November 25, 2009 was a big day in the life of fans of KalPa, the Edmonton Oilers and finally, Teemu Hartikainen. That was the day that Hartikainen completed his mandatory military service with the Finnish Army.
All Finnish men are required to complete military service -- officers must serve for a minimum of one year, while enlisted men are required to serve at least six months. Military service must be completed between the ages of 19 and 29. Hartikainen began his service on May 25th 2009, and for six months had been living the life of a Finnish Army regular 10 hours a day while moonlighting as a professional hockey player in his spare time.
Hartikainen celebrated the completion of his service by scoring a goal and tallying three shots Saturday night against Ilves. He followed that up with a very strong performance against Tappara on Thursday in which he put six shots on net. Last night, KalPa took on Pelicans and Hartikainen potted another goal and totaled five shots on goal.
His numbers since leaving the Finnish army?
|Games 23-25: Teemu Hartikainen
I asked Hartikainen about his big week. "My confidence is coming back after scoring last Saturday against Ilves. Against Tappara, I had six shots and played well - I had a couple of good scoring chances," he said. The goal last night likely only served to increase that confidence.
How does the end of compulsory service effect his hockey life? "With my service ending last week, I've got a lot more energy because now I'm free and don't have to think about anything Army-related," said Hartikainen.
Some that follow the Oilers and their prospects have been let down by Hartikainen's sophomore season and have termed it a disappointment. Some of that was bad luck - in the first twenty-two games Hartikainen shot a miserable 3.9%, almost unthinkable for a forward that spends most of his time in the slot and crease. He also battled the flu, playing (and working) through it while many of his teammates missed time. Given the situation with his compulsory service, it's the second half of this season that should be interesting.
Following Hartikainen over the last twenty-five plus games of the season and the playoffs should be telling. Is he ready to make the jump to the AHL as our own Johan Barrander believes he should? He's back to being a full-time hockey player and doesn't have a job to worry about anymore. He can devote his full attention to his game and practice. He says his energy is back and his confidence is rising and his recent results are starting to look extremely similar to last year. He's averaging 4.6 shots per game over the last three - double the rate he produced in the first twenty-two games, and 4.6 looks is in line with last year's rates.
KalPa will make a push for the SM-Liiga championship this year. A focused, rested Teemu Hartikainen will go a long way in getting them close. A big second half from Hartikainen will establish him as one of top young forwards in the SM-Liiga and one of the top prospects in the Edmonton system.