He watched his son, Artturi Lehkonenscore a goal for the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, a 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
And the 60-year-old coach and mentor, who’s covering the Final for YLE television network from Finland, continues to watch Artturi represent the newest generation of players from his home country.
They cover the Cup.
“Almost every Finnish boy’s dream is to win the title, win the Stanley Cup, same as Canadian players,” Ismo said. “Finland is the same. Now everybody’s starting to dream about winning the Stanley Cup. It wasn’t like that 20 years ago. Everyone then was dreaming about wearing Finnish national team shirts and winning the world championship title. But now everybody starts to dream about this holy grail, this trophy.”
Artturi and the Avalanche are halfway there following a 7-0 win in Game 2 at Ball Arena on Saturday. Game 3 of the best-of-7 series is at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Monday.
As a player, Ismo was a forward for Jokerit Helsinki and HPK Hameenlinna in Liiga between 1979-86, then spent 27 years coaching in Liiga, as well as in Finland’s first division and youth teams.
“That’s a long road,” he said. “I promised to Artturi that if he would make a professional career, and when he started to look like he would play in the NHL, I would stop coaching [teams].”
That transition has seen Ismo turn his focus to individual coaching and summer training for about 300 players, including Artturi, in Turku, their hometown.
How’s that working out for the Lehkonens?
“We shall see,” Ismo said. “We’re not done.”
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They have come a long way, however, since Artturi made his career choice as a 12-year-old. But that alone didn’t convince Ismo to drop team coaching and dedicate his time to helping his son’s dream.
Being Artturi’s dad and personal coach is a “very different ballgame,” Ismo said.
For instance, while it was gratifying to see his score in Game 1 against the Lightning, Ismo said Artturi is to the point in his career where “it didn’t matter. All that matters is the team winning.
“I’m an old-school coach; no mercy,” he said. “Because when he told me when he was 12 that he told me he wanted to play in the NHL, I questioned him about that almost eight years. When he joined the Swedish [Hockey League] team, started to play for Frolunda [in 2014-15]then I stopped doing that.”
He said he realized that Artturi had changed, that he started developing better habits, both in practice and off the ice, and a firm commitment to his desired career.
“I had questioned him almost every week for eight years, that he didn’t have the [drive] to practice like that, that he didn’t have off-ice stuff like a professional, and you don’t eat well. But I stopped doing that when he went to Sweden because the way they practice. I have great respect for [coach] Roger Ronnberg and the Frolunda system, that’s a heck of a place.”
Artturi went to Frolunda a year after he was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round (No. 55) at the 2013 NHL Draft. He spent two seasons with the Swedish team in Gothenburg, then came to the Canadians as a 21-year-old in 2016-17.
He was in his sixth season with Montreal when he was traded to the Avalanche for defenseman Justin Barron and a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft on March 21.
He said after Game 1 of the Final he knows why his dad is a good coach.
“He’s pretty demanding in a work ethic way,” Artturi said.
And he said the dad-coach situation in his development was undoubtedly an unusual road for him to navigate.
“There are pluses and minuses to it, for sure,” Artturi said. “He was pushing us hard growing up, but when you look back at it, of course it was probably a positive thing, for sure, overall.”
Video: TBL@COL, Gm1: Lehkonen re-takes 2-goal lead on 5-on-3
Artturi had nine points (six goals, three assists) in 16 games for the Avalanche after the trade and has 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including the series-ending overtime goal in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final on June 6.
Father and son were able to get together for dinner before the Final started and have had some time for conversation in the past week, but this is not a usual family visit.
“Not much time with him, he has his own stuff,” Ismo said. “After the game, [we talked] a little bit and whether he plays well. He said [that night] he has to play better. I can see in his face that they won the game, but he realized he has to play better. He’s serious. Mikko [Rantanen, who had two assists]I also have coached him in the summers, he was the same.”
Ismo had intended to cover the Final for YLE last year, when his son played for the Canadians, but was unable to attend due to travel restrictions of the pandemic.
He said it was difficult to watch from afar, mostly because he could see what a challenge the Canadians had in trying to upset the Lightning. They lost in five games.
Ismo’s coaching eye tells him something different for the 2022 Final.
“I’m not so nervous like last season,” he said. “If Colorado is playing well, they have a chance to win the title. Everything looks good if they play well. But if they start to cheat and gamble, say for five minutes, then they might lose the game because Tampa’s a heck of a team.
“But if they play their A-plus game, full speed, forechecking hard, handle the puck like a pro player, don’t gamble, they have a chance. They know what they’re doing. Last year, I was nervous because there was such a tight and small chance. Now they have a huge chance. It’s up to them. They have to play well but they don’t need any magic, nothing like that, or huge help or puck luck.”