He’s always been more about actions than words, so nothing has changed for Valtteri Filppula in that regard.
What has changed for the Philadelphia Flyers’ veteran center is his own experience level, something he’s stockpiled during 12 NHL seasons playing for three different teams. Filppula, 33, has gone from a promising Detroit Red Wings prospect to a battle-tested leader for the Flyers and his home country, Finland.
“On the ice, you just try to do everything right,” said Filppula, who helped Finland defeat the United States 2-0 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the IIHF World Championship. “You try to play the right way, the way the coach wants to play and just be an example that way.”
Filppula has accomplished that goal thus far for Finland, which plays the winner of the Sweden-Switzerland game in the semifinals on Friday.
He has four points (two goals, two assists) in eight games, but his biggest contribution is consistency. Finland is led in scoring by Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho and Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, but it’s Filppula spearheading the supporting cast.
“I feel like young guys nowadays, whatever league they come from, they’re ready to play,” said Filppula, who plays with Rantanen on Finland’s top line. “You don’t have to do too much. They know what to do. They play like they have more games under their belt than they do, which makes the older guys’ job a little easier.”
That might be true, but Aho, 19, said Filppula’s role isn’t as simple as it might sound.
“He’s a great leader,” said Aho, who leads Finland with nine points (two goals, seven assists). “First of all, he’s a great guy off the ice. On the ice, he’s such a team player and two-way center. It’s nice to watch him and how he prepares for games and practices. He’s such a great leader.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering some of the captains Filppula has played with during his career.
In Detroit, he was teammates with former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and current captain Henrik Zetterberg. He watched Steven Stamkos lead the Tampa Bay Lightning. Filppula also played with Teemu Selanne, a close friend, for Finland at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
He gleaned a little knowledge from each one and is applying what he’s learned for Finland. It might not come out in words on the ice, but it’s evident just by watching Filppula’s teams.
Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was a teammate for eight seasons in Detroit, and knows exactly how valuable he can be.
“He’s not only a leader, but he’s a top-notch guy,” said Howard, who made 18 saves in the loss Thursday. “We’re really good friends, so I wish him all the best. You can see he’s done an extremely good job with all the young guys here in Finland.”