Catching up with Finnish prospects Waltteri Hopponen and Joel Kiviranta

By Chapin Landvogt
Waltteri Hopponen - Finland

Photo: Espoo Blues right wing and 2014 prospect Waltteri Hopponen was chosen 10th overall at the 2013 CHL Import Draft by the WHL’s Everett Silvertips (courtesy of Martin Rose/Getty Images)

 

Hailing from the Espoo Blues organization stationed right outside of Helsinki, the 6’1”, 180-pound left winger Waltteri Hopponen most recently represented Team Finland at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament that took place in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia. Waltteri spoke to Hockey’s Future for a few moments after a 5-1 victory over Slovakia at the Ivan Hlinka.

Hockey’s Future: After an exciting 4-3 overtime win over the US, Finland came out and convincingly defeated Slovakia by a score of 5-1. How do you feel the tournament is going for you here in the very hot Slovakian countryside?

Waltteri Hopponen: Pretty good. We have two wins, one real big one against the US. We’ve got nothing to complain about.

HF: How about your own personal play?

WH: Yep, well, the team play has been good. Mine has actually been pretty lousy.

HF: So it is safe to say that you have special motivation to face Team Russia tomorrow?

WH: Russia is naturally a very good team. Always. But if you play well, they can be beat and we’re playing really well right now, so I feel confident.

HF: You’re from the Espoo region, a suburb of Helsinki. You’ve been playing with that club for most of your young career. How was your last season? Do you feel you made a lot of progress?

WH: Sure, my overall game progressed. I feel it really did, but I didn’t score enough goals. I should have had more. I am capable of scoring more. This is something I’m going to work on moving forward.

HF: This summer, you were drafted by the Everett Silvertips 10th overall at the 2013 CHL Import Draft. Do you plan on spending the next season with Everett?

WH: I am heading over to North America. I fully intend on giving it a shot with the Everett Silvertips this fall.

Joel Kiviranta is part of the famous Jokerit Helsinki hockey program. The 5’10”, 160-pound left winger recently represented Finland at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament that took place in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia, where he turned some heads. After Finland’s tough 7-3 loss to Russia in which Finland had cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-3 after two periods, Kiviranta took a few minutes to speak to Hockey’s Future.

Hockey’s Future: After two preliminary round victories, Finland managed to put up quite a fight in this emotional game that saw lots of rough stuff and penalties. What was going through your head during the second intermission after your team had battled back to tie the game 3-3, with you having scored one of those goals?

Joel Kiviranta: We knew we had played hard. We thought we had a real chance at winning this thing.

HF: Were you surprised at how dominant Russia was in the 3rd period?

JK: Not surprised, but we didn’t think they’d suddenly start playing their best hockey of the tournament. It’s our fault that we lost this game.

HF: Do you feel Finland took too many penalties?

JK: Absolutely. We needed to control ourselves better.

HF: Now you did have a huge win over the USA a few days ago and a convincing victory over Slovakia. Are the Fins generally happy with their tournament?

JK: Yes. We’re feeling pretty good about it. I mean I can’t tell you how much that win against the USA meant to us. The win against Slovakia was a must and we achieved it. We were in tight with Russia for a while and lost. It was in our hands. Now we’re out of the medal round.

HF: Now you yourself are from Helsinki and you play in the Jokerit program. Can you tell me a bit about your last season?

JK: I was on the U18 team last season, but I didn’t have a big role in the team. I was usually only given a couple of shifts a period, but between that and all the practice time, it ended up being a real good experience.

HF: Will you be staying with Jokerit this season?

JK: Well, things are changing. The team is moving to the KHL and I really don’t know what is going to be going on with respect to the youth program.

HF: That was going to be my next question. What is your opinion about Finland’s most recognizable team moving to the KHL?

JK: It’s exciting. Maybe it’s good for Jokerit. For the juniors, it’s not going to be a very good thing. It is going to be very hard for us younger generations to step in at that level of play unless something happens.

HF: What plans does the club have with you?

JK: That’s just it, I’ve gotten no info about that yet. At the moment, I am heading into the season as if I’m staying with Jokerit.

HF: Do you have any offers to play with another team?

JK: There may have been. I don’t want to confirm this. But for now, I’m planning on staying with Jokerit.

HF: Is your family from the Helsinki area?

JK: Not actually. I came to the club in order to play with my older brother, but now he’s with the army. It’ll be my turn in the not so distant future.

HF: This is your NHL Draft year. Do you have any thoughts about that?

JK: Uhhh, no. I don’t like to think about that. Sure, we see the scouts here and that reminds you that people are watching, but I never find myself thinking about it when I’m on the ice. I actually like to play under pressure and like to know people are examining what I’m doing. I don’t find that pressure to be something that makes playing difficulty. It actually helps motivate me.

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