Vaananen set for expanded role in Phoenix

Originally published on in 2001

By Lucas Aykroyd

In 2000-01, Ossi Vaananen of the Phoenix Coyotes became known for more than having arguably the NHL’s most colorful name. Thanks to his solid play, many hockey observers hailed him as the top rookie defenseman in the Western Conference. The 6-4, 220-pound native of Vantaa, Finland led all NHL rookies in total hits with 190 and ranked ninth in rookie blocked shots with 79. He showed remarkable presence of mind for someone who was born on August 18, 1980. Vaananen certainly exceeded the expectations of Phoenix management, who snagged him with their second choice (second round, 43rd overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. He’ll have to continue that trend this season, since the Coyotes have lost such dependable blueliners as Jyrki Lumme and Keith Carney in their ongoing quest to shed salaries. EuroReport’s Lucas Aykroyd caught up with Vaananen after the former Jokerit player logged 22:13 in ice time in a 6-3 exhibition loss to the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place on September 19.

EuroReport: How do you like the way training camp has gone for you so far?

Ossi Vaananen: So far it’s been all right. I didn’t like today’s game. We didn’t play good. But overall, it’s been good. We’ve been skating hard and working hard. We’ll get better, definitely.

EuroReport: Your old agent, Mike Barnett, is now your general manager. How does that affect your situation?

Vaananen: Not much, because I didn’t deal that much with Mike. I met him a couple of times and we talked, but just a couple of times. So the change is not that big.

EuroReport: You’ve seen Wayne Gretzky come out and skate with the team in practice. Have you wondered if he might stage a comeback?

Vaananen: I haven’t thought about it. You’d have to ask him. Of course, you’re amazed when you see 99 ahead of you in the lineup. It’s quite a weird situation! He skated two times with us last year. He hasn’t lost his touch.

EuroReport: What did you learn from Teppo Numminen in your rookie season?

Vaananen: A lot! He gave me a lot of advice both on the ice and also off the ice. I don’t need his advice off the ice as much anymore, but still, on the ice, he has more than ten years of experience. He knows the game and what to do out there. I still have a lot to learn from him.

EuroReport: Has Bob Francis talked to you about the possibility of seeing more power play time this year?

Vaananen: We haven’t talked about it that much. But I know that there’s some power play ice time available. Whoever’s doing the right things out there on the power play will get the time. It just depends on who’s a good player for that spot at the moment.

EuroReport: Tell me about the experience of winning a silver medal with Finland at the 2001 World Championships.

Vaananen: Oh, that was awesome! A great experience. I’m very happy that I got to go. Not happy that Phoenix didn’t make it to the playoffs, of course. That was a bad thing. But after that I went to the championships and it was great. Of course, it was a big disappointment that we lost the final game. We were leading 2-0 after two periods. But you know, we got over it and we realized that silver for Finland was good. It was all right. We had our chance, but it doesn’t help to cry over it.

EuroReport: What are your chances of making the Finnish Olympic team?

Vaananen: I don’t know. There are a lot of great Finnish defensemen. I think whoever they pick, it’s going to be a great team.

EuroReport: What’s going to be the key for Phoenix to make the playoffs this year?

Vaananen: We’ve just got to play a solid game and not try to do too much. Work hard every night. That’s how we can skate over some more skillful teams. I don’t mean that we don’t have a lot of skill on our team, but still, work ethic will be the key. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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