I recently had a chance to interview Jere Kolari, a Finnish, Kuopio born player who is now chasing his dream in WHL playing for the Lethbrigde Hurricanes. Usually it’s players from Russia, Slovakia and Czech reb. who want to make the jump to North-American junior hockey. The Finns and Swedes have traditionally chosen to play in their own junior leagues. Jere made a bold move this past year and left hometown Kuopio. He was drafted in the 1st round of 1999 import draft. This year he’s been plagued with various injuries (concussion, knee) in the preseason.
Let’s hear what Jere has to say about this upcoming season and his future:
Question (by Zika): So tell us about yourself? Who are you?
Answer (by Jere Kolari): I’m Jere Kolari, born in the 11th of February 1982. I’m 6’1 tall and weigh 180 pounds. I play hockey as a centerman/winger and I shoot right handed.
Q: So when did you start playing hockey?
A: I was about 7 years old, the reason, was that all my friends played it and it was so fun.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a hockey player?
A: Well my strength is that I have a good shot and hockey sense, but obviously there’s still a lot of work I need to do on all areas to improve my game. I really should improve my skating.
Q: How has your hockey career been so far?
A: In years 1994-1998 I’ve always been playing with players older than me (in Kuopio) and I’ve been part of the Finnish National junior program since I was 14 when they held the first camp (the so called ”Pohjola training camp”).
Q: So how did a Finnish player end up playing in Canada?
A: Well last spring they asked me if I was interested in playing in Canada next season. I thought about it and decided to go because I wanted to learn a new language and learn the Canadian style of physical hockey. My agent took care of the whole draft process.
Q: Yes I was wondering that. Hockey agents in junior hockey is quite a new phenom in Finland. How did you start cooperation with your agent?
A: Well it happened in 1997 when this Finnish agent Juuso Pulliainen contacted me and told me that he works for this Canadian company ”Three Goals Promotion” which is based in Edmonton. So I agreed and I’ve been with them ever since.
Q: How did you prepare yourself for the big move?
A: Mostly I spent my time practicing my English vocabulary and trying to think how the life would be in Canada.
Q: So how has it been so far?
A. I’m staying with this very nice family in Lethbridge. I must admit that it’s been quite difficult, you know the language and different culture and all that, but everyone has been really nice to me and that helps a lot when you try to adjust into a new culture.
Q: How about hockey, it must be really different from Finnish Jr B league?
A.: Yeah you’re right, the difference is huge. It’s much more physical here, obviously because the rink is so much smaller and players are much bigger than in Finnish junior hockey. You just don’t have time to keep the puck because someone’s coming to hit you right away.
Q: What is your goal in your hockey career?
A. I will try to get a good solid season here in Lethbridge and of course one day I want to play in the NHL!
Q: I must ask this, why does the Finnish town of Kuopio produce so many good hockey players (Olli Jokinen, Sami Kapanen, Kimmo Timonen, Marko Tuomainen)? Why is that so? Kuopio lost it’s SM-liiga team this summer (mostly becouse of constant financial problems), do you think we’ll ever see quality hockey in Kuopio?
A: There have been many good junior coaches in Kuopio in the 90s and they built these new ice rinks in town so that junior players could get some more ice time… it’s a combination of that. Okay men’s hockey in Kuopio is down at the moment but they’ll come back one day… but it’ll take many years, maybe even 4-8 years!
Thanks you Jere Kolari! I hope you get over your injuries soon and get a chance to play Canadian major junior hockey soon!