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Interview – Joni Ikonen on his prolific preseason, career, and saying goodbye to Hakametsä arena

Vesa Suonsyrjä , translation : Siru Takala

Despite his young age of 22, Joni Ikonen has experienced a lot on and off the ice. A summer with well spent practice time is now behind him, and in preseason games Ikonen has indeed put on a show. In this interview, we will go through Joni’s life up to today.

Joni Ikonen was born into a hockey family in Espoo on a Wednesday in April 1999. Ikonen admits that his father Juha Ikonen has at least some influence on how Joni and his brother Juuso’s, who plays for HPK, love for hockey began.
– I’ve been told that I already skated on ice for the first time as a two-year old when we lived in Sweden. I had my first team practice some years later in Espoo. I believe that my family background has influenced my interest in hockey, but it was a lot later when I started thinking about it as a profession and not just a pastime.
– When the whole family knows about how it is being a hockey player, we rarely discuss it during the season. Of course, they support me any time I need it, but mostly we discuss other things when we are together, says Joni Ikonen who has also played soccer for a long time alongside hockey.

From Frölunda to Kuopio

During his junior years in the Espoo Blues organization, Joni Ikonen won two championships and a silver medal with the U16 team. However, during his first year of high school, Joni made a bold decision and moved to Sweden to play for the Frölunda HC organization and to continue his studies in a Swedish-speaking school.
– Our Blues team was always a great team, and we got to enjoy some success. But I was interested in leaving for Sweden, because I thought it was a good place for growing as a player and as a person. In hindsight I’m still satisfied with the decision, says the bilingual Ikonen who sometimes gets to be the interpreter in this year’s Ilves team.
With Frölunda, the 17-year-old Ikonen got to enjoy the glorious atmosphere of the Scandinavium arena in ten SHL games. Additionally, he won the CHL championship with the club.
– Because I was used to playing in front of parents and the occasional spectator, it was a great feeling to skate in front of 12 000 loud fans. My role there was small, but for a young player the experience was amazing. I played in three games in the CHL and got the championship medal due to the tournament’s rules, reminisces Ikonen who also won a silver medal in the U18 World championship tournament in the 2016–2017 season.
In the summer of 2017, Joni Ikonen was drafted into the NHL. Montréal Canadiens drafted him in the second round as the 58th overall player.
– We were at my parents’ cottage, and we were watching the draft, of course. I can’t remember anymore if I saw the pick on TV or if somebody called me about it first. It certainly was a great experience even if I knew to expect the pick. Montréal Canadiens is a great organization, and that summer I got to participate in their training camp soon after the draft.
For the 2017–2018 season Joni decided to change organizations and go play for KalPa in Kuopio. In his first Liiga season, after some initial struggles, the promising youngster found his game.
– My main goal was to play with men. I had heard a lot of good things about KalPa, and I transferred there excited to have a chance to play in Liiga. Halfway through the season I think I had one assist in my point total, but the longer I played, the more I got positive experiences, and I ended up playing an almost full season in Liiga.
Everything looked great, and Ikonen enjoyed living in Kuopio. However, dark clouds had started gathering in the horizon, and the following seasons were only full of rehabilitation, rehabilitation, and even more rehabilitation.
– Two big lower body injuries ruined my last two seasons in Kuopio. But those things have been discussed so much already that I prefer to look forward, the resolute Ikonen comments briefly about the past.

Looking for a new beginning in Ilves

Ikonen signed a two-year deal with Ilves last season and had surgery before the season. This time the surgery was smaller than the previous ones, and so Ikonen returned to the ice in January 2021 after a break of 701 days.
– I needed a new beginning and I thought that, after the difficult times, a change in scenery would be great. I knew that Ilves is a place for playing great hockey and that they have a chance of going far. Ilves handles everything amazingly down to the last detail. I received professional help all the time during my rehabilitation last year.
– I was, of course, full of excitement when I wore the Ilves jersey on ice for the first time in January. The long period without playing definitely showed, and the season ended with a knockout from Lukko, so I don’t think anyone else was satisfied either with last season and how it ended, states Ikonen who gives himself an average grade for the 2020–2021 season.
Preparations for the ongoing season went better the more the team played. Ikonen, who has been the team’s best player (4+1=5 points), considers the current team good and the team’s playing feeling increasing.
– This summer I got to participate normally in team practices after three years of rehabilitation. My confidence has increased, which is important on the ice. As a former Liiga player, Näpy (Jarkko Näppilä) knows how things are, and he is easily approachable. I have liked his physical training practices a lot, praises Ikonen.
¬– Our practice games have been up and down, and sometimes it’s been about finding our game. The direction is the right one, however, and our timing has been better in the practice all the time, and the way we want to play is starting to sink in. The team spirit is great, and we have a quality team. On my part, the games have been going well, but altogether I still have to do better. Scoring goals has been sweet, because there haven’t been a lot of goals to celebrate in the past years, says Ikonen and smiles.
Jouko Myrrä had the following to say about Joni Ikonen in Aamulehti newspaper: “He is a sure pick for the powerplay lineup. He has an exceptional ability to pass and shoot.” Joni had not heard about this, and his answer was modest as he evaluated his strengths.
– The coach decides these things, but of course I am ready and willing to play on the powerplay. I feel that I am at my best in an offensive role, and I think of myself as a clutch player who helps his team with points. As a center I also carry a responsibility in the defensive end, and I want to play a better all-around game all the time, analyses Joni who especially likes scoring goals.
“Anyone who knows even a little bit about Joni’s history will be delighted to see the way he plays at the moment. Joni works very hard every day to get where his talent can take him. He is one of the most positive players for all of us, playing-wise as well as story-wise.” Jouko Myrrä, head coach

Saying goodbye to Hakametsä, stepping under the bright lights of UROS LIVE

Ilves will play their last game in Hakametsä arena on November 26th, 2021, and then relocate to the new and grand UROS LIVE arena. The traditional Hakametsä has served the team since 1965.
– Hakametsä is a place that everyone knows, and it is a big deal because it was the first hockey arena in Finland’s history. I’ve played here many times, and I believe that Hakametsä is very important to Tampere’s citizens.
– We, the players, are really excited to move into the new UROS LIVE arena. I have yet to visit it, but they’ve shown us pictures and models of the new arena. I think it’s going to be great playing there, says Ikonen.
In the pandemic-stricken 2020–2021 season, Ikonen did not get to enjoy the atmosphere created by Ilves’ boisterous fans. Playing hockey in the preseason has been extra sweet now that the essential part of the arena, the crowd, has been let back in.
– We realized already in the first game in Tesoma how essential the atmosphere created by the fans is. The drums played, and the cheering was great at this point already. So, I’ll tell all the fans: see you at the arena – your support always gives us more energy on the ice!

Farewell to Hakametsä and moving into the new arena – season tickets are on sale for the 2021–2022 season!

Hae eväät Ärrältä ja tue Ilvestä!
Ilves kaatui taistellen Vaasassa