HELSINKI – In 1991, Jokerit Helsinki was on the brink of bankruptcy, when businessman Harry Harkimo acquired the majority of the shares, with partners, and took control of the club.
Today, 22 years, five Finnish titles, four other final appearances, one Teemu Selänne, and one new arena later, Harkimo announced that Jokerit will join the KHL in 2014.
Pending approval by the Russian-based league, Jokerit will become the first Finnish team in the KHL that includes teams from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine and as of next season Croatia.
“We’ll play in the Finnish league this season, and will join the KHL for the 2014/2015 season,” Harkimo said in a press conference.
“I’ve been in charge of Jokerit for 20 years. We’ve played in the Hartwall Areena for 17 of them. It’s been a fantastic, but also draining time,” he said.
He also announced that the arena has been sold to a company owned by Gennadi Timchenko, the chairman of the board of the KHL, and SKA St. Petersburg president – ranked 62nd in the 2013 edition of the Forbes magazine billionaires list, with an estimated fortune of $14.1 billion – and Boris Rotenberg, and his brother Arkadi Rotenberg.
Boris is a co-owner of SKA, Arkadi the chairman of Dynamo Moscow. They were represented in the press conference by Roman Rotenberg, SKA’s Vice President of Marketing and Business Development.
The new owners of the arena that hosted the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 1997, 2003, 2012 and 2013 also have an option to acquire shares in the hockey club next year.
“The option doesn’t include the majority of the shares. I will stay in charge,” said Harkimo.
The Finnish Ice Hockey Association said in a statement that it would not stay in the way if Jokerit wants to join the KHL.
“Jokerit’s move from the Finnish SM-liiga to the KHL is a part of international development of hockey. The Finnish association has no reason to be against it,” said the association’s chairman Kalervo Kummola, who is also an IIHF Vice President and a former owner of Jokerit.
The SM-liiga will now have to come up with a plan on the number of teams in the league after Jokerit's exit, and whether a possible new team will simply acquire Jokerit's share in the corporation that is SM-liiga.
The league said in a statement that they have also asked for more information from Jokerit, about the ownership changes in the club.
“We’ve been working on this for a year. This has been my dream for a while. I have tried to push for a European Hockey League, but despite all our efforts made, it didn’t take off,” Harkimo said.
“Now we have a fantastic opportunity to develop the team to an even higher level. We need more challenges, both on the business side, and on the ice.”
It will definitely be a challenge as Jokerit, one of the biggest clubs in Finland, will have to double or triple their budget when joining the KHL. That doesn’t faze Harkimo, who in 1987 participated in the BOC solo sailing race around the world.
“We want to win the [Gagarin Cup]. I wouldn’t do this just for the fun of it. We won the Finnish title right after I took over, why wouldn’t we be able to do it in the KHL?” he said.
Then Harkimo presented his new Russian partners with brand new Jokerit ties.