Leafs' Suhonen to coach Blackhawks

Finnish native Alpo Suhonen will be hired as the Chicago Blackhawks' head coach today, a move that will make him the NHL's first European-born head coach.

A source close to the team confirmed Sunday that the Blackhawks had chosen Suhonen. The team has called a news conference today.

With the hiring, the Blackhawks will beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race for the first European-born head coach. Czech Ivan Hlinka is taking over the Penguins from Herb Brooks, but the team has yet to make it official.

Suhonen, 51, was an assistant coach in Toronto and has worked previously with Mike Smith, the Blackhawks director of hockey operations, with the Maple Leafs and in Winnipeg.

Suhonen is no stranger to Chicago, having coached the International Hockey League's Chicago Wolves in 1997.

Suhonen, who will replace the fired Lorne Molleken, is one of the more interesting figures in hockey, mixing a love of the sport with that of the arts and politics.

He left hockey briefly to manage a Finnish national theatre company in 1991 and ran for one of Finland's 16 spots in the European Parliament in 1999. He quit his job as a minor-league coach in 1997 because his girlfriend had a job opportunity in Finland.

Suhonen will be the Blackhawks' fifth coach since Darryl Sutter resigned in 1995. Craig Hartsburg and Dirk Graham were fired before the job went to Molleken. Last season, Chicago demoted Molleken from head to associate coach and brought back senior vice-president Bob Pulford to serve as head coach and general manager.

The Blackhawks have failed to qualify for the playoffs three straight years. Now they will count on a man with no head coaching experience to get them back into the postseason.

Chicago finished last season with a 33-39-10 record and 78 points, 11th out of 13 teams in the Western Conference.