There are four hockey-playing Honka brothers from Jyvaskyla in Central Finland, products of the JYP club. Julius, 22, is the third-oldest. The youngest is Anttoni, who just came home from winning the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk.
“Yeah, I’ve talked to him – I talk to all my brothers quite a bit – and he’s having a great time,” Julius said of 17-year-old Anttoni, who also plays defence. “He loves to play for the national team and this is a great experience for him. It’s nice to watch him play. He’s been improving a lot and he’s gonna be a good player.”
Despite Honka playing in North America all season and now being busy with the Finnish senior men’s national team, he still manages to watch his brothers play whenever he can. He watched with interest as Anttoni made his professional debut this past season in the Liiga, and was then following the tournament in Russia.
“The way the internet and media are now, it’s easy to follow,” he said.
Julius has already won a couple of medals for Finland – a bronze at the 2013 U18s in Sochi and a gold at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. After that, he was a first-round draft pick of the Stars in 2014 and has played in Texas ever since – either in Dallas or in Cedar Rock for their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars.
In fact, Julius went overseas at the age of 18 to play in the Western Hockey League for the Swift Current Broncos. A move like that is common for players in Central or Eastern Europe, but most Finns and Swedes stay at home a few more years.
“I was quite young when I went over and I’ve lived there for a few years now, but that was my decision and I think it was good for me,” he reasoned, adding that Texas is “a good place for living and I really enjoy my time there.”
This past season, Honka was called up to Dallas in November and stayed there the rest of the season, playing in 42 games and tallying two assists. It marked a breakthrough for him, as previously he had played in only 10. He was with the Stars as they battled down the stretch for a Western Conference playoff spot, finishing on the outside by three points.
“It was nice to get a full season in the NHL even though it was a bit of a disappointing finish for the team,” he said. “It was too bad we missed the playoffs but I’m happy to be here with the national team now and have the chance to finish the season on a high note.”
Having played in North America for five years now, he’s accustomed to the style of play over there, but coming to Europe at this time of year doesn’t require a huge adjustment to his game, stating: “It’s a little bit different. Obviously, the rink is a little bigger than in North America but, either way, I still try to play my style of game and use my strengths to help the team win.”
At the senior level, Honka played in his first World Championship last year in Paris and Cologne, where the Finns finished fourth. He’s looking forward to the opportunity again this year in Denmark, and his brothers will surely be watching him again.
“I always love to play international games – it’s a big honour to wear the Finland jersey – and now I have a chance to play in another World Championship. It’s awesome.”