Riho Soonik, secretary general of the Estonian Hockey Association, announced today that the association has signed 2 experienced Finnish coaches to guide country’s national team during the coming hockey season with main goal to bring team Estonia back to Div-1 level at World Championships. Head coach Ismo Lehkonen and assistant / goalie coach Jukka Ropponen will start their new assignment at the minicamp in Tallinn August 29 with final goal being to win the Div-2 World Championship tournament in April 2010 at Tallinn’s Saku Suurhall.
“This is a dream come true for Estonian hockey. With the experience and expertise that coaches Ismo Lehkonen and Jukka Ropponen are bringing to us I am sure that we can insert a good boost for all of our operations as we are making hockey more popular amongst Estonian people.” Says Riho Soonik.
Ismo Lehkonen comes to this new assignment from a 1 year coaching stint with Jokerit Helsinki, where he was assistant for the head coach Glenn Hanlon. Prior to that Lehkonen was head coach of Finnish TuTo, Turku at Mestis (2nd level of pro hockey in Finland). At TuTo Lehkonen did build a very successful program that developed several players to the top pro league over his years at helm of the program. TuTo also became the powerhouse of Mestis under Lehkonen’s guidance and won the league title without giving other teams any chances. Lehkonen has also worked as head coach at Finnish Elite League teams like IFK, Helsinki and Lukko, Rauma as well as coached Finnish junior national teams.
Jukka Ropponen is one of the most successful Finnish goalie coaches and he is currently working as the goalie coach for European Champions ZSC Lions of Zürich, Switzerland. Last season his team won the first ever Champions Hockey League (CHL) title and his goaltender Ari Sulander was selected as the MVP of the finals where ZSC won the 2-game series over Russian Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Ropponen has also coached several seasons at Finnish Elite league with teams like Jokerit, Helsinki and Kiekko-Espoo & Espoo Blues. As a coach Ropponen has won 2 Finnish championship titles, 1 Swiss championship and 3 European championships. He has also coaching experience from U.S. and Canada. On top of his current activities he also acts as personal coach for goalies like Niklas Bäckström of Minnesota Wild and Bernd Brückler of Nizhni Novgorod Torpedo.
Today’s announcement of the new coaching agreements is also coupled with the launch of the new Estonian Ice Hockey Associations website www.icehockey.ee. This dynamic new portal has been developed with 2 new partner companies, Nitro and Snoobi, that both have roots at Finland and offices at Estonia. Nitro and Snoobi are also the 2 first Finnish-Estonian based sponsors for the Eesti Jäähoki Liit. Association will be looking for additional partners / sponsors to help making Hockey more widely adopted amongst Estonia.