Korpisalo follows in father’s footsteps as standout on the ice

Korpisalo follows in father’s footsteps as standout on the ice

By: Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider

Having taken the Blue Jackets’ starting job and run with it in the early days of the 2019-20 season, Joonas Korpisalo is in the midst of becoming a household name in NHL hockey circles.

But the Korpisalo name is one that needs no introduction in Finland. Korpisalo’s father, Jari Korpisalo, spent 12 seasons in Finland’s top league with a three-year stint in Germany, as well. Also a Finnish national team player, the forward spent all dozen of his Liiga seasons with Ässät, serving as the Aces’ captain in seven of his campaigns before later going into a management gig with the team.

In other words, as young Joonas was growing up in the western Finnish city of Pori near the Gulf of Bothnia, his name preceded him at times.

 “Wherever he goes in the city, everyone knows him,” Joonas said. “He was quite a character when he played, so people remember him. He was a hot head, scored goals and stuff like that. That’s a rare combination, to have fighting and scoring goals. It was old-school hockey.”

Jari Korpisalo, who is in Columbus and with the Blue Jackets this weekend as the team’s fathers tripped with the team to Chicago and will take in tonight’s game with the Islanders, finished his Liiga career with 575 games played and a total of 213 goals and 231 assists for 444 points.

He also added 891 penalty minutes, lending credence to Joonas’ description of his father, and the story goes that one time the 5-foot-10 Jari didn’t back down from trying to fight massive NHL defenseman Hal Gill when the latter was playing in Finland during the NHL lockout.

While Joonas followed in his hockey footsteps — and has toned down what was once a similarly fiery personality — he’s done it in the goalie’s net rather than as a forward.

As for how it happened, well, blame the nice goalie gear that caught young Joonas’ eye as he spent his younger years hanging out at the rink and in the locker room with his father.

“I remember I was rather young, I was like 8 or 9 the first time I tried being a goalie,” Korpisalo said. “I remember trying it for the first time, I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually pretty cool.’ I tried it more and more. I think I was like 10 years old or something, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to play hockey and I’m a goalie.’ I remember my dad was like, ‘You can still try out to be a forward or something.'”

“In the beginning, I was hoping he was going to be as a skater and not as a goalie,” Jari admitted. “Once he came after practice and Joonas told me that, ‘If I cannot be as a goalie full-time, I won’t go to the next practices anymore.’ I told my wife that, and OK, he is a goalie. We have to be ready to buy some gear and stuff.”

It’s fair to say things have worked out for the younger Korpisalo, who has his dad’s athleticism but packs it into a long, lean 6-foot-3 frame ideal for stopping pucks. After playing for Finnish junior national teams while coming up in the Jokerit system overseen by a guy named Jarmo Kekalainen — who had played on a Finnish junior national team with Jari Korpisalo — the CBJ goalie finally got his chance while on loan with Ilves in 2014-15 and was excellent with a 2.34 GAA and .919 save percentage.

On the strength of his junior success, he had been drafted in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft by Columbus and then-general manager Scott Howson, and Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets got him to come over to North America in 2015-16. The past four seasons, he had 90 NHL games (81 starts) and served largely as the top backup behind Sergei Bobrovsky.

With Bobrovsky gone, Korpisalo began this season as the No. 1 and has started five games, going 3-2-0 with a 2.60 GAA and .903 save percentage, and has looked sharper and sharper as the season has gone on.

Going into this season, Korpisalo returned to Finland to train, knowing there was a good chance his NHL workload would increase this season. His dad’s advice?

“I told him to enjoy the opportunity and give your best,” Jari said. “That’s all.”

Korpisalo has done just that, and the dream that started in the ice rinks of Finland has come true on the biggest stage.

“It’s fun to watch his story from being a kid until now,” Jari said. “His dream came true to get in the NHL.”