From Ural ice to inline

Fresh to inline, Laakkonen joined from far away


Janne Laakkonen in action for the Finnish inline hockey national team in Tampere. Photo: Jukka Salminen

TAMPERE – Finland has been the team with the best record so far. The hockey enthusiasts are eager to defend their title. Most of them play on ice in winter and inline hockey in summer although one player came from far away for the summer season as Janne Laakkonen spent the winter at another corner of Europe in the Ural region.

The 33-year-old played for HPK Hameenlinna, IFK Helsinki, KalPa Kuopio and Ilves Tampere in the top Finnish ice hockey league in the past, won three bronze medals and one silver with Hameenlinna when he was the scoring leader of the Finnish playoffs in 2010.

After two years in minor leagues in Finland and Sweden the Kuopio native went east to try his luck. He first spent almost two months with Arystan Temirtau in the top Kazakh league before moving not too far away to the hockey team Yuzhny Ural (“South Ural”) from the city of Orsk that plays in the second-tier Russian league VHL.

“The hockey was good especially in the VHL in Russia but the life in Russia is different with different rules and a different culture but you just have to get used to it and do like they do it,” Laakkonen said about his year 2,400 kilometres south-east from here.

“The hockey in Kazakhstan is different. The puck goes from end to end with many goals. Kazakh players are skilful and know how to play and score goals.”

Laakkonen joined in November with two other Finnish players, former U18 national team forward Jere Laaksonen and defenceman Anssi Rantanen, from Temirtau.

He calls the “Russian Classic”, the league’s annual outdoor game, his best memory where Yuzhny Ural was the visiting team at Sputnik Nizhni Tagil in a football stadium.

“We played an open-ice game in front of 9,000 people and we won that game,” he said.

Ice hockey accompanied Laakkonen all his life until he fell in love with the summery way of playing hockey. Last year he tried inline hockey for the first time and even made the national team that won World Championship gold in Pardubice.

“It was a good surprise for me to be in the World Championship last year but it was fun and every game and every practice I learned a bit more. It’s a fun sport,” Laakkonen said.

“If you play ice hockey it’s easier to play inline hockey but it’s still a quite different game. In ice hockey you have more counter-attacks and here you need to find the open space to try to score the goal a little bit like in chess.”

Also this year he returned to inline hockey after his ice hockey season at the border between Europe and Asia had come to an end.

In the Finnish inline hockey league he played for Vuorelan Veikot and won the championship as the Playoff MVP. Now he’s happy to play in Tampere where he once spent part of an ice hockey season with Ilves.

“It’s nice to play the World Championship at home. It’s good to see so many people watch our game,” Laakkonen said.

“We have three wins. We were nervous in the first game but then got better. We learned in the second game that we should not take penalties.”

The Finns constantly improved. After a 9-2 opening-day victory against winless Slovenia following a rough opening period, the Lions beat the Czech Republic 7-3 thanks to five unanswered first-period goals and also one by Laakkonen, who added a second goal in the 9-1 win over archrival Sweden – a game that was watched by 4,414 fans in Tampere and many more online.

Being the defending champion, the team with the best record in Tampere and the home team, the goal of the Finnish team can only be gold.

“Of course we want to win every game. Last year we did it and it’s our goal this year too,” Laakkonen said. “But there are many good teams here so everything can happen. We just have to think about the next game and take it a game at a time.”

And the next game is the one today against Germany, the fourth-ranked team from the other group, in the quarter-finals. If the Finns win they will face the winner of the USA-Sweden quarter-final tomorrow.

While Laakkonen is enjoying the Inline Worlds this week, he can soon start preparing for the next season on ice when he will again play in Kazakhstan, this time for Kulager Petropavlovsk. The club was established after the opening of a new ice rink one-and-a-half years ago in the capital of the Northern Kazakhstan Region and will join the Kazakh top league as of next season.

“It’s a new team in the league and I and four Finnish players go there. It’s 400 km north of Astana close to the border with Russia,” Laakkonen said about his future home. But first he wants to work on winning another gold medal this year, this time on the world stage.

All quarter-final games in the Top Division and in the Division I will be streamed live and for free.


Quarter-Finals on 9th July

USA vs. Sweden 14:00
Czech Republic vs. Slovakia 16:00
Finland vs. Germany 18:00
Canada vs. Slovenia 20:00

All games will be streamed live. Times are local (EET).


Quarter-Finals on 9th July

Australia vs. Austria 13:00
Great Britain vs. Hungary 15:00
Croatia vs. Bulgaria 17:00
Latvia vs. Argentina 19:00

All games will be streamed live. Times are local (EET).

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