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As the KHL is on a week-long break, when the season’s first Euro Hockey Tour tournament is being played in Helsinki, it is a good time to sit back and have a talk with a player. Jokerit is leading the western conference and the Helsinki team’s veteran forward Jesse Joensuu shared his thoughts about the season so far and his long career as he felt about it.

Jokerit had some streaks along the season, which included a lot of winning, but also some losing. Joensuu does not feel that the team’s effort has been shifting as much as the results might showcase.

”I think the streaks distort things a bit. We have played on a good level the whole season and when we lost those four games in a row, I believe that we could have won a few games – even deserved them. On our winning-streak we won a lot of games in overtime and those games could have turned whatever way possible.”

The forward has so far scored 2+1=3 points in the regular season. Even though the points are not everything, still Joensuu is not happy about his performance.

”I am disappointed. The preseason was successful for me. Then came the injury. I was expecting a lot more from myself. On the other hand, we are on the top spot, which means that my team mates have been doing well.”

Helping out any way possible

Joensuu has made himself known with his skilled penalty shootouts this season. He has not always had that seen special talent on this specific area of the game.

”I practice them for sure, but mostly I train with my mind. I have been unsuccessful in those earlier a lot and it has actually been a career-long process with them. It has helped that I have been watching a lot of talented players taking on penalty shootouts and the causes of their success or failure. There usually can always be found some reasons, why an elite player fails a penalty shootout – and that has helped me to learn. I claim that it is mostly about mental strenght. Many good players are not that good in penalty shootouts and vice versa.”

”The penalty shootouts have got a bigger meaning in ice hockey and I think in every big league the tied games are decided on them.”

Joensuu has been even a pretty solid point scorer on his career, but this season the head coach Lauri Marjamäki and his coaching staff has not given him as much ice time as before.

”Staying out of the roster and having a small role is difficult on the mental aspect. I still need to think I can grow and handle these tough times. Still the misfortune is kind of the essence of sports. It would not make any sense, if this was fun and easy all the time.”

Even though the times have sometimes been difficult for the player himself, the team around him is a unit, which understands him and is there to support, when needed to.

”I am such a person that talks a lot – even sometimes I babble some stuff out, but as there are many friends of mine in locker room, they know my character and that I am not a guy who is mean or would start to blame somebody else, if the things are not right. I also need to be able to laugh at failures and my team mates are in a big role in that. Sharing thoughts about own situation is important for me. I could not be an individual athlete.”

Jokerit has some rotation in their line-up in almost every game. That means that a few players have to sit out from a game here and there.

”The things are always discussed very well. The locker room has an open-minded feeling in it and the players play, who are doing it the best way. It does not make the team spirit any worse, if myself or some other player is not playing on some games. Those 20 guys, who play are focusing on the game and those, who are out of the lineup, will be ready to help in the future”, Joensuu said.

On the day of the interview Jokerit announced that head coach Marjamäki would be leaving the club after the season. Joensuu does not see any drama in the news.

”I think this is quite a common thing these days. Coaching periods have shortened from what they used to be like 20 years ago. I do not have much else to say about that. The season is a work in process and there’s nothing dramatic about this".

Marjamäki has spent a long time coaching the Helsinki team. The veteran forward thinks the life with the head coach has been business as usual.

”He is a coach as much as anybody else. We have had our good and bad times as a team. It is always Jokerit who wins or loses”, Joensuu mentioned.

Jesse Joensuu. Credits: Sergei Babunov

It is a long season ahead

”We could improve our scoring. We might not be the most effective team, but once the other team holds the puck, the other has to defend. In my opinion, we have kept the puck well to ourselves, but but the season is a marathon and the situation now does not mean anything. It still is a great start though – the most important games are still ahead.”

The season started with a rush hour of games and there were many weeks with three games and all the travelling on top of that. For the next few months the hassle cools off a bit as there are some big things coming. Such unsable rhythm in games brings its own things on the table.

”It sure is tough, but it’s the Olympic winter and the best players are going there. Probably some players from KHL are also participating. We have known the schedule for a long time and we sure still have time to decide the best team of the league in the spring and in the playoffs.”.

”We need to take advantage on these breaks, when there are no games. I personally have gained a lot of energy from my family and civil life.”, Joensuu knew.

