SUN Hockey Pool

Holiday on hold for Jokinen

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

TORONTO -- Letting your kids know the summer vacation plans are on hold isn't something you'd relish doing.

Tell that to Olli Jokinen.

He's thrilled about the possibility of making his wife, Katerina, and daughters Alexandra and Emma bide their time for a family holiday once the regular season is over.

"This time of the year, a lot of times I've been making summer plans, vacation plans," said the Flames centre. "The team's been out of the playoffs.

"It's a good chance we have of going to the playoffs."

Perhaps even going on a lengthy Stanley Cup run.

That first playoff game is getting so close, Jokinen can taste it. Being his 10th full NHL season and owning the distinction of having played the most career regular-season games without a playoff contest can wear on you.

So you can understand how Jokinen feels right now, even with 14 games remaining in the regular season, including tonight's tilt in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

"Absolutely, I'm energized and excited," Jokinen said minutes after his team's thrilling 6-5 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night. "It's amazing being part of this team and playing in a Canadian hockey market. Expectations are high. I haven't had any experience like that in my life. Expectations are winning every single night, and that's what I want."

All too often this time of year, Jokinen's hockey focus was on packing his gear to play at the world championships for his native Finland after another disappointingly short NHL year.

Then, after the international play, he'd return to Florida.

"Go home and watch the finals," he said.

Instead, he's gearing up for what he hopes will be the ride of his NHL life. Certainly he's done his part since being acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline.

In five games, Jokinen has scored five goals, plus he potted the shootout winner against the Red Wings.

"He's a force," said captain and linemate Jarome Iginla. "He plays a ton of minutes, was out there on the five-on-three. Every shift he was out there, he was pretty much creating a chance. He's been a great addition."

Yeah, not exactly what was predicted by some pundits on deadline day.

Amidst the euphoria of being traded to a Stanley Cup contender, Jokinen was made aware of the comments from those like player-turned-TSN analyst Matthew Barnaby, who said he'd been told by former teammates Jokinen is a divisive force in the dressing room.

"It's always tough to hear. I think it's unfair," Jokinen said. "Ask players I've played with in the past. I've made good friends in Phoenix, still have a lot of good friends in Florida. Playing with guys like Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts -- some of the better leaders in hockey -- and I had the experience of being with them in the same locker-room and learned a lot from them.

"I guess reporters have to make a name for themselves. I don't really know where these rumours are coming from. The guys have been nice here, nobody's been giving me a hard time. It's been easy to come here.

"It's easy to always say, 'You have pretty decent numbers every year, but you've never been in the playoffs,' so there's always something to say. You know what? At the end of the day, all that matters is you earn the respect of your teammates and work hard. People can say whatever they want, but we all have the same goal here and that's going far. That's what I'm here to do."

Off the ice, his family is scheduled to arrive in Calgary today.

"They're pretty excited," he said of his daughters. "They've never seen snow in their lives. They're very excited."

And then will come his Saddledome debut as a Flame.

You can bet he's looking forward to skating for the homeside before the Sea of Red, which will undoubtedly give him a huge welcome.

"When I was playing against Calgary in that building, you see all the red jerseys in the stands. Even for the visiting team, it's a good experience," he said.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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