The great Finnish defenceman was supposed to be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in Zurich in 2020. Unfortunately, the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship slated for Switzerland that year was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2021 Worlds took place in Riga in a bubble.
“It was postponed for two years and I was kind of lucky enough [the rescheduled ceremony] happened to be here in Tampere,” Timonen, 47, told IIHF.com after his induction at the Tampere Hall conference centre on 29 May. “So it's great. I told the Finnish federation people: ‘What a day today! First the ceremony this morning, and then you get to see the finals tonight.’ So what a special day!”
It turned out to be ultra-special after the host nation edged Canada 4-3 on Sakari Manninen’s overtime goal in front of 11,487 charged-up fans at Nokia Arena. Timonen, a five-time Olympian and seven-time World Championship participant, had a special appreciation for everything that brought Finland to the point of becoming the second country ever to win the Winter Games and the Worlds in the same year – and the first ever to complete that feat on home ice.
“They're so committed,” Timonen said of coach Jukka Jalonen’s squad. “They say it's boring hockey, but this is a winning business. It doesn't matter how you win games. They do it their way. As I said in my speech, I’ve been there many times and it’s a family atmosphere. Everybody's respecting each other. You see it on the ice, how they’re blocking shots. They’re committed to do everything, the little details to win games, and that's what the good teams do.”
Timonen, who garnered 571 points in an 1,108-game NHL career with the Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, and Chicago Blackhawks, gave it his all internationally as well. However, with one Olympic silver medal, three Olympic bronze medals, and three World Championship silver medals, there’s one obvious omission from the Kuopio native’s IIHF resume.
“The only bad memory is that I never won anything,” said Timonen, who also suited up for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey team that lost the final 3-2 to host Canada. “I didn’t win the gold medal ever in the Olympics or World Championships. I came so close many times. But probably the best memory is the 2006 Olympics in Turin. We got to the finals and lost 3-2 to Sweden. It hurt, but at the same time, now it's a really good memory.”
This year, the Leijonat heroes ranged from captain Valtteri Filppula, who became Finland’s first addition to the Triple Gold Club, to goalie Jussi Olkinuora, who was named the 2022 Worlds MVP. Timonen cited names like Saku Koivu, Ville Peltonen, Raimo Helminen, and Timo Jutila in terms of the men who forged the national team culture of hard work and self-reliance that he enjoyed in his playing days.
Timonen appreciates skill and positivity from non-Finnish players as well, and Mark Streit, who was inducted alongside Timonen in Tampere, certainly fits that description. The two D-men played one full season together in Philadelphia in 2013/14. That experience helped Timonen take the measure of the long-time Swiss national team captain.
“First of all, he’s a great person off the ice,” Timonen said. “And he was a really calm and confident guy on the ice, very skillful. Just good at doing a lot of things. You could throw him in any kind of situation on the ice and he would do well. Obviously, he was like me, probably more a power play guy than a penalty-killing guy, but just an overall great player.”
Interestingly, Streit also saw less action that he was used to when he won the Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017, registering two assists in three games.
So what would Timonen’s advice be to another veteran player who is obliged to accept a less prominent role en route to winning a championship?
“Don't give up! Don't give up. Obviously you need a lot of luck going into it. Even in the Stanley Cup win with Chicago, we had tight games, but then instead of, say, post and in, it went post and out. You need a little bit of luck on the way there. Obviously winning the Stanley Cup is probably every player's dream. I got lucky there to win it. Don't give up. That year. I didn't give up. It was a little bit crazy there but I just wanted to go out my way, not the doctor’s way – let's put it that way.”
After retirement, some players prefer to step away from the game, whereas others embrace a new role in coaching, management, or broadcasting. Timonen, a part-owner of KalPa Kuopio, hasn’t fully committed to broadcasting. But while residing in Haddonfield, New Jersey, he does a regular hockey podcast with Finnish commentator Antti Makinen.
“Antti had this idea actually four years ago. He said: “You want to talk about hockey? You live in America and you watch NHL games.’ I said: “Yeah! I’ve got nothing else going on. So let's do it.’ We’ve been doing it for years now and it's only once a week. I watch hockey any day back home. So it's kind of easy to talk about NHL hockey because I know everybody, I know the game, and I know the teams. So it's been fun.”
Naturally, with the 2022 Olympics and Worlds over, Timonen was happy to offer his views on the NHL playoffs as the conference finals get underway. How about the high-octane clash between Nathan MacKinnon’s Colorado Avalanche and Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers in the West?
“Well, I'm a little surprised Edmonton is still there!” Timonen said. “But you know, Connor McDavid is a different beast nowadays. He’s by far the best player in the world right now. He carried Edmonton by himself, I think. What a player! Edmonton now, when they get things rolling and confidence is building up, it's not an easy team to beat. But I think Colorado will win in seven games.”
Still, Timonen has confidence that the Tampa Bay Lightning – whose relentless, machine-like approach reminds him of Jalonen’s Finnish squad – will defeat the New York Rangers in the East and go on to capture a third straight Cup.
“I picked them to win the Stanley Cup again, early when the playoffs started. They know how to do it. They know how to win, when to crank it up, when to tighten up, when to block shots. When you talk about winning big games, you need to experience winning and they have done it.”