by Barry Holloway || AHL On The Beat Archive
Milwaukee Admirals defenseman Ville Koistinen answered his cell phone as he and teammate Jason Guerriero were on the verge of being interviewed about being reunited in Milwaukee after playing together in Finland for Ilves Tampere last season.
“Hey, Hollywood,” said Guerriero, mocking Koistinen in attempt to get him off the phone.
You could tell Koistinen didn’t get the reference by the look on his face. While he may not understand all that is Hollywood, there is no doubt that everywhere Koistinen goes he’s a star.
Last season in Tampere, Koistinen led the league in points for a defenseman. It was a title he may have been in the running for this season in North America, but a mid-season concussion robbed him of 21 games.
Despite his shortened season, Koistinen was honored with an AHL All-Star selection. With only a single game under his belt after his return from injury, Koistinen went to Toronto and recorded an assist for PlanetUSA.
While many European players struggle to adjust to North American hockey, Koistinen has found a way to make an immediate impact.
“He was in the same town all his life,” explained Guerriero of the differences. “In Finland, it’s different. That team when you’re 7 years old, they have a pro team. When you are a young kid you stay in that organization all the way up into the pros.”
While Koistinen knew that his first professional team would likely be with Tampere, American-born Guerriero’s opportunity to play with the club came as a bit of a surprise. While Guerriero’s original plans kept him in America, everything was changed by a single phone call.
“I was going to go to Wilkes-Barre’s camp and last minute my agent was like, ‘There’s a good opening in Finland if you want to go.’”
Guerriero took the offer, crossed the ocean, and found himself in another country with a whole other culture.
“It was a shell shock when I got there,” explaining what it was like entering the airport terminal. “The language was a little different at first.” While laughing about the whole experience he added, “When you’re in the locker room and everyone is speaking Finnish, I just hear, ‘[A bunch of Finnish followed with] Guerriero’. I’m just like, ‘Who’s talking about me?’”
Koistinen didn’t buy into Guerriero’s hard-knocks story about his hard transition in Finland. “In his first games in Finland he scored like eight or nine points.”
Stood corrected by his teammate, Guerriero added with a laugh, “Yeah, I took a few nights off after that.”
With Koistinen and Guerriero, Ilves Tampere finished the regular season sixth out of 14 teams. But paired up with the eventual league champions in the first round of the playoffs, Ilves was swept in four close games to HPK.
After the season, Koistinen was awarded an NHL contract with Nashville. Assigned to Milwaukee, Koistinen began training camp with his new team, and began to struggle with some of the same things Guerriero had to Europe.
“I understand English pretty good, but I don’t speak it so good yet,” he explained. “I learn better with no other Finnish players, because I can speak with them.” Kositinen was referring to Admirals starting goalie Pekka Rinne and Mikko Lehtonen, recently traded to the Buffalo Sabres.
“You miss your family and friends. This is my first year out of my hometown. Of course, some things are a little bit different.”
While trying to adjust to everything new in his life, Koistinen received a phone call that gave him a fresh breath of familiarity.
“During the training [in Milwaukee], [Guerriero] left a message at my home,” said Koistinen before doing his best imitation of Guerriero’s message. “Hi, I’m Jason Guerriero, I have a chance to come play with you.”
Guerriero added, “He was like, ‘No way.’ [And I said,] ‘I’m in the car driving [to Milwaukee].’”
Koistinen was happy to have Guerriero back as a teammate. “He’s one of the smartest players on this team. He doesn’t dump the puck so much. He tries to hold the puck and tries to pass it always. That’s how I like to play.”
“In Finland that’s what it is,” added Guerriero. “It’s a lot of skill. It’s not so much of the dumping, chasing, and grinding that it is here.”
Guerriero was also quick to point out what he thought of Koistinen’s game.
“[He has] speed and he sees the ice well. Obviously, a lot of guys in Finland are great skaters, and he is one of the best skaters in this league. He’s a great power play guy, and even if he wasn’t right here I’d still be saying the same thing.”
The two players have taken similar paths to get where they are. But despite different backgrounds, Guerriero points out that both players have the same objectives.
“Everybody wants to make it to that elite level. For Ville, he already has an NHL contract, but every day is a battle for him because he wants to play in the NHL.”
The Milwaukee Admirals hold a tenuous lead for one of the eight Western Conference playoff spots, and Guerriero feels that securing one of those spots has to be their main objective.
“The goal is to win here and do the best for the team and yourself.”
With Guerriero becoming a great complement to the team’s top scorer, Rich Peverley, and with Koistinen’s rookie campaign seeing him become the team’s highest scoring defenseman behind Sheldon Brookbank, it is clear that while they may be thrilled that they are back together on the same team, their excitement is trumped by all of the Admirals fans who have seen them contribute to much of the recent success in Milwaukee.