HELSINKI – Hockey is a game where you have to be at the right place at the right time. That is what makes a great goal scorer. And great scorers are always sought after in hockey. But sometimes, as a player happens to be at the right place at the right time in the rink, he’s also very much at the right place at the right time outside it.
That’s what legends are made of.
Ville Peltonen not only happened to score a goal in the 1995 World Championship final against Sweden. He happened to score a hat trick in the 4-1 win that brought Finland its first ever gold.
He was two-and-a-half weeks shy from his 22nd birthday.
Had you yelled “Villeeeee Peeeeeeltonen” in a random Finnish city, at a random time, in 1995, within seconds somebody would have replied, “Ville Peltonen!”
Just 21 years old, he was a national hero.
That’s hard to top, and like many authors and pop stars, who get tired of retelling the stories that made them famous, Peltonen grew tired of replaying the World Championship final game. Until last winter, he hadn’t even ever watched the game. The Huey - Dewey - Louie references to Peltonen, Saku Koivu, and Jere Lehtinen grew old much faster than the players themselves.
“Maybe enough time has passed now, but when I did watch it for a TV documentary, it was actually fun to see it,” Peltonen says.
Some time surely has passed and Peltonen is no spring chicken anymore. The toothless smile, and his skin that’s tightly drawn over his cheekbones bear witness to a long career. And so, now, upon returning to the Finnish SM-liiga and HIFK Helsinki, he’s a 37-year-old, embattled veteran who’s played almost 400 games in the NHL – with the Sharks, the Predators, and the Panthers – several years in Switzerland, becoming a fan favourite in Lugano. He’s won the Swiss championship, and the scoring title in Switzerland and Sweden, then with Frölunda Gothenburg.
Last season Peltonen played in the KHL, and was named captain of Dynamo Minsk within a month of his arrival in Belarus.
After his KHL season, Peltonen declined an invitation to the World Championship due to knee and groin operations, and the rehabilitation has kept him off game action until last week when he made his season debut in HIFK’s European Trophy game against Djurgården in Stockholm.
Peltonen’s first game of the season ended a minute before the final buzzer in a match penalty. Djurgården’s Fredrik Claesson jumped Peltonen to retaliate Eddie Del Grosso’s knee-on-knee hit on Christian Eklund a few seconds earlier. Peltonen, whose record for penalty minutes in a season is 54, simply wrestled the young defenceman onto the ice, and then left the ice without fanfare. The season is long, and Peltonen knows it. He’ll patiently play himself back into game shape.
Peltonen’s long career is coming to a full circle when he skates out to the SM-liiga regular season opener as HIFK’s captain in mid-September. Some 30 years ago, Ville sat in the stands, watching his father, Esa, play for HIFK. Peltonen, the elder, was the team’s speedy first-line winger for many years, and an integral part of the 1974, 1980, and 1983 Finnish championship teams. Also, Ville’s old junior coach, Tom Nybondas, is now the GM of the SM-liiga team. And it was with HIFK he made his SM-liiga debut in 1991.
“It feels good to be back. I’m looking forward to helping HIFK win the title. I’ve noticed that these days, I need a good challenge like that to stay motivated,” he says.
Some 17 years ago, Ville Peltonen was voted SM-liiga Rookie of the Year. Last year, that award went to Mikael Granlund, the 18-year-old Finnish wonder boy who was drafted ninth overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2010 NHL entry draft in June.
It’d be easy to see Peltonen, the smart veteran, in a mentor role, coaching the kid. But that’s not why Ville is on the team.
“Well, first and foremost, we’re teammates, with everything that entails. I’m mostly concerned with my own play, and that I can contribute to the team’s success. But of course, I will gladly share what I can with him,” Peltonen says.
For example, a Finnish championship.
- Jokerit Helsinki’s new GM Jarmo Kekäläinen made a last-minute addition on Friday, when he signed Phoenix Coyotes forward Petteri Nokelainen to a two-year deal. The Imatra native spent the previous four years in the NHL, playing 189 games with the New York Islanders, the Boston Bruins, the Anaheim Ducks and the Phoenix Coyotes.
- Tappara Tampere’s head coach Petri Mattila resigned from his duties just three weeks before the regular season opener. The interim coach is Sami Hirvonen, while GM Mikko Leinonen tries to find a new head coach. Mattila took over the team in May when last season’s head coach Mikko Saarinen decided to step down. Both Saarinen and Mattila cited “personal reasons” for their decisions to leave the team.