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An Olli Homecoming: Jokinen Returns to Sunrise

JmandolliOn the night Olli Jokinen was traded from the Panthers to Phoenix, he was entertaining friends at his home in western Broward County.

“This will always be home,'' he said on June 20, 2008.

Apparently those weren't empty words. To Jokinen, South Florida has really become his home.

He comes back Saturday.

Jokinen, the former Panthers captain who played in Florida from 2000 until the draft night trade to the Coyotes, will play in his first game at BankAtlantic Center since the Panthers home finale of the 2007-08 season when the New York Rangers play Florida at 7 p.m.

“This is going to be a special game,'' Jokinen said from Tampa on Thursday night. The Rangers played the Lightning on Friday.

“It'll be nice to go back there. I have a lot of good memories in that building. But it will be weird. I don't know what to expect, but I think there will be some booing and cheering. I really did enjoy my time playing for the Panthers. There's a good group of hard core fans there and I got to know a lot of them. Hopefully there's a lot of people there.''

At the end of the 2007-08 season, there were been plenty of whispers that Jokinen's time with the PanthOllicalgary2 ers had expired. A few days after that season ended, Jacques Martin was fired as coach but asked to stay on as the team's general manager.

Martin and Jokinen had quietly feuded and there was talk that Jokinen had lost his voice in the locker room as some said his poor play in the final month of that season was an attempt to get Martin fired as Florida's bench boss. Jokinen had five goals and eight assists in the final 24 games.

By summertime, once Martin reluctantly agreed to remain the team's GM, it was obvious Jokinen would be shipped out. Jokinen, knowing he was gone, even went so far as to formally request a trade.

Only he never really left. Jokinen went to Arizona, was traded to Calgary last season and then traded again February 2 to the Rangers. All the while, he kept his home in Parkland, living there with his wife Katerina and their daughters Alexandra and Emma during the offseason.

After the Olympics – one in which Jokinen helped Finland win Bronze -- Katerina packed up the house in Calgary and moved back to Broward, putting the kids back in their old schools.

“They are all going to be at the game so everyone is real excited,'' Olli Jokinen said. “There was no point for them to stay in Calgary. South Florida is still home and it's nice the girls can go back where they have friends.''

Jokinen says he doesn't know what reception he'll get from the local fans on Saturday. Many blamed him for Florida's postseason problems, and until he made the playoffs with Calgary last season, he was the league's record-holder with 799 games played before making the playoffs.

Calgary flamed out of last year's playoffs but Jokinen could get another shot at the postseason as the Rangers are fighting to get into the mix. New York came into Friday's game four points out of the final spot with a week left. The Panthers still haven't made the playoffs.

“It's always tough to see them struggle to get into the playoffs,'' said Jokinen. “There are new owners there, so we'll see what happens. I was in the west for a while so I didn't get to follow them too much, but I have been now. I guess they still have a small chance to make it. I hear there's a good coach there, and it's Olliphoenix2 Randy Sexton's team now. The owners say they have a plan, but it's tough on the players who have been there a long time.''

Jokinen admits that he doesn't talk to many of his old teammates in Florida – even though there aren't many left. Of Florida's probable lineup for Saturday, only seven players – Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, Tomas Vokoun and Rostislav Olesz among them – remain from the 2007-08 season.

“He was here for a while in Florida and there will always be fans of the Rangers there,'' said Horton, who was close with Jokinen but it's obvious that isn't the case anymore. “This is where he made his name and became a great hockey player here. Olli was the go-to player here for a long time so I'm sure he's excited.''

-- Steve MacIntyre was sent back to Rochester on Friday. No word on Victor Oreskovich's status. He left Thursday's game early after getting smashed into the boards. Byron Bitz is out, but Gregory Campbell could be good enough to go if Oreskovich cannot. Campbell loves playing the Rangers.

SATURDAY: RANGERS AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WAXY 790

The series: Rangers lead 35-27-6

The game: The Panthers snapped their four game losing streak on Thursday as Scott Clemmensen blanked the Bruins 1-0. Clemmensen, who is expected to start Saturday, had back-to-back shutouts for the Devils last season. Clemmensen's shutouts came, coincidentally, against the Bruins – and Rangers.

