I think that’s a good size at the moment.
GK: A nice medium in a way, because I think all of the Olympic rinks will be phased out by 2022 in the KHL. We’ll still have what they call the Finnish or hybrid size. It’s interesting to hear you say that you think as the speed has picked up, it has necessitated a slightly bigger rink.
JK: Yeah, of course — just pop on the TV, watch the game and the way they skate today. The speed. It’s unbelievable. It seems to be that there’s not enough room for the skilled players. The fans who pay ticket prices, of course they come to see the skilled players and what they can do. In that way, the game has changed a lot. We have to, in our organization, be ready for that too.
GK: Inevitably the style that you played when you were in the NHL was different from what the game is today, but have you tried to bring anything from those years with the Oilers, for example, into how you work with Jokerit? Do you get down on the ice at any point with some of the players? How much are you involved in the day-to-day hockey operations?
JK: [Laughs] Oh no, no, I don’t want to do that. Like I said, if you put on our games and today’s hockey beside each other, you’d have to fast-forward our games because it’s like slow-motion. The game itself has already changed. If you look at the way we played on the ice and what the players today do on the ice — the powerplay, stuff like that, they still are the same. The same rules, I would call it, they haven’t changed. But for the speed, it’s so much faster for today’s players. A lot of great hockey players in today’s hockey.
GK: Ken Dryden wrote Scotty Bowman’s biography, and Bowman kind of goes through and talks about some of his favorite teams in the history of the NHL. Inevitably of course, the Oilers from the eighties came up — he specifically highlighted your 83-84 season. He talks about the way that Gretzky played up high, and the fact that he could play up high because of someone like you who could complete the passes and compliment him. He relates it back to Anatoli Tarasov because Tarasov visited Bowman. At the time, Tarasov was playing Kharlamov a little bit the way the Oilers played Gretzky. He suggested to Bowman in the seventies, “Hey, you should play LaFleur like that.” Bowman at the time said, “We had such a good team. We didn’t really take to changing anything too much.” But it’s just so interesting that he relates the way that Gretzky played in the eighties to how Kharlamov was used by the Soviets. Maybe hockey at that time was already so well integrated and the styles were meshing, but was there ever any acknowledgement that inspiration was being taken from the Soviets, in a sense?
JK: I’m not sure, but I think Glen Sather and our coaching staff realized what kind of team they had, what kind of players they had on this team. You mentioned Gretzky of course, we had Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, and then we had great goaltending — Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog. A lot of skilled hockey players and today’s hockey Hall-of-Famers. Esa Tikkanen joined later on. I think the coaching staff realized — just let them play. They know how to play. And that’s basically what happened. To be honest, you know, I’m happy I was in the right place at the right time. A bunch of young kids who wanted to have fun and play hockey and win hockey games. And that said, that was the right key for our success.
GK: You played against the Soviets at the height of their success. What are some of your memories of that experience?
JK: I can say I don’t have a good memory, great memories of those days, because the Russian or Soviet hockey was so much ahead in those days. When we were facing against them, you know, we were sure we would lose 5-0, 10-0 against them. But later on, we started catching them, we started believing that we were able to win against them. But they were such skilled players. Then later on, I heard about the way they practiced, the off-ice trainings and on the ice — hours they spent together. The way they practiced, you know, it’s just amazing the hours that they were together. It was no secret that they were so great, and hockey was so big in Russia in those days too. It was fun to watch the way they played. I was a youngster watching on TV the Luzhniki hockey tournament at Christmastime. It was unbelievable talent all those years and all those championships. And even today, Russian hockey players all have the skills. I don’t know where they come from — maybe practicing, doing again and doing again. Other countries are catching up, which is good for hockey.
GK: I was going to say, we still have Pavel Datsyuk playing in the KHL. He’s still incredible to watch. And it’s amazing the longevity that his skill has had, playing into his forties. That’s a real testament, because in a very fast, tough game to still have those hands — it’s incredible.
JK: The hands and vision and the patience. I think that whenever we play against him, our players are just watching the way he puts it together night after night.
GK: So recently, not too long ago, we had Wayne Gretzky’s 60th birthday. I was just wondering if the two of you touched base, and how you wished him a happy birthday? It’s a big milestone for the Great One!
JK: Time flies, I can tell you that! It’s unbelievable, the older we get. I actually sent him an email. I didn’t talk to him. We get in touch once a while, basically send a message to ask how he is doing. Especially this year, it has been tough in a lot of ways with this virus and COVID, so hopefully this will be over soon and we can start traveling and get together somewhere down the road. Maybe have a nice glass of red wine and remember some old days.
GK: I just have to mention, because every player that I’ve ever interviewed on Jokerit, whether they’re Finnish or an import like Brian O’Neill, they all become addicted to the Finnish sauna culture and having a long drink after. You know, Brian O’Neill’s family installed a sauna after they came to visit him in Finland. They installed one at their house!
JK: Yeah, I think he goes everyday.
GK: It’s a secret to his success.
JK: It’s a place for him to relax, enjoy, maybe forget hockey for a little while.
GK: Have they reopened yet, or are the saunas still closed because of COVID?
JK: I think they shut down again, but they were open a little while. Of course we have a sauna in our locker room, so they can go there.
GK: And I think in one of your VIP suites, if I remember correctly?
JK: Yes, but he is on the ice — so he doesn’t have time for VIP!
GK: That sounds pretty cool. That’s something on my bucket list in hockey to check out — be in a sauna and watch a Jokerit game at the same time.
JK: Yes, exactly.
GK: Thank you for listening to Icecast, the exclusive podcast of the Kontinental Hockey League. This episode was produced by Zhanna Chernenko in Moscow and mixed by Mike Rudenko in Saint Petersburg. It was reported and hosted by Gillian Kemmerer. Theme music was composed by STLab Studio Music. On our website, you can learn more about this podcast and the latest news from around the league. Visit us at en. khl. ru.