'Dream come true' for Jokinen

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- It's been a running gag for so many seasons.

Olli Jokinen is happy to actually be in on the fun.

Jokinen, rumoured to be on his way to the Flames so often it was easy to dismiss a couple of days ago when the talk surfaced yet again, finally joined the Calgary organization that's coveted him for so long.

"Yeah it's been kind of a joke around the league, 'When's it gonna happen?' " he said. "I'm very excited and very happy."

Shortly after arriving to meet his new teammates at the team hotel in downtown Philadelphia, Jokinen was handed a Flaming C sweater with No. 21 -- the number he began his career with.

You mean he wasn't going to ask or thumb wrestle Jarome Iginla for the No. 12 he's donned all these years?

"No," Jokinen said with a laugh. "There's no questions asked with that number."

You can't help but think Jokinen doesn't care what's printed on the back. Yesterday's trade -- the Flames also received a third-round draft choice from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first-round pick -- means Jokinen is staring at his best chance to finally make the playoffs.

In his 10th full NHL campaign and a veteran of nearly 800 games, he's yet to skate in the post-season.

"When I heard the news, I didn't know if I should laugh or cry," Jokinen said.

"Going to play in a hockey market with a team like Calgary is a dream come true.

"I've never been in the playoffs and that's the goal."

The 6-foot-3, 210-lb. product of Finland holds the NHL record for most career games played without appearing in the playoffs. In Calgary, he's expected to be an integral part of a team that believes it's good enough to win a title.

Certainly, he's the big, strong and skilled centre the club desperately wanted and needed. He does realize the expectations that will be heaped upon him.

"I don't think I've been playing the level I can play this year," he said. "This is a fresh start, like the season is gonna start again. There are 20 games before the playoffs start, and I'm going to get to know the guys and it's going to be exciting."

Jokinen's arrival to the Flames is also a reunion with head coach Mike Keenan, his old boss in Florida who he believes made him a true NHLer.

"He's probably the biggest (influence) for my career. I have to give him all the credit," Jokinen said. "When he came to Florida, I was a borderline player and I became a lot better hockey player under him.

"I'm excited. He knows what I can bring to the table. I know he's going to push me very hard and it's going to be challenging for me, and my job is to help the team and to fit in."

Jokinen admitted he likely would have headed back to Europe many years ago if Keenan hadn't found a way to make him push himself to reach his potential.

Oh sure, he didn't enjoy every moment, but Keenan understands it all too well.

"I've had a lot of young players, at certain times in their career, where they really just needed good, solid direction and somebody to point that out to them," Keenan said.

Naturally, the expectation is Jokinen will skate with Iginla. Keenan, who was also asked whether incoming defenceman Jordan Leopold would be reunited with longtime partner Robyn Regehr, was non-committal on the topic.

"I think you guys know me well enough I could think of something today and by tomorrow morning it would be different," he quipped.


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