Carolina's Jussi Jokinen reflects on late father, time with Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA — Even now, a year later, Jussi Jokinen fought back tears. It was the first time he had spoken about his father's death, the Hurricanes left wing said.

It still hurts.

"He coached me when I was young," Jokinen said Tuesday. "You try to talk about it with your mom and family and close friends. You try to go forward with your life."

Keijo Jokinen, 52, died March 1, 2009, but his son said the illness began the previous fall as Jussi played for the Lightning. He said he was so concerned he visited his father in his native Finland during Tampa Bay's training camp in Europe.

Jokinen had six goals and 16 points in 46 games when traded to the Hurricanes on Feb. 7, 2009. He said he does not use his father's illness as an excuse but admitted, "Things like that, hockey is probably not No. 1 in your mind. … He was ill the whole time and just got worse and worse, so that was tough for me. I'm sure it had something to do with how I played."

Jokinen also had a knee problem and texted Lightning coach Rick Tocchet after he was dealt that he was "sorry" for not chipping in more.

It is a different story this season as Jokinen has a team-best 27 goals for Carolina, which is 17-3-4 in games in which he scores, including two victories over Tampa Bay.

The trade looks even worse for the Lightning, which got back D Josef Melichar and F Wade Brookbank and a 2009 fourth-round draft pick. Brookbank never played for Tampa Bay, Melichar held space for the rest of the season and now plays in the Czech Republic, and the Lightning still is desperate for secondary scoring.

Jokinen said he is not trying to prove Tampa Bay made a mistake: "You always try to help out your team and try to do as good as you can."

As for his still raw feelings about his dad, Jokinen said, "You try to keep those good memories. It's tough to lose your dad."

OHLUND CLOSE: D Mattias Ohlund, out seven games with a sprained left ankle, is scheduled to practice today and could play soon despite continued pain.

He said sitting out the last nine games is not an option.

"You're a professional athlete," said Ohlund, who leads Tampa Bay with an average 22:55 of ice time. "When you can play, you play."

"He's been working aggressively to get back," Tocchet said. "He comes to the rink every day expecting to play and trying to play. You respect him for that."

TOCCHET WANTS ROBERTS: Tocchet said he asked GM Brian Lawton about hiring former Lightning Gary Roberts as a player development/fitness consultant.

"He's definitely a guy I would hire in a second," Tocchet said. "He's what winning is all about, how to get there."

Roberts, a fitness guru who scored 438 goals in 1,224 NHL games, directed C Steven Stamkos' fitness program last summer and will do the same next summer for RW Steve Downie.

"I would love to have Gary here," Tocchet said. "But that's for future discussion."

ODDS AND ENDS: LW Ryan Malone (knee) is skating. ... RW Brandon Bochenski and D Matt Smaby were scratched.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Carolina's Jussi Jokinen reflects on late father, time with Tampa Bay Lightning 03/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 8:34am]

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