Jets, Panthers, to play NHL games in Finland, to delight of Finnish fans

NHL fans in Finland won't have to stay awake until 4 a.m. to watch their homegrown hockey stars, at least for two games next season.

Superstars like Laine, Armia will be top attractions in Finland, says hockey journalist

The Winnipeg Jets, including Patrik Laine, will play two NHL regular season games in Finland this fall. (Chris O'Meara/AP Photo)

NHL fans in Finland won't have to stay awake until 4 a.m. to watch their homegrown hockey stars, at least for two games next season.

The Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers will play two regulation NHL games in Helsinki, Finland in November for the 2018-2019 season.

For Finnish fans who can't get enough of young Jets superstar Patrik Laine, this is exciting news, said Pekka Jalonen, a Finnish journalist who regularly writes about Finnish NHL hockey players.

"Usually fans have to stay awake during the night to see the NHL games live on TV, because most of the games start at 2  or 3 or 4 [a.m.] our time," said Jalonen.

"It's been seven years since [the] Anaheim Ducks and Teemu Selanne played here in Helsinki, so it's a good time to have NHL back in Finland."

The NHL has a strong following in Finland despite excellent hockey from the Finnish Elite League, said Jalonen, and Laine is the "biggest star in Finland, or in Finnish hockey. 

"It's funny, he's only 19, it's his second season, but still everybody wants to know what he's doing and still watch his games and read stories about him, and what he's doing and how he's doing and how his hair [beard] is growing."

That doesn't mean Laine is the only NHL player Finland is interested in, said Jalonen. Others, like the Jets' Joel Armia and the Panthers' Aleksander Barkov also command headlines. 

"Hockey is number one sport in Finland, and people, they just love these young guys, and every player that is doing well," said Jalonen.

"Of course there is other sports, they are a little bit jealous about hockey and its status in Finland."

Winnipeg Jets chair Mark Chipman. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg Jets chairman Mark Chipman said the details still have to be worked out, but the idea has been percolating for a few months. 

"I think it's going to be great," Chipman told Jets TV. "There's a long, sort of history of our organization, with players from Finland and Sweden, you know, the early Jets were really pioneers. It's kind of neat, it's kind of full circle. To be asked to go over there is a real honour.

"That the league would think that we would be an attraction in Finland is really a high honour for us. We're fired up about it."

Laine's popularity and poise likely had a lot to do with the NHL's decision, said Chipman.

"Not only just the way Patrik has performed at such an early age, but the way he's carried himself as well. He's really earned the respect of his teammtes.

"I think the fact Joel Armia is having a great year again, and has really turned into a fine NHL player is fantastic as well."

"Our fans over there, of which I know there are many because of those guys, they'll be really excited to see us over there," Chipman added. 

The NHL is still ironing out details like when and where the games will be played. It's likely at least one game will be held in Helsinki, said Jalonen, but no matter where they're held, it will draw fans.

"I'm pretty sure that both games will be sold out."

With files from Nadia Kidwai