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Jokinen feeling at home in 'Peg

Jets forward confident there will be a season

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The scene was idyllic, something that clearly belonged on the next Jokinen family Christmas card.

There was Olli Jokinen, one of the Winnipeg Jets' big free-agent additions this summer, at MTS Iceplex Thursday afternoon blasting one-timers delicately slid to him by his young daughters -- all dressed up in their best figure skating gear -- into an open net. The moment had media camera types scrambling for position and had other spectators busting into a collective, "Awww, isn't that so cute" chorus.

The question now, especially with the ongoing discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement taking place in New York, is will the Jokinens have more moments like this in the weeks ahead if a lockout drags on or will the big Finnish centre soon be blasting home one-timers from the likes of Toby Enstrom, Andrew Ladd or Blake Wheeler?

And Jokinen's guess is as good as any.

"I think everything's going to work out," Jokinen said after his on-ice session to a media throng. "As a player, we just want to get a fair deal and we prepare like camps are going to start on the 22nd (of September). That's our goal. You can't have any other thoughts in your head. This is our job and our job is to be ready when training camps start and if it doesn't start on time you stay ready. At this time of the year if the camp started tomorrow 99 per cent of the players would be ready to go. Everybody's skating, everybody's getting ready. There's no reason to think otherwise."

Eight years ago, back in 2004-05 when labour negotiations wiped out a whole season and Jokinen's girls Alexandra and Emma were too young to go to school, he suited up for Kloten of the Swiss League, then Sodertalje SK of the Swedish Elite League and finally IFK Helskinki.

Now a part owner of IFK, he said that would be his Plan B if the lockout was to drag on into the winter.

"My Plan A is to settle in here and put the girls in school and train here," Jokinen said. "There's no need to have a Plan B yet. For a lot of the players this is the only thing we want to do... we have to keep playing."

"I don't think it's going to be like last time when most of the guys went to play right away. Now we're going to sit tight and wait and then maybe later it's time to make those decisions.

"It's different this time around. The last time, knowing that the CBA was expiring you knew (the season) wasn't going to start on time. The last time we had a World Cup of Hockey and most of the European players, we already had contracts in our back pockets to go play overseas during that lockout. This time there's hope and so you train and it's business as usual in the off-season."

Jokinen has an interesting take on the current CBA chats. He lived through the last one, is now a part-owner of the IFK team in Helsinki, and played for two NHL clubs -- Florida and Phoenix -- that had ownership troubles during his time there. Asked what Jokinen the owner would pay Jokinen the player if he returned to IFK, he grinned, then added: "That's a good question. I don't know... probably nothing."

All kidding aside, his thoughts on the current CBA talks couldn't be more black and white.

"It's tough for some teams to operate in the markets they're in but, at the same time, we missed one season already. For us, we missed a year, we rolled our salaries back 24 per cent and now we're at the point with the CBA expiring, are we the ones who are going to roll back, give this, give that?" said Jokinen. "I guess everybody wants to make money and nobody wants to pay their employees. It's probably the same situation for you guys, too. All you guys probably wouldn't be too happy if you had to roll your salaries back.

"It is tough and it is frustrating. You see how well some teams are doing and you see all these long-term deals the players are signing this summer and everybody's getting pretty good deals. Is that the players' fault? At the end of the day I think it's the owners who have to agree with the GMs that they can spend that money and they have that money to spend on players.

"Hopefully everything works out... it will work out." Twitter: @WFPEdTait


SOME of the other highlights of Jokinen's first visit with the Winnipeg media on Thursday:

His first impressions of Winnipeg (his wife Katerina bought a house here a month ago and the family is now unpacking stuff shipped from their old home in Calgary):

"Canadian people are super nice. It's been overwhelming to come here... everybody makes us feel at home and we've only been here for a week. It feels like we've been here for months already."

On what he can bring to the Jets (he signed a two-year deal in July):

"I think I still have 10 more years left. That's my opinion. Teemu (Selanne) is still playing and he's 41 or 42... I'm eight years behind him. Obviously, when you get older you have to produce. The younger guys, with coaches and management you're given more time, but older guys come in and you want to earn your spot right away and do well. For me, in the last two years I learned to play hockey in a different way than I played before. Credit goes to Brent Sutter in Calgary. He taught me how to play different. He taught me how to be good in both ends of the ice and maybe have a different role, maybe not the guy who is going to put up 80-plus points, 90 points. I was used the last two years as a shut-down centreman, but at the same time my job was to score as well."

On being the oldest player on the roster:

"That's pretty scary. It shows this team is young, there's a lot of young guys. The last two, three years in Calgary we had a lot of older guys, or guys my age, and guys with kids. But at the same time it's exciting to be here and be a part of something good. There's an unbelievable buzz around the city. Everybody loves hockey here and this team is ready to take the next step. I'm here and willing to do whatever it takes to help the players get better."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2012 C1

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