Two seasons in the Finnish league
Aimo Mäkinen waited patiently through the first season of Jokerit as Rauman Lukko with Matti Keinonen was promoted to play in the Finnish Championships. Jokerit took second place in their division of Suomi-sarja on the second level of Finnish hockey. The following year, it would be time for Jokerit’s promotion to the main series. It did not help Jokerit, however, that another famed Finnish Championship Series dropout Turun Palloseura (TPS) would enter their division. Only the two best teams in the division would make it to the qualifiers for Championships Series promotion.
Both Jokerit and TPS took part in the spring elimination games. The teams gathered as many points during the regular season, but Jokerit had a better goal difference. In the qualifying series, Jokerit had to travel to Turku, where they got the much-needed points with the help of excellent goalkeeping from Timo Relas.
The top two from the qualifying series would get a spot in the Finnish Championships Series. When going to the last match against Hilpara, the situation was still open for Jokerit. The stakes were high on the 5th of March in 1969 in the Nordenskiöldinkatu home rink of Jokerit. Tappara, the second-placed team, had to be defeated. Otherwise the promotion would be postponed for another year. It was in doubt if the finances of Aimo Mäkinen would be enough to support another season on the second level. It seemed the story of Jokerit might be cut short.
Timo Turunen took the reins into his own hands, however, when the tied deciding game was about to end. With his winning goal, the score was set at 4-3. Jokerit won the match and gained a spot in the Finnish Championships Series.
When the two teams from Lahti, Reipas and Upon Pallo merged, the third team Hilpara in the qualifier series was promoted to the Championships Series as well. Jokerit would have thus got the promotion through a back door anyway. The taste of the promotion would have been different, however.
A bunch of stars enter the club
During the spring of promotion, the local rivals HIFK had won their first Finnish Championship. Aimo Mäkinen flung himself into action as soon as the Championship Series spot was confirmed. At the same time, the fusion of the Lahti clubs was stirring the nationwide player transfer market. As a result, the Jokerit line-up was renewed almost completely.
From Lahti, Aimo picked up brothers Erkki and Lauri Mononen as well as Pertti Nurmi, Seppo Peräoja and top defenceman Ilpo Koskela. Jokerit also acquired new players from Pori in Veli-Pekka Ketola, who had already gathered quite a name for himself, and the less well-known Alpo Suhonen. At the same time, Henry Leppä from Turun Toive entered his studies in the Finnish capital and joined Jokerit. Number one goalie Eero Holopainen from champions HIFK also made a switch to the club.
One of the most significant newcomers during the first Championship Series year was Timo Sutinen from Tampereen KooVee, still a rookie at this point. Thus Aimo Mäkinen didn’t see it worthwhile to take him out of the usual quarantine that the migratory players were put under, especially when Sutinen had badly injured his hand during the autumn. The quarantine was automatically lifted at the beginning of February, and Sutinen only played seven games during his first season for Jokerit. The next five seasons, though, Sutinen was worth his weight in gold as a center forward. Pertti Arvaja, who transferred from HJK to Jokerit during the summer of 1969, only played a few games during his first season as well. In later seasons, he would grow into a big role as a winger in the first line led by Sutinen.
Big names on paper do not always make a great team
Jokerit was supposed to have winning material in the Championships Series during their first year. The season started well with a 16-2 victory over the other promoted team, Hilpara, after Lauri Mononen scored the first Championship Series goal in club history. The rest of the winter did not go so well. Even though Jokerit scored the second most goals as a team – scoring three more than the champions HIFK – they only placed 5th in their debut season.
Veli-Pekka Ketola got tired of the big city in one season and went back to Porin Ässät. Alpo Suhonen followed suit. The rest of the stars stayed with Jokerit, and the team got in two new key players for the 1970-71 season. Jouko Öystilä from Oulu came into defence. He played his first game in a Jokerit shirt in the spring of 1970, when the Czechoslovakia National Team played a training match against Jokerit in preparation for the Academic World Cup held in Finland. Öystilä had played in the Finnish Championships Series already at the age of fifteen for Kärpät during the 1967-68 season. He played so well against Vaclav Nedomansky, Ivan Hlinka and the gang that Aimo Mäkinen wanted the promising young boy for his club.
Another incoming player was Seppo Repo from Savonlinnan Pallokerho. He played in Jokerit for one season only, but managed to show Carelian ice hockey at its best.