Before the season, few people gave the Chicago Blackhawks any chance of making the playoffs. No, no, this was a team in a rebuild mode, especially when Jonathan Toewshad to step away due to illness.
And yet, the Hawks are currently fourth in the Central division, a couple of games over .500, and they’ve done it thanks to heroic performances by Patrick Kane and their Finnish rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen.
Lankinen, 25, may be a rookie, but his hockey journey is almost the perfect example of how to build a successful career, step by step.
Always a talent, Lankinen has been in the Finnish development system from the get-go. He won the under-18 Finnish championship twice with Helsinki Jokerit and was named the under-20 league’s Best Goalie in 2014.
And yet, you won’t find his name on the under-18 world championship roster, or the World Junior’s rosters. He always hovered around the different junior national teams, always in the running, but never getting the nod to play in a major tournament. Often, it was the same two goalies that became the roadblocks.
Ville Husso and Juuse Saros.
And, in 2012, when he swept the awards table in the under-18 league, the goalies ahead of him, on the Jokerit under-20 team, were Joonas Korpisalo, Kasimir Kaskisuo, and Frans Tuohimaa (the Edmonton Oilers 2011 seventh round pick).
In 2014, Lankinen signed with the other Helsinki team, IFK – to back up Husso.
Damn that Finnish goalie factory.
That’s what Lankinen could’ve said, but he didn’t. He just went back to work. Maybe it helped that he knew he was so close.
Before the 2015 Worlds, the Team Finland goalie coach told Lankinen’s NHL agent that while he may not make the team, there was “something special” about the kid. He didn’t make the team – Husso and Saros were the goalie tandem – but the goalie coach knew what he was talking about.
His name? Miikka Kiprusoff, a man with 624 NHL games and a Vezina Trophy under his belt.
It’s fitting though, that when Lankinen finally got his chance to represent Finland in the 2019 World Championships, it came at a time when the team was called the worst Finland had ever iced in the tournament. Head coach Jukka Jalonen could only get two NHL’ers to play; Juho Lammikko and Henri Jokiharju. At that point, Lankinen had only played in the AHL and even six games in the ECHL – but there was no Korpisalo, no Husso, and no Saros standing in the way.
Lankinen played eight games in the tournament, including the quarterfinal, semifinal, and final, as Finland went all the way to win gold.
After the season, Lankinen got back to work, honing his craft in the American League, and last fall he switched up his training a little, working with Marko Torenius, currently with the Finnish federation and the long-time goalie coach of St. Petersburg SKA. When the puck dropped, Lankinen was ready.
He’s started 23 of the Blackhawks’ 34 games and has posted an impressive .920 save percentage, which currently ranks eleventh in the league among goalies with at least 15 starts.
While NHL players are revered and admired, national heroes are made in international competition. Swedes love Peter Forsberg for his shootout goal in 1994, Sidney Crosby’s Golden goal in 2010 will always make him special, and Finns will never forget the smiling face of one Kevin Lankinen as he hoisted the World Championship trophy.
Always smiling, always spreading the wealth among his teammates, and never taking credit for the wins makes him easy to like. And if that’s not enough, there’s his online book club.
During the 2019 Worlds, he mentioned in an interview that he liked to read, prompting the reporter to ask the obvious follow-up question.
“He mentioned that he was in the middle of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, which happens to be published by an imprint of ours,” says Timo Julkunen, CEO of WSOY, the publisher.
Days after the interview, the book was sold out in Finland, and after a new print run, the paperback hit the Top 10 list in the country.
After the tournament, Julkunen and his colleagues met with the goalie and by the time Lankinen left the offices, the Facebook group that carries his name, Lankinen’s Book Circle, was born.
With its 17,500 members, it’s now one of the most popular online book clubs in Finland. For each book sold through the club, a percentage goes to support IceHearts, an organization that uses hockey as a tool for social change.
“Kevin is a true reader, he’s the one running it. Of course, his job comes first, so there’s no strict schedule for him to post anything,” Julkunen says.
Lankinen’s most recent book posting is about A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough. It’s from January 30.
Since then, Lankinen has picked up ten Ws and made 577 saves. Life on Planet Lankinen is pretty good right now.
First published on Hockey Wanderlüst