A success story in brief
JOKERIT OVER 40 YEARS
TOP ICE HOCKEY IN THE METROPOLITAN AREA
The Jokerit Sports Club is established
The sports club Jokerit ry of Helsinki celebrates its official birthday on October 10. On that same date in 1967, the constitutive meeting of the club was held and building contractor Aimo Mäkinen and painters Eino Syrjänen and Reino Vilen signed the charter. The new association was based on an existing ice hockey team, Töölön Vesa, because of the requirements in the Helsinki ice hockey activities at the time.
The general public was not informed about Jokerit until November 6, 1967 when Nya Pressen published the news about the new ice hockey club. According to Seppo Aalto, who has written the history of Jokerit, it was quite ironic that the news about Jokerit was spread on precisely that day – Swedish Day – by a newspaper in Swedish. The language question has namely been a hot potato in Helsinki ice hockey.
According to the news item, economic difficulties had forced Töölön Vesa to close down its ice hockey section, Aimo Mäkinen had settled Vesa’s debts and all former Vesa players led by star player Timo Turunen had been transferred to Jokerit, the new ice hockey club.
The Club asked the Finnish National Hockey League for permission to take over Vesa’s position in the Western Division of the Finnish National Series. The aim of the Club was to rise to the national championship series in the following season. The founder and person fully in charge of Jokerit, Mr Aimo Mäkinen, made it clear that the Club’s objective was to build a new big metropolitan ice hockey club not by recruiting members from the other big Helsinki club, HIFK, but in the best mutual understanding.
A name was found for the new club. The honour of inventing the name of Jokerit goes to Raimo Kähkönen, Vesa’s captain and department head of the Finnish football pool betting company, Veikkaus. A pack of cards gave the idea for the club logo, and thus the joker of the playing cards entered the hockey world.
Although the paint factory Tikkurilan Väritehtaat manufactured a paint brand called Jokeri, they had nothing against an ice hockey team using the same name; on the contrary, the factory even sponsored the team with a small sum.
The Jokerit phenomenon started even earlier
How then did the establishment of the new ice hockey club come about? In his book, Seppo Aalto states that the crucial event was the game that HIFK and Vesa played the previous spring when HIFK, thanks to its victory, rose to the National Hockey League Championship Series. However, Vesa of Töölö had surprisingly climbed almost to the top and was about to cause a sensation.
Helsinki ice hockey was experiencing a considerable setback in 1965-1967, with no representation in the Finnish NHL Series, despite the construction of the big ice stadium on Nordenskiöldinkatu. Helsinki’s four ice hockey teams, HIFK, HJK, Vesa and Karhu-Kissat, all played in the Eastern Division of the Finnish National Series.
On February 2, 1967, HIFK and Vesa played their crucial game in the new stadium packed by a crowd of 10.814 enthusiasts. The ice hockey fever had unexpectedly seized Helsinki. HIFK won and rose to the Championship Series, while Vesa was left to lick its wounds and attend to its debts.
Jokerit started out by winning
Jokerit played their first official game on November 10, 1967 in Helsinki against Upon Pallo. The newcomers won this warm-up game by 4-3, cheered on by less than 700 supporters. The players used Vesa’s old uniforms since their own outfits were not yet ready.
Many of the players that participated in the first Jokerit game, both in the home and in the visitors’ team, left a lasting imprint on the history of Jokerit. Of the Jokerit power line, players Pentti Hiiros – Timo Turunen – Ulf Slotte, Turunen and Hiiros fortified by Timo Kyntölä later became famous as the Jokerit star line. However, Olli "Molla" Hietanen, later known as coach, scored the first goal for Jokerit.
Two of the most outstanding players of the Upon Pallo team, Keijo Puhakka and Seppo Laakkio, later played for Jokerit, as also Pertti Nurmi, scorer of the third goal. The best defenseman, Leo Äikäs from Lahti, is nowadays known as the coach and support person behind many ice hockey stars.