The ongoing season is the seventh in a row for the veteran forward in Jokerit. He has enjoyed his time in the Finnish capital city.

”Jokerit will be easily the second most important club in my career. Even though we had not won anything yet, we still have been a winning team, got into playoffs and stuff like that. KHL is the second best league in the world, there have always been great team mates here and we have had a good competitive team.”

There have been many years, when Joensuu has carried the sign A as a mark of his part of the captain group of his team. Such honor has a meaning for him.

”They make a big deal for me. It has been my role, even though I do not have it now. My role is not the same that I would want it to be and what it some time has been. These things are a part of my career’s evolution and I got to live with them.”

Ессе Йоэнсуу. Фото: Александр Коркка

The change of ice hockey and the KHL

During his seven seasons time, Joensuu has witnessed a variety of different locations, teams, players and events. He had a clear image of how the KHL had changed along the game of ice hockey.

”I think the league has changed as the whole sport has changed. The rink and the player profiles have changed. The game is much more skilled and faster. The players are lighter in the KHL than what they used to be. I do not doubt that ice hockey is getting better, but on the other hand a little wickedness and physicality used to be in a bigger role. What is more entertaining hockey, I can not say, but but KHL these days is much more even and how much better job the referees are doung.”

Some years ago there were teams that culd not have been won by the smaller organizations. The clearest examples that come to mind for Joensuu are the teams from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

”When I think of the first years and for example CSKA and SKA, I do not know how many seven-game series we should have had to beat them. The level difference was huge back then. If Jokerit is not the number one favorite yet, at least we have been able to narrow the gap.”

Speaking of events that have happened, one of the most remarkable must have been the time when during playoffs in 2016 the head coach of Torpedo Peteris Skudra came on to Joensuu after a game between his team and Jokerit. The coach called the Jokerit forward ”a faggot”.

”There was a lot of emotion in that case. I understand that he tried to provoke me and it was hard to not get provoked. I think it is about the game of hockey and sports in general that the rules and the limits are a bit stretched sometimes. Somebody sometime said that ”if you are not fooling anybody, you are not trying your best”. If somebody does things like that, it does not bother me that much. It was those times and Skudra did a good job in provoking. I remember he got some penalty on it as well, but for the audience it must have been entertaining to follow”, Joensuu recalled.

Ессе Йоэнсуу. Фото: ЭМиль Ханссон

There have been many good players

The Jokerit forward also remembers some other colorful players from his past years in the KHL. The first name hat comes to mind was actually from Skudra’s team.

”Alexei Potapov was their captain at the time. He was not much of a player, but very unyielding person and who got under the skin of his opponents. Also Yevgeni Ketov was great in his role – he played a bit dirty, but was an important individual for his team. Maxim Rybin was like a small barrel full of gun powder”, Joensuu listed.

When thinking of the most memorable characters of the whole KHL, there is one name that is perhaps the most likely to come to mind. Also Joensuu mentions the big hunky forward.

”Then there is this big boogeyman, who playes in Admiral these days. He might sometimes play on a grey are, but he get every player terrified. If he hits even correctly, the opponent might have to visit a hospital afterwards”, said Joensuu referring to Yevgeni Artyukhin of course.

”And also Alexander Svitov, who still played a few seasons ago, is a player among these others, which come to my mind right now.”

As a 34 year-old Joensuu is clearly on the dawn of his career. He reminisces the years back with mostly good feelings.

”I am proud in that sense that I have got the chance to play for the national team and in the NHL – even though those teams there that I represented were on the bottom, Ässät in Finnish league is without a doubt the number one club, said a Pori native and continued that Jokerit is a top class organization in Finland – not forgetting Bern in Switzerland and HV71 in Sweden.”

The greatest thing about ice hockey is an easy answer. Even the Finn has been around for a long time and in many different places it is still the people that matter the most.

”I have been able to play for clubs with great history and reputation. Belonging in a team and having great team mates is what I am happy about and those bring back memories. It has been a valuable thing since the beginning and team mates are the most important thing.”

Even though one player career might come to an end sooner or later, Joensuu already has a work in process about what’s about to happen, once the skates are hung up.

”I have a clear dream about what I want to do after my career. I also would want to play for Ässät before retiring. I have started making plans for the time after ice hockey, for sure”, the forward concluded.

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