Editor’s Note: It’s “Underdog” week at SB Nation, and, here at Canes Country, we’re going to be taking a look back at some of the more memorable underdog players in the team’s history. The Hurricanes have had a number of players who exceeded expectations as a low draft pick, undrafted player, bargain free agent or seemingly minor trade to carve out a role and become a fan favorite. Today, we feature an all-time fan favorite.
When recalling the Hurricanes underdogs throughout years, one has to mention Jussi Jokinen. The smooth Finnish winger was originally a 2001 6th round selection by the Dallas Stars so his rise to the NHL was difficult. Not until 2005-06 did Jokinen make the NHL but quickly put together a 55-point rookie campaign. Jokinen’s career brought him to Tampa Bay and then the Hurricanes, acquired in a trade that sent Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar and future considerations to the Lightning on Feb. 7, 2009. Jokinen had been placed on waivers by the Lightning three days before the trade.
Known throughout the league for his shootout prowess (which came with him to Carolina), Jokinen became so much more than a specialist for the Hurricanes.
Off the ice, Jokinen was quiet, soft-spoken and a great presence in the locker room. He formed a tight friendship with fellow Finnish players Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen. He was always gracious with his time with fans and became a fan-favorite before the ever-pressing age of social media that exists now.
During his time in Carolina, fans would shout “JUSSI!” along with “Oh say can you see” during the National Anthem.
On the ice, Jokinen had a strong career with the Hurricanes. He averaged 0.64 points per game and finished with 185 points in 288 regular season games, including a 65-point season in 2009-10. He became a vital part of a middle-six that flourished with offense in the earlier parts of his Hurricanes career but started to be dismantled piece by piece as he left. But the most memorable point of Jokinen’s Hurricanes career came during the Hurricanes 2008-09 playoff run.
With 0:12 seconds left in a 3-3 Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils, Jokinen dug out a puck from behind Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. Jokinen was able to corral the puck and put it on net but Brodeur was able to make the save. The puck finds its way to the point on Joni Pitkanen who makes a pass to Dennis Seidenberg who puts a shot on net as time expires. Jokinen parked himself in front of Brodeur and redirected the puck with 0.2 seconds left in what’s now known as the Miracle Finnish.
Jokinen also scored the game-tying goal in game seven against New Jersey, and added two game winners against the Bruins in round two.
In 2009-10, his first full regular season with the Canes, Jokinen was a bright spot in a forgettable year, posting a career high 30 goals and 65 points. The following year, Jokinen slotted in as the centerpiece alongside rookie Jeff Skinner and fellow Finn Tuomo Ruutu on the famed “Skins and Finns” line.
His story post-Hurricanes became much of a journeyman but that doesn’t discount what it took for Jokinen to prove he belong and then flourishing in his role. Jokinen provided a spark every time he took the ice and his teammates fed of that energy. He embodies the spirit of a Hurricanes underdog.