Comments

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GR,

any chance Jokinen comes back to Florida?

George, even though most of your story is based on Olli's own statements, the rest is your negative attitude towards him. Its obvious that you never appreciated his talent or good will. JM was a poor coach, and worst GM. JM put is personal feelings 1st instead of the team. Who trades a 419 point scorer ?Jokinen donated a LOT of his personal time, opened his home to sponsors and donated over $100,000 to local charities. His dedication was never appreciated. What has any captain or player (s)done for the community since Jokinen ? NOTHING !!!

Put your personal feeling away and do a professional job of reporting the true facts. Maybe you should take lessons from a professional hockey writer.

JM Stick boy

Oli will always be one of my favorites,same with Luongo

I hope the home crowd gives him a nice welcome back

He was a constantly underachieving player and I'm glad he's gone. The Panthers aren't necessarily a better team without him, but he was so frustrating to watch, and he should not have been a leader on any team.

With the turmoil in this organization, 4 30 goal seasons and 3 70 plus point seasons is under achieving? The Panthers have only had two 30 goal scorers in the time (Horton and Booth, one season each) and no 70 point players in that same time frame. They've only had 4 60 point players in that time frame. At least with Jokinen, the Panthers had a second scoring option. He just needed a playmaker on his line, similar to Kozlov. But typical of the Martin era, Martin was completely clueless of how to put a hockey team together.

JM Stick boy: I don't think I ever said anything bad about Olli, nor did I have a "negative attitude towards him." Olli was probably the only player who would go out with Michael Yormark and meet with sponsors -- or even have them come to dinner at his house. But what's done was done. There is a reason Olli doesn't play for the Panthers anymore and you can blame JM for that all you want. The two of them didn't get along. AT ALL. Olli didn't like Jacques and Jacques didn't like Olli. Say what you want, but a change had to have been made. JM was in charge. He won that power struggle. Read the story again. I didn't rip Olli, in fact, I've always praised his loyalty to this organization. He, to me, should be highly regarded by Panthers fans if only because of his loyalty to them -- even to this day. But he had to go. For himself and for this team. He knows that too. But change always doesn't work out. It didn't in this case. The Panthers are still a mess.

And Clash, this had nothing to do with numbers. Olli had those in spades. But he needed a scenery change as much as the Panthers did.

Olli is a real man. I will never forget his actions a few months ago when he bravely took on Patrick Kane in the non-fighting Olympics. A real Florida hockey player that Olli is.

This may seem crazy, but why not bring Ollie back. The Cats need a big, scoring center, who can also help on the power play. Ollie needs a new home, will probably be relatively cheap to sign and plays best for a demanding coach, like Pete. I know it goes against conventional wisdom, but, bad as we are, why not?

I agree. They should resign Jokinen in the offseason if he comes at the right price. He is certainly better than Oslez.

Don't look now all you JM haters but the Habs are in the playoffs and we're getting ready to play golf this summer

That's because JM was not the GM in Montreal. If he was the Habs would be in 11th and would have given out 6 year contracts for $3 million each to Darche and Metropolit.

The Habs at least have some talent. But like most JM coached playoff teams, it will be a short lived playoff run!

I hope Cliff and Stu give Randy the go-ahead to offer a contract to Jokinen when he becomes a UFA this summer. We sure do need the scoring, and there aren't many good available players.

Welcome back Olli. I hope you score a hatrick tonight and help us lose so we get a better draft pick this summer.

George, the statement was, Olii was an underachiever. Its a team sport. If any fanbase should know about a player who is out for himself and doesn't play with a team mind frame, the Panthers' should with their experience with Bure. Olli didn't underachieve. The organization did by not surrounding him and Luongo with the proper talent. The organization did by building a team designed for 1996, not 2006 with the players they brought in after the lockout. One guy scoring goals and one guy stopping shots will never be a playoff contender. There needs to be a hell of a lot more support than what the Panthers have offered their "star" players.

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