Aimo Mäkinen’s objective to rise to the Finnish NHL Championship Series was achieved the following year. Ironically, the most serious obstacle to that was TPS, which at that time also played in the Finnish series. However, Jokerit won the playoff series and the Club started to climb.
Championship and varying success
When Jokerit had achieved their first goal, i.e. a place in the NHL Championship Series, the following logical goal was to win the Championship, which was exactly what the Club did in 1972-1973.
Since the end of the 1960s, ice hockey in Finland went through a critical period of transformation from amateur to professional hockey. The signing of new players hit sports headlines and even more so in 1972 when Jokerit won the Finnish NHL Championship.
For the representation team coach Mäkinen signed up new international team class players mostly from outside the metropolitan area to wear the joker sweater. Examples of these players are Veli-Pekka Ketola, Lauri and Erkki Mononen, Ilpo Koskela, Jorma Valtonen, Timo Sutinen, Seppo Suoraniemi, Hannu Kapanen and Henry Leppä, in addition to the earlier mentioned star line featuring Pentti Hiiros, Timo Turunen and Timo Kyntölä.
Aimo Mäkinen’s dream to form a top-class ice hockey team came true in five years. The team positioned well at the beginning, being fifth in the 1969-70 season, second in spring 1971, fourth a year later and then champions in 1973. At the same time, the number of devoted supporters grew steadily. From the beginning the eager Jokerit fans have played an important role in the games, generating a hubbub, creating atmosphere and cheering their favourites on.
The success of the Jokerit team has varied in the league, with top, mid as well as bottom rankings, including a visit to the Finnish 1st Division in 1987-89 and winning the League Championship in spring 1992. This last decade has been successful for Jokerit.
Jokerit youth activities
Although ice hockey has become increasingly
professional since the end of the 1960s, amateur-level youth hockey forms an intimate part of the history or phenomenon of Jokerit. During the last thirty years, these two sides of the same coin – the professional and the amateur – have completed each other both image- and sportswise. Without extensive junior activities, there would be no success story of Jokerit to tell.
Jokerit junior ice hockey was idead in Tampere. When Kalervo "Linkki" Lindgren, a printer from Tampere, moved to an eastern suburb of Helsinki in the late 1960s, he started to have serious thoughts about the lack of reasonable spare-time activities among Helsinki youngsters. In the eyes of this Tampere man, the ice hockey at junior level was at a complete standstill in Helsinki, the metropolitan hockey clubs being concerned only about their representative teams, whereas at the same time in Tampere 1200-1500 boys played "social ice hockey".
Lindgren’s views rapidly caught on also in Helsinki, giving birth to the famous Canada series. While the leaders of HJK still were reluctant to the idea of youth activities, Aimo Mäkinen of Jokerit adopted a positive view. Timo Haapaniemi became junior leader in charge of the practical arrangements. Mäkinen’s leading idea about a representative team formed by boys trained over the years by Jokerit had taken a step forward.
According to Timo Haapaniemi, the first meeting held at Myllypuro School was attained by as many as 500 eager ice hockey players-to-be.
The Canada series started in winter 1970 with a participation of 500 players from six districts and from Tapiola where the junior activities of Jäähonka started out the following year. In the season of 1971-1972, there were close to one thousand players in 32 teams. In a few years, Haapaniemi’s file comprised the names of 1500 junior players.
In the best years, the Canada series comprised 42 teams in four different age classes. The best players played in the ten Jokerit junior representative teams.
The names of the Canada series teams were taken directly from the North American NHL. Myllypuro’s team was called Detroit Red Wings, Vuosaari’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Kulosaari’s Minnesota North Stars, Puotila’s Montreal Canadiens, Jakomäki’s New York Rangers, Kontula’s Ottawa Silver Seven, Herttoniemi’s Chicago Black Hawks and Lauttasaari’s Boston Bruins.
