How Jussi Rynnas went from beer league to pro league in 3 years
InGoal Magazine and the Pension Plan Puppets teamed up to delve into the world of the Toronto Maple Leafs puck-stopping prospects and there were some interesting revelations as a result.
Topping the list in today’s Part 2 of a two-part series here at InGoal was Jussi Rynnas explaining why he was playing in a beer league just three years ago: He never had a goalie coach growing up in Finland and didn’t get his first until he was 20 years old. In a country where most goalies have personalized, position-specific instruction from the age of eight, that makes him an anomaly. What’s next? No sauna?
Rynnas shared the development path from beer league to NHL prospect when we caught up with the AHL Marlies – and fellow prospects Ben Scrivens and James Reimer, who was demoted by the Maple Leafs Friday and arrived on the ice midway through practice. Reimer was just in time to do a post-practice interview for InGoal’s article on how his NHL success affirmed everything he’s been working on with Francois Allaire, and to take part in this question-and-answer session.
When you’re done here, be sure to check out the Part 1, which appears on the PPP website, and reveals a bond between Ben Scrivens, Switzerland, and legendary Leafs goalie guru Franois Allaire – and how it played a role in Scrivens signing in Toronto. But first, let’s find out how The Bus got from Finnish rec-league hockey to here:
Question from “happiergilmore”: When you first started playing hockey, did you ever imagine yourself playing at this high a level? Potentially even higher?
Jussi Rynnas: “I think last summer after my first year in Finland’s number one league was the first time I thought about the NHL for real.”
Follow up question: So with all the success of Finnish goalies over here, talk of goalie in Finland growing up with their own goalie coaches from age 8, you never thought about playing in the NHL before that?
Jussi Rynnas: “I was like 20 when I got my first goalie coach. Usually in Finland it’s like every team has a goalie coach, and that’s why every year there is coming more great goalies. But I’m from a town called Pori and there isn’t like any goalie coaches. I think it was the only town without goalie coaches.”
So you got an NHL contract three years after your first goalie coach?
Jussi Rynnas: “Three years ago, when I had my first goalie coach I started the season in the beer league in Finland. It’s a good story for every young goalie or player to don’t give up and just keep working and everything will happen.”
Clearly that fits with well working under Francois.
Jussi Rynnas: “Yeah I hope so. And I think it’s the only reason why I am here right now is all that work.”
With no coach until 20, how did you learn?
Jussi Rynnas: “I watched NHL guys and stuff like that, and there was one goalie coach but there was like one for every junior team, but nothing like here with Francois.”
So did you even understand what are now considered simple things like the concept of proper leg recovery (getting up out of the butterfly with the right leg first when you need to push left, and on the left leg when you need to move right)?
Jussi Rynnas: “No, I think it was just like whatever and just play.”
Who was that first goalie coach and how did he help most?
Jussi Rynnas: “He was a young guy called Joni Meskanen and he was only a few years older than me but he was really excited. And I think before I was 20 I was too lazy practicing and stuff like that, and he was so exciting so that’s why since then every practice every game I want to fight for every puck.”
What has Leafs goalie coach Francois Allaire focused on as you refine your game here?
Jussi Rynnas: “Because I never had a goalie coach I was all over the place and wanted to fight for every puck. And here if you fight and chase every puck you are out and there are so many skilled guys that will make score on your too easy. So sometimes I’m still like that and I don’t know why I do it because old Jussi chases the puck and the new one just try to stay by the post and lift a shoulder (shrugs) and trust my size. Last year I get my confidence if I make good glove saves but here we just try to make the save with our body and freeze the puck and stuff like that. In Finland after I make a huge save I feel like nobody can score on me. It was how I played so well last year.”
Is that a tough mental adjustment here, to not be making those saves?
Jussi Rynnas: “It’s a little bit but after a while it’s not too big a deal.”
James Reimer: “Andy [Nowicki, his major junior goalie coach with the Red Deer Rebels and a former Los Angeles Kings goaltending consultant] gave me a little sheet with 10 keys for success and I’ve taken two of those and still use them today. One is a simple saying: ‘Don’t give yourself the luxury of a day off.’ And the other one I have on my helmet, which is, ‘Obstacles are things you see when you lose sight of the goal.’ So in this line of work than means if a guy is screening you, or there’s a guy in your crease or a penalty, if you are worrying about that you are losing sight of stopping the puck and winning the game. So it’s a nice saying to have to battle through adversity. I have it on helmet for reason.”
Question from clrkaitken: for Jussi – What’s the biggest difference between playing professionally in Finland and in North America?
Jussi Rynnas: “I think the rink being smaller. You realize the shot is coming so fast. There is so much time in Finland and in Europe because the rink is so much bigger. If the puck is in the corner you can almost smoke a cigar before it gets to the net. Here it’s different. There’s more traffic here too. You have to be more aggressive here and just show that this is my area and push the guy a little bit more out of the crease. And at the same time you are pushing you have to still see the puck, you can’t just push and push and push (makes cross checking motion).”
Follow up Question: in Sweden and a lot of Europe, it’s an east-west, pass-first, shoot-never style. What about Finland?
Jussi Rynnas: “No, in Finland it’s not like that. In Swedish league it’s all like Linus Omark, there are plenty of guys like that who always try to make nice play. And in Finnish league there isn’t so many skilled players, so there’s more like here the style of play.”
Question from Bower Power: What kind of atmosphere is [having three good prospect goalies competing in the same organization] fostering around the three of you?
Ben Scrivens: I think maybe it helped out being at college where we had four goalies one year and you only played two games a weekend. Ron Wilson said it this week, you can only play one goalie at a time. I can’t say enough good things about both James Reimer and Jussi Rynnas. They are both character guys which I expected coming to Toronto, and there’s absolutely no hard feeling between any of us. If Juice is in he knows I am supporting him and if I’m in I know he is supporting me and it’s no different if Reims is back down with the dynamic they have. that’s the benefit of brining in good guys, you don’t have those little in-room locker room tiffs that you might if you don’t do your due diligence with who you’re bringing in.”
Ben Scrivens: “Obviously I’d rather be here. Obviously you’d rather be the one step up, you know, but it’s a learning process and you can’t rush steps. Talking with my parents and talking with my agent and I even had a good chat with a former goalie at Cornell whose opinion I respect – Dan DiLeo, played in the NAHL for [Wichita Falls] Wildcats and he and I are still really close – and we actually had a good chat when I first got sent down to the ECHL and we both pretty much had the same opinion of it – you are still playing hockey. It’s not like they are forgetting about me down there, this is a perfect chance to develop and get a lot of games.”
Question from Peter Lynn: What goalie coaching is available in Reading, and how does it work? How does it differ from Allaire’s coaching and/or how is it consistent?
Ben Scrivens: “One of main reason I signed with Toronto was to work with Frankie so I think they were aware I wasn’t working with him as much as I would like but that’s the nature of the beast. So about mid- to late-November they hired one of Frankie’ guys [Jean-Ian Filiatrault] that he’s been working with for a significant amount of time and worked with AHL Portland a couple of years ago when Frankie was with Anaheim. They hired him part time and he comes down to Reading or wherever I’m at twice a month for three days at a time and we just do goalie sessions. It’s great because he is a young guy and I get along with him really well. I get along with Frankie rally well but when Frankie’s not there it sounds like Frankie is there. The message is the same. It’s a consistent message that I’m getting from them. So that was huge on Toronto’s behalf to give me that opportunity.”