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KalPa coach Tommi Miettinen: “Joni [Ikonen] is in that kind of situation in his career where he has to take the next step”

After a disappointing year to KalPa, the new coach’s plan for a turnaround involves a healthy Ikonen playing closer to his potential.

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Patrik Bexell

Coach Tommi Miettinen played hockey in Liiga, the SHL, and NLA during his career, and had just been appointed as had coach for KalPa a week before Eyes On The Prize sat down with him. Having been part of KalPa’s organization since 2013, first as an assistant coach and then as head coach for the U20 team, he was an interim coach for IPK in Mestis in the final months of the 2019 season. It’s a step up for the coach, but he seems ready for the challenge of coaching one of the most classic teams in Liiga.

”I have my own vision of hockey: how to practise and how to play and how to become successful,” he explains. “We have to find that winning way again. Also, for the young guys, it is important for both me and the organization that they are better all the time. Those goals go hand in hand; if the young guys become better all the time, the results will come too. I have a clear vision on how to build the team and how to play.”

While a lot of coaches talk about pace and speed, Miettinen brings up another thing that is important for his own brand of hockey.

”Nowadays, you can’t play slow hockey if you want to win the games, but still, the rhythm is really important; that the five guys play together all the time, the same game, and understand what the situation is right now within the game. It’s not going to be easy, but I have the vision. As a a coach, you have to learn all the time and learn new things for every season.”

As the Pelicans’ sports director, Janne Laukkanen, also pointed out, in Liiga you still work a lot with ‘groups of five’ and not forward lines and defensive pairings as separate entities.

KalPa’s past season wan’t as good as everyone expected, and missing out on the playoffs in a city where a main focus is the success of local sports, that’s never easy.

“In my situation, you have to know what has happened in the two, three years with the our team and within the league. I am trying to forget all that though. This is a chance for everyone in our organization, and for me especially.”

Replacing fan favourite and local hero Sami Kapanen (who still owns the team), won’t be easy, but Coach Miettinen seems to relish the challenge and looks forward to starting a new chapter for the historic club.

One of the players who will help him write that story is Montreal Canadiens prospect Joni Ikonen, and Miettinen has a vision for his development as well.

”Joni is a really talented player, and he had a few injuries — and really hard injuries — with the knee, and now on the same side with the back side [Miettinen indicates his own hamstring]. It has been a little bit of a difficult year for him. I hope, I hope, that he will be a big player for us this upcoming season. Joni is in that kind of situation in his career where he has to take the next step now. He is really, really talented. He has lots of skills and that kind of hockey sense that you need that you need to if you want to be an elite player in this league and, maybe someday, in the NHL too. He has to work hard, physically he has to be better in all situations. I hope he will get a good summer now to get stronger and build from there.”

One thing that Ikonen’s former SHL coach, Roger Rönnberg, pointed out to us right after the draft was Ikonen’s work ethic, and how it needed to improve. It seems like coach Miettinen agrees, but also that he has seen improvement.

“I don’t know [Ikonen] so well. When I was in A-Juniors I saw how he worked every day and I think it has been better now, over the last season. For me though, it feels like we have a few steps still to go still.”

However, Coach Miettinen does see a lot of potential in the Finnish forward. When asked about Ikonen’s strengths, he quickly rattles them off. “His hockey sense, skills, he has that ground potential. He has everything to be a really good player for our team next season. But as I said, he has a few steps to go, especially on the physical side. He has to be a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and gain a little bit of aerobic capacity.”

The lengthy time off that KalPa has this year will benefit the development of Ikonen, according to his new coach. “There is a big chance for him to work on his weaknesses with the long off-season that we have. It is important for him, but it’s also especially important for us, that we are going to bring his game to the next level,” says the coach, acknowledging his role in developing his new charge.

Will KalPa’s new bench boss get some information from Montreal with regard to how to help Ikonen reach his potential? “I hope that I get all the information they have about Joni. I think we are in the same spot, they hope he will become better and that’s my goal, too. We work with the same goal all the time.”

There is a new coach in town, and while he doesn’t have NHL experience as a player, he has a new way of doing things, and there will be another chance for Ikonen to step up in Liiga, especially considering the system that Coach Miettinen brings. It is up to Ikonen himself to show that he can do it. He has the means, playing in an organisation that has invested in new facilities at the arena. He has the opportunity on a club that is looking for a player to step up and fill the void after Alexandre Texier made the jump to the NHL.

The road from Kuopio to Montreal is long, but is wide open for Joni Ikonen.