Many famous ice hockey stars started their careers in these teams, for example Jari Kurri. The extensive youth activities bore fruit, and the Jokerit junior teams started to reap the medals in their own series. The Canada series was played during eight successive years.
Ice hockey – a demanding business
Although the professionalisation and rise of the standard of ice hockey developed this sport in Finland, it was simultaneously about to ruin the big dreams of many teams. In the 1970s in Helsinki, the death knell was sounded now for HJK, now for Karhu-Kissat or Jokerit. For some reason, the success of HIFK never was uncertain.
Economic reasons gave once more rise to the idea of merging the central Helsinki ice hockey teams. In spring 1972, the idea of merging HJK, Karhu-Kissat and Jokerit emerged.
At club managerial level the idea was accepted, but since the players and above all the Jokerit juniors and their parents were against it, the plan was rejected: the Jokerit spirit had been created and work done for Jokerit, if somebody wanted to merge, they could join Jokerit, was the general opinion in the Club.
Thus, Jokerit continued on their own – often amid economic difficulties. The numerous conflicts between the owner and the players led in August 1980 to a change in organisation.
Jokeriklubin Tuki ry started to take care of the league team and of the A junior team of Jokerit and HJK, and the old Jokerit Association was converted into a normal sports club with its own board. Aimo Mäkinen’s Helsinki Hockey –75 with the right to a place in the Finnish SM-Liiga, sold this right to Jokeriklubin Tuki ry. And so, another eight years went by.
During these years, the difficulties did not disappear, on the contrary. When Jokerit dropped to Division I, the Grim Reaper had gotten dangerously close to the joker, who, however, won the battle. Jokeriklubin Tuki ry sold its representative team to the new background organisation Jokeri-Hockey Oy, the first joint-stock ice hockey club in Finland. Shareholders in the new company were Mr "Ice Hockey", Kalervo Kummola, with a share of 50%, and some other executives. Aarre Lepistö, the strong background figure, was the only one who represented the old Jokerit staff.
The new company made a clean break and signed a contract with Jokerit ry of Helsinki about the conditions of how the representative team and the A juniors were to be treated. In April 1988, Jokeriklubin Tuki finished its activities but continued to try to pay off the old debts.
Hjallis Harkimo steps in
Neither the new joint-stock company nor the issue of new shares could save Jokeri-Hockey Oy from the pending disaster. The extended ownership basis was accompanied by ownership conflicts, which Kalervo Kummola and his supporters started to solve in the spring of 1990. In August the same year the company was saved from disaster when a new owner stepped in, namely Hjallis Harkimo, famous for having sailed alone around the world. The autumn and winter of 1990 were nightmarish for Jokerit. The games did not come off well and the owners quarrelled about power until Hjallis Harkimo in February 1991 obtained 74% of the shares of Jokeri-Hockey Oy. The Russian Boris Majorov was hired as coach and things started to improve in the spring of 1991. The following season Jokerit caused a sensation by winning the Finnish championship after twenty years.
When Harkimo became President of the Board of Jokeri-Hockey, he presented his long-term plan: to turn Jokerit into a successful company producing quality sports entertainment and pay off the debts in three years. The creation of the Jokerit trademark started.
The decade of the nineties is an ice hockey Cinderella story. In five years, Jokerit has won four Finnish and two European Championships. As the result of Harkimo’s focused work, Helsinki has a world top-quality sumptuous 13,000-capacity all-seater indoor stadium. The financial situation of Jokerit is stable. In addition, Jokerit and Hjallis have a new goal: to be among the first to build a new European league.
Pasi Kostiainen says in the book about the Jokerit in the 1990s that the persons on whom the success of Jokerit in this decade depended were active in the spring of 1991: Harkimo in the office, Majorov and Äikäs as coaches and Teemu Selänne, Waltteri Immonen, Otakar Janecky and associates as players. This combination represents the best in the history of Jokerit.
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