Jalonen talks making history
by Andrew Podnieks|25 JUN 2019
The Finnish players celebrate their head coach Jukka Jalonen after winning the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
When Finland defeated Canada, 3-1, to win gold at last month’s IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia, coach Jukka Jalonen made history. He coached Finland to two of its three World Championship titles, and both time he did so in Bratislava (2011, 2019).

And he joins Mike Babcock (Canada) as the only men to win gold at both the World Juniors and the WM. As well, Jalonen has won a bronze at the Olympics, making him among Finland’s greatest coaches.

In the June edition of the IIHF’s bi-monthly newsletter Ice Times we had a chat with the golden coach.

This year’s roster was a who’s who of ‘who are they’? How did you put together a championship team with so many little-known players?

We didn’t have a lot of options this year. Not many players from the NHL were available for us, and a few players from the KHL didn’t want to play because their season starts in July, so they don’t have much time to recover. Most of the players on the team I know from the Finnish league, and we looked for players who we believed could play as a team. For us, that was the most important.

Can you explain captain Marko Anttila? He doesn’t look like much of a skater, but he scored so many important goals at critical times.

Marko is actually a pretty good skater! I know he might not look like it because he’s a big guy, but he moves well and of course he is a leader in every way. I have to say, we didn’t select him because of his scoring ability, so it was a bonus when he scored so many big goals for us in the quarter-finals [the tying goal late in regulation], and semi-finals [the only goal in a 1-0 win over Russia} and the in the gold-medal game [the 1-1 goal in the second period]. But even in the earlier games, he had a lot of good chances, he just didn’t score. He really had a fantastic tournament.

Did any players surprise you, players you picked for the team expecting one thing but then gave you more?

I would say we were fortunate because a lot of players maybe played better than we might have expected, or maybe even better than they expected. But it started with the team and believing in each other and playing for each other. We played Czech Republic and Russia and Sweden in games before the tournament, and we won the first two and lost to Sweden, 2-1, so that really helped with our confidence. I think if we didn’t play those games it might have been different for us, but the players started to believe in themselves. But I think if you looked at the way Kevin Lankinen played, he was really very good. 

Did you come into the tournament thinking about gold? What were your honest expectations?

Of course, you always think about winning when you go into a tournament, but, sure, if you look at some of the other rosters, we weren’t perhaps a favourite. Russia and Sweden and Canada all had very good teams, but we played one game at a time. We lost two games in the round robin, but one was in overtime to the Americans, which could have gone either way, of course, and the other to Germany in the last game. I think that was a good loss for us. We learned to deal with some adversity, and it helped prepare us for the quarter-finals.

How did you approach the gold medal game? Just another game, or did you have different plans?

Of course Canada always has a good team, but we didn’t think too much about that. We were confident in how we played, and that’s what we worried about. And I would say Kevin [Lankinen] was really excellent. In the gold medal game, he was really the difference in the first period, and Canada could have had a bigger lead if he hadn’t played so well. But we played better in the second period, and then when we got that second goal in the last period and went ahead, I knew we were on our way. The third goal was kind of unexpected.

We have seen Marco Sturm go to Los Angeles and now Ralph Krueger to Buffalo. Do you ever think about the possibility of coaching in the NHL?

I think if you are honest every coach in Europe dreams of going to the NHL, but it’s not that easy. They have lots of coaches there, and we don’t have a history of coaching there. And of course it’s different with the smaller ice and the physical play. But, yes, if someone called and asked if I’d be interested, I’d say yes. But next year I still have a contract in Finland.

How different would it be? Is coaching just coaching no matter where you are, or would there be a huge adjustment?

Coaching is the same basically, but in the NHL the game is more direct and short passes, more north-south. You can’t play east-west as much, and you have to go more to the net. But I don’t think as a coach I’d need to change much about me. I think coaching translates anywhere, but it probably is easier to go from North America to Europe rather than the other way.