Henri Jokiharju has won more gold with Finland.
After helping his country win the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in January, the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman won gold again on Sunday, this time at the 2019 IIHF World Championship.
He and teammate Kaapo Kakko, the top-ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting for the 2019 NHL Draft, are the first players to win gold at each tournament in the same year since Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews did with Canada in 2007.
“All season, I just wanted to enjoy these kinds of moments,” said Jokiharju, who had three assists and averaged 11:44 of ice time in 10 games. “It’s once-in-a-lifetime. I don’t think there’s too many guys winning doubles … the [under]-20s, and over here with the men’s as well. It’s such a good thing. We were talking with Kaapo how that would be unreal. It’s great.”
Jokiharju’s road to double-gold was certainly winding.
He will ease into the summer having played 85 games between the Blackhawks, Rockford of the American Hockey League and the two tournaments with Finland, not including exhibition and pre-tournament action.
The 19-year-old doesn’t mind.
“It’s awesome,” Jokiharju said. “I love it. It’s a long season. I’m a hockey player. I just want to play games. I love it.”
Jokiharju had 12 assists in 38 games with Chicago before being assigned to the AHL on Jan. 30, where he had 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in 30 games for Rockford. But he had five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games at the World Juniors and was named one of Finland’s top three players in the tournament.
Each stop has been a whirlwind for the 19-year-old.
“You’ve got to adjust mentally to that stuff,” Jokiharju said. “You go to the World Juniors and it’s a high-pressure situation because you come from the NHL and you have to be the best defenseman on your team. It was huge for me, and obviously the whole country, to win World Juniors. It’s the first time in North America to win the World Juniors over there. It was big.
“The AHL taught me a lot, just build my game. We’ve got good coaching staff over there. You just get better.”
His time in the NHL helped too.
“It’s awesome. It’s awesome,” he said. “You just can’t get used to it too much. You have to remember how special it is to be in the NHL. You can’t get into a routine because you need to think about how special it is there. You can’t get too much used to it.”
Chicago, understandably, is where Jokiharju hopes to be full-time next season. He’s on his way, according to Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat.
“Definitely,” DeBrincat said. “You see those bursts where he can just control the play. He’s a great player. He’s not quite putting up the points, but even without putting up the points he’s doing a great job of helping our team.
“He’s good with the puck. I think he makes a lot of great plays. I think he’s a good player. It’s that confidence that you need, I think. Once he gets a few more games, maybe he’ll be more confident with the puck. He played pretty well for us this year too. I think management wanted him to get a little bit more ice time and play more games. I think he’s a great player and he’s going to be good for us next year.”
His final portion of the season has Jokiharju, selected with the No. 29 pick by the Blackhawks in the 2017 NHL Draft, feeling more prepared.
On a team with one other NHL player in Juho Lammikko (Florida Panthers), Jokiharju helped Finland fend off heavily favored teams to win the gold. Finland defeated Sweden 5-4 in overtime in the quarterfinal on Thursday and Russia 1-0 in the semifinal on Saturday before a 3-1 win against Canada in the gold medal game Sunday.
He believes the stage was a valuable learning tool.
“Last year, I got a couple games with the men’s national team in a European hockey tour,” Jokiharju said. “It was good for me because I knew I could play with those guys. It was a huge confidence boost for me for the start of the year.
“I think everything [at the World Championship] is a little bit bigger. World Juniors was big. Here, it’s times two or three. Everything is so much bigger. I enjoy the moments. These kinds of moments and games make everyone a better player.
“For me, it’s a big thing as a young guy just to have these kinds of moments. It carries you so far at a young age. It’s huge.”