Kontiola set to chase medal
Kontiola set to chase medal
Finnish ace talks injuries, Russia and more
The savvy playmaking centre from Seinajoki, Finland racked up eight goals and eight assists en route to Best Forward honours and a tournament all-star team berth. The Finns, however, finished fourth after losing 3-2 to the United States in a bronze medal medal shootout in Stockholm.
So Kontiola, 29, still has plenty to prove in his Olympic debut. A 2007 World Championship silver medallist, he’ll have to shoulder a bigger load than expected here in Sochi after ankle injuries to NHL stars Mikko Koivu (Minnesota Wild) and Valtteri Filppula left a gaping hole up the middle for Suomi.
The 182-cm, 94-kg former Chicago Blackhawks prospect certainly knows his way around Russian ice. He’s a five-year KHL veteran, and led the playoffs in scoring last year with 19 points in 25 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk. This year, he entered the Olympic break with a team-high 35 points in 50 games, tying him for 13th place overall in the KHL points parade.
IIHF.com’s Lucas Aykroyd caught up with Kontiola after Finland practiced on Sunday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome’s secondary rink.
What was your reaction when you heard that Koivu and Filppula would be unable to join the team here?
I think the whole team is a little bit disappointed. Those are the high-profile players for us. For any kind of team, those players would be a big loss. But we’ve got to go through. We’ve got new guys over here, and it is what it is.
Finland is usually an underdog coming into these tournaments. Do you think maybe this will create an advantage by causing other teams to underestimate you even more?
Maybe. We don’t have any big names like the other teams have. But Finland has always been an underdog. We’re used to that. Let’s try to do a big surprise in this tournament. No pressure for us.
Even though you didn’t want those injuries to happen, are you excited personally about the opportunity to play a bigger role on the team?
No, not really. Of course, I wanted the best possible team over here. This tournament is for the team. I’m not here thinking about my future or anything like that. I’m here to win the medal. I hope I have something to bring home after this.
You’ve had success playing with Juhamatti Aaltonen, like at last year’s World Championship. What is the key to your partnership?
We’re the same age and we’ve known each other for a long time. We have history together in the Russian league. We have some good chemistry. I hope we can do some damage here too.
Last year’s World Championship was definitely your best international performance ever. Do you think that’s what got you on this team?
Those are only good memories now. I don’t think it’s going to help me in this tournament.
What are the differences between Jukka Jalonen and Erkka Westerlund as national team coaches?
I think for Erkka, it’s a players’ game and he lets the players do whatever. We have some big things we’ve got to do, but otherwise, we can do some of our own things. Jukka is more of a strategy guy.
Erkka’s a bit quieter too, isn’t he?
Definitely, yeah. [laughs] He’s been around a long time. He’s an experienced guy. It’s good for us in this tournament.
How satisfied are you with your season with Traktor so far? You’re in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
I think as a team, it’s a little bit disappointing for us. Definitely we had two great seasons before. You just hope it’ll be better tomorrow and you work on your game. It hasn’t been the success I expect or the team expects this year.
What do you think of your Traktor teammate Yevgeni Kuznetsov? Are you surprised at all that he didn’t make the Russian Olympic team.
I think there’s been a few injuries this season. He’s been out and couldn’t make the Russian team for the Euro Hockey Tour. I think that’s the biggest reason he’s not here. Definitely a skilled guy, really talented young Russian kid.
With the time you’ve spent in Russia, how’s your Russian?
It should be a little better. But five years, and I still can’t have a conversation in Russian. The Russian guys are laughing when I try to learn. It’s hard. It took me a year to learn the letters. But I have no problems at all in Russia. I just wish I could speak a little better. That would help me.
Here with the Finnish national team, do they bring in Finnish food and stuff like that?
Yeah, there’s some Finnish bread and candy, “salmiakki,” little things like that. But I think we’re all used to the Italian pasta pre-game meal. That’s pretty much nine months a year we eat the same food.
Who’s your roommate, and how’s it going so far?
Leo Komarov. So far, so good. Rumour said he’s a loud sleeper, but we’ve been good for the last two nights.
Do you like to listen to music before games?
Yeah. I don’t like to think about stuff too much. It’s not good for me. I’ve got to do my own things and listen to music and joke around.
What kind of music? Metallica, Mozart, Justin Bieber?
When I play for Team Finland, I like to listen to Finnish music. Rap music is coming in in Finland. It’s hitting hard this season. So we’re listening to Finnish rap over here.
Like Fintelligens, who wrote the 2003 World Championship theme song?
Yeah, those guys are big. Also, JVG and Cheek. Those are the biggest groups.
You guys have been waiting here for a while. Do you kind of wish the tournament would just get started?
Yeah, shortly. First we had to get here, and travelling took a while. And then the opening night, the ceremony, those were a couple of tough days mentally. Now, things are normal and we’ve had some normal practices. So we’re good to go.
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