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Monday, December 2, 2013

A Blow For Admiral (Updated)

Hannu Jortikka watches on during a 2013-14 preseason game. (Photo via Ilta-Sanomat)
Over the first few months of their existence, Admiral Vladivostok have had a pretty good run.  Their record going into today was 13-18, just fine for an expansion team, and they have been drawing decent crowds to Fetisov Hall to watch them play.  However, the team got some very bad news today, as Coach Hannu Jortikka, one of the KHL's most engaging figures, resigned due to family reasons (apparently his wife is in very poor health).

More below the jump!

Jortikka has an almost legendary reputation in the Far-Eastern bastions of Russian hockey, after managing to lead Amur Khabarovsk to the playoffs a couple of years ago.  There is no question that he will be missed on the shores of the Sea of Japan, and not just there --  SovSport today ran a nice article about his career under the headline "Do Not Say 'Goodbye,' Hannu!"  It is unquestionably a sad day for the KHL, and it will an even sadder one if Jortikka does not return to the coaching ranks at some point.


Jortikka (#2 in white), then of TPS Turku, fights with HIFK Helsinki player, and future Edmonton Oiler, Matti Hagman at some point during the 1970s.

Jortikka spent most of his playing career as a robust defenseman with TPS Turku in the Finnish league, and got into one World Junior Championship for Finland.  After retiring in 1983, he turned to coaching, and was behind Finland's bench as head coach when the country won its first World Junior gold medal in 1987, albeit after the Soviet and Canadian teams had been expelled from the tournament for fighting.  After many years coaching in the Finnish league, he arrived in Russia in 2011, where he promptly worked his little miracle for Amur.  He was fired from the Khabarovsk team during the 2012-13 season, much to the dismay and anger of their fans.

As noted above, family reasons are being cited as the reason behind his departure from Admiral, and there are also hints that the brutal travel schedule was beginning to take its toll on him.  It is worth recalling here that Jortikka was fined last season for criticizing the KHL over the league's handling of Amur's road trips, so there is a history here.  There does not appear to be any truth, at least at the moment, to any notions that Jortikka already has his heart set on next season's KHL coaching job with Jokerit Helsinki, although he has said that he is not through with coaching.  The opportunity to do so close to home, especially considering his wife's illness, may in time become an irresistible one, but for now Jortikka seems intent simply on taking a break.

I do hope that we get to see Hannu Jortikka coach again in the KHL, when he is ready to.  In the meantime, I would like to wish him and his wife, former basketball player and current bookstore executive Tuula Korte, all the best!

With many thanks to Artfulpuck for giving me the heads-up about this story this afternoon!

Admiral's new coach, just in front of Mario Lemieux. (photo via Greatest Hockey Legends)
Update: Sergei Svetlov, pictured above during his playing days, has been named Jortikka's successor at Admiral.


2 comments:

  1. The travel schedule is something I've been thinking about. I had the feeling that Medvescak Zagreb had an easier schedule than Admiral and I just checked again and I'm right. Even without taking the first seven games into account Admiral was at home for 50% of their games, Medvescak for 56%. And with the first seven games it's 30% (12 of 31 games) to 56% (18 of 32 games). Sure, it's going to even out but by then it might be too late for the points to matter.

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    1. That's a very interesting point. And Medvescak do not have nearly as far to go when they do travel - 2.5 hours by air to Moscow, for example. It will be intriguing to see what those two teams do with the rest of the season!

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