Koistinen's Feel-Good Trip Back Home


Written on 10/03/2009 by Jim Cerny

I sure didn't have to wait too long to pick my early season favorite moment in the NHL.

On Day Two of the 2009-10 campaign, an unheralded 27 year-old defenseman made me believe that these NHL Premiere games being played over in Europe actually have value beyond the standings points awarded to the winners---and overtime losers.

Ville Koistinen---OK, raise your hand if you knew his name prior to Friday---played the unlikely role of hero in the Panthers' season-opening 4-3 shootout victory over the Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland.

That he scored an important third period goal, and the eventual winner in the shootout, would make for an impressive story on its own. But that he was the only Finnish-born player from either team taking part in this game is what makes this a really special story.

That 12,000 fans in Helsinki were able to see native-son Koistinen grab first-star honors instead of more famous NHLers like Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane or Nathan Horton just strikes me as really cool.

I had watched a feature on Koistinen's return to Finland with the Panthers on The NHL Network the other day, and remember thinking what a decent guy he seemed, and how neat it would be if he could have a special moment in his native country during the two games the Panthers and Hawks would play this weekend.

I think neither I, nor Koistinen, could have predicted what took place on Friday night.

"I didn't dream anything about this," Koistinen told nhl.com after the game. "This is more than a dream."

Interestingly, Koistinen---the former Nashville Predtaors defenseman who was picked up by the Panthers over the summer---logged only 9:23 worth of ice-time on Friday night, usually not a number associated with the game's first star. Nearly three of those minutes were part of power play duty.

Yet there he was on a rare even-strength shift, accepting a feed from Cory Stillman at the top of the right circle 7:29 into the third period, and zipping a wrist shot past Cristobal Huet to tie the score 2-2. The crowd in Helsinki loved it! And so did I.

After the Panthers were able to once again tie the game, this time at 3-3, the two teams played a scoreless overtime, setting up the shootout, a specialty of Koistinen's. Few may realize---and I credit George Richards over at the Miami Herald for this one---that Koistinen was 3 for 4 lifetime in shootouts at the NHL level.

Make it 4 for 5.

Shooting third for the Panthers---and with the shootout tied 1-1---Koistinen skated in and buried a backhand shot that created the loudest roar heard in the building all game, and set off a really cool show of emotion for the Florida d-man.

After Tomas Vokoun made one more shootout save, the Panthers had an opening night victory and Koistinen the game-winner in his native Finland.

"This game was unbelievable," Koistinen told Richards afterwards. "First, to play here in Finland, then score a goal and a game-winner. It was unbelievable."

For me, it does not get much better than that.

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