On 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 Panth 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
“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 Randy Sexton's team now. The owners say
they have a plan, but it's tough on the players who have been there a
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
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.