HELSINKI – Who wouldn’t have wanted to be there when Wayne Gretzky stormed through the Canadian junior league, scoring 378 goals (adding 120 assists) in 85 games as a 11-year-old, or in the WHA when he was still called “the Kid” (because he was).
Who wouldn’t want to have uttered the words that producer Jon Landau did when he was describing a young Bruce Springsteen he had just seen perform: “I saw rock 'n' roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
When “Sid the Kid” played his first season in Pittsburgh, a Canadian reporter moved to Pittsburgh for the season to be able to cover the phenom’s first steps in the big league.
In five years, you’ll hear from a lot of Finns who say that they saw the future of, at least, Finnish hockey take his first steps on SM-liiga ice.
And his name is Teemu Pulkkinen.
Last season, Pulkkinen finished third in scoring in the U17 league, “Junior B” in Finland, with his 23+17=40 poins in 23 games. He led the team in scoring, with a 16 point lead over the next Jokerit player and took command in the playoffs, scoring 11+6=17 points in six games as Jokerit won the Finnish championship in the age group.
He also played two playoff games with the Jokerit “C”, born 1992, and collected 5+3=8 points, finishing fourth in team scoring, four points behind the leader who played in all eight games. In 2007, Pulkkinen was even at the IIHF Development Camp in Vierumaki, Finland, where once again he led all campers in virtually every statistical category.
This season, he’s second in team scoring in the Jokerit Junior A team - players born between 1988 and 1990 - with 10+7=17 in 15 games. Again, averaging more than one goal per game.
No wonder there are comparasions to another player, a superstar of the previous generation, an exceptional goal scorer in a hockey nation that’s starving for one.
Teemu Selänne cracked the Jokerit lineup in 1988, and finished the season in the Finnish division I with 36+33=69 points in 35 games. Three years later he led the team in scoring in the regular season - 39+23=62 points in 44 games - and the league in postseason scoring with 10+7=17 points in 10 games as Jokerit won the Finnish championship.
That was the spring of 1992 when Teemu Pulkkinen, born on January 2, was four months old.
The following season Selänne was scaring goalies in the NHL. The Jokerit fans have been waiting for a new Teemu ever since.
On Friday, December 5, Teemu Pulkkinen was announced to the Hartwall Areena crowd as the third forward in the Jokerit starting lineup. The 180-cm, 80-kg forward, shooting right, and wearing number 92, skated on the same line with Joey Tenute and Quinn Hancock, two experienced Canadians, as the youngest player in the SM-liiga this season.
While head coach Glen Hanlon moved Pulkkinen from the line later in the game, he was also happy with what he saw.
“Teemu is a player that the puck just seems to follow. He took several shots and played against good players and while he made some mistakes, we have to keep in mind that he hasn’t worked with our system for a long time,” Hanlon told jokerit.com
after the game.
“We were excited about his first game. It was a nice subplot for the night. He was full of confidence and would be even better had he not been injured earlier this season,” he said.
The player himself was pleased as well.
“I had good speed but it’s a shame we didn’t win. It was an honour to play in the SM-liiga,” Pulkkinen told Helsingin Sanomat
Exceptional talents will always be discovered, and it doesn’t take much to recognize them. What it does take is a vision of what that talent can turn into, and the patience to not waste it in haste.
On Sunday, Pulkkinen was back at it, skating beside Hancock and Kalle Kerman on Jokerit’s top line. He still didn’t get a win as Kärpät beat Jokerit in Oulu on overtime.
But he’s got time. Notebook:
- KalPa’s Mika Järvinen, 20, became the first goalie to score a goal in the Finnish SM-liiga when he sent a long shot to the empty Lukko net on December 3.
- At the same time Pulkkinen played his first SM-liiga game against Ässät Pori, veteran defenceman Pasi Peltonen played in his 800th SM-liiga game. The Ässät loyal - he’s only represented Ässät Pori in his career - is the fifth player to pass the 800-game milestone in SM-liiga history.
- Tappara Tampere signed Henrik Petré to a try-out contact that ends in the middle of January. The Swede started the season with Slovan Bratislava, but was let go 18 games into the season. He played in Finland the two previous seasons: In 2006-07, he represented SaiPa Lappeenranta and last season Ässät Pori.