Tomek Valtonen checked off all the boxes when Poland was looking for someone to lead the national team. An underlooked thing about coaches in hockey is when a coach gets hired, who will they bring with them. This is usually an assistant coach they have worked with or a player they have played with on their staff. Ted Nolan brought Tom Coolen aboard with him to Poland. Tom Cooolen had served as assistant coach on Ted Nolan’s Buffalo Sabres and Latvian teams. Tomek Valtonen has brought more than just a couple former assistants with him. More Finnish players are singing in the Polish Hockey League this year than ever and it appears the Finnish style of play is something the national team could be shaped around. That brings us to our hashtag for the Tomek Valtonen era, #FinnishTheJob credit to Andrew Zadarnowski for coming up with the pun. We all know Tomek Valtonen by now, and if not click here, time for us to meet the rest of the Fins in Poland this year.
Risto Dufva is a legendary Finnish coach. His trophy case says it all, 2 Olympic medals, 2 World Championship medals, 4 World Junior medals, and one Liiga championship all as a head or assistant coach. Dufva starting off his hockey career as a goalie and made it to the Liiga, the top league in Finland, for a handful of games, but mostly played in the lower Finnish leagues. His coaching career is far more what he is known for. Dufva started coaching in 1991-92 as goaltending coach for JyP HT in the Liiga. He has been coaching for 27 seasons. During that time he has been a head coach for 4 Liiga teams and Finland’s World Junior team, an assistant coach on Finland’s Olympic, World Championship, and World Juinor teams, goaltending coach for their U18 team and various other coaching jobs. He has simply done pretty much everything in Finnish hockey coaching wise. Last year, he coached Jukurit in the Liiga and served as team consultant for Slovenia. Now, he will serve in a team consultant role for Poland.
Tommi Satosaari was Tomek Valtonen’s pick to take over as the goalie coach for Poland. Satosaari is a former goaltender in the Liiga and across various other lower European leagues. He retired in 2011 after spending the 2010-11 in the Allsvenskan and EBEL. In 2012-13, he served as a goaltending coach for Peliitat in the Mestis. After that Satosaari went off the professional hockey radar for a bit til popping up in the United Arab Emirates in 2016-17. He played in the UAE hockey league for the Abu Dhabi Storms and served as an assistant coach for the UAE national team. Satosaari has already started training Polish goalies and focusing on the youth. As of the publish date, he is currently in Poland running a camp for goalies born from 2005-2008. He also will be watching some PHL games and see the PZHL U23 team in action.
Players in the PHL
Coming into the 2018-19 season, there were 25 Finnish players in the history of the PHL according to Elite Prospects. This season there are 11 Finnish players on PHL teams, only one of them is not in their first season. 5 of the 11 play for the PHL team Tomek Valtonen coaches, Podhale Nowy Targ.
Joonas Sammalmaa – Sammalmaa is one of the five mentioned Finnish players to join Tomek Valtonen in Poland. Sammalmaa currently has 12 points in 10 games. Before signing in Poland the 27-year-old left winger was a part of JYP in Finland playing for both their Liiga and Mestis, the second best league in Finland, team.
Joona Tolvanen – If the last name sounds familiar that is because it is. Joona is the brother of Eeli Tolvanen, a first-round pick of the Predators regarded as one of the best prospects in hockey. Joona Tolvanen signed in Poland after splitting 2017-18 with two clubs in the Mestis. The 26-year-old has played forward and defense in his career.
Eetu Koski – Koski is a 26-year-old two-way center and is off to a good start in the PHL with 11 points in 12 games. Before this year, Koski spent the last two seasons in the Liiga with Saipi putting up 7 points in 53 games.
Eetu Moksunen – Moksunen is a 21-year-old defenseman and PHL marks his first extended taste of pro hockey. Moksunen is a defense-first defenseman and could be a long-term player in Podhale defense. He is definitely someone Valtonen can help develop.
Ali Liikanen – Like Moksunen, Liikanen is still young at 22. The forward is playing professional hockey for the first time in his career. Last year, he had 27 points in 38 in the SM-Liiga, Finland’s top junior league. Liikanen needs to develop his game more and is off to rough start in the PHL with only 2 assists. But again like Moksunen, he is another project for Valtonen that has a quite a bit of potential.
Jesse Rohtla – The 30-year-old center is the lone Finnish player, who played in the PHL last season. He put up 53 points in 38 games with GKS Katowice, which made him the regular season scoring leader. He is now in his second season with GKS Katowice. Before this year, he played most of his career in the Mestis.
Janne Laakkonen – Laakkoenen is coming to end of his career at 36-year-olds, but is proving he still has plenty of scoring left as the left winger currently has 22 points in 14 games with GKS Katowice. Before coming to the PHL, Laakkonen spent most his career in the Liiga recording 335 points in 493 games. He also has represented Finland nationally on a few occasions.
Eetu Heikkinen – Heikkinen is the final Finnish player on GKS Katowice and the offensive defenseman is making quite the impact with 19 points in 17 games. This has him tied for first in defensemen PHL scoring with Martin Cakajik. Heikkinen mostly played in the Mestis before signing in Poland but also had stints in Italy, Sweden, and Kazaksthan. His ppg is above .40 in every league he has played in except for the Liiga.
Juha Kiilholma – the newest Finnish to arrive is also the biggest name. Kiiholma is a former longtime Liiga center with over 700 games to his name. His 754 games ranking 26th in all-time Liiga history. The 36-year-old now comes to Oswiecim where he’ll be a nice fit with Andrej Themár, one of the best forwards in the PHL.
Iiro Vehmanen – Vehmanen is also pretty new to Oswiecim only getting in two games so far. The 29-year-old defensemen spent a lot of his early pro career in the Mestis. He started playing outside of Finland in 2014-15 when he played in France. Vehmanen has also suited up in Germany and Hungary.
Tuomas Tolonen – the final and only goalie on our list. Tolonen bounced around lower pro and junior teams in Finland before joining IPK in 2015. During the 2015-16 season, he helped IPK get promoted to the Mestis then saved the team from being relegated in 2016-17 by posting a .941 sv% in 8 relegations games. He helped IPK reach the Mestis playoffs the following season. Now, he has signed in Poland to guard the goal for Orlik Opole. He has struggled to start the season, but Opole as a whole has struggled and they sit 10th in the league.
So to all the Fins now in Poland, Tervetuloa Puolaan!