Even a father’s pride has its limits. The sun had barely crept above the horizon in Kuopio, Finland on Sunday morning when Kasperi Kapanen scored a double-overtime winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs a continent away.
Given what had happened in the town northeast of Helsinki the night before, few of the 100,000 inhabitants were awake to see it.
That includes Kapanen’s father, Sami, who says matter-of-factly, “I didn’t watch it.”
At least he had an excuse.
The 43-year-old former NHLer is even deeper in his own playoff run and on the verge of a miracle spring the Leafs would love to replicate. Kapanen is majority owner and assistant coach of KalPa in the top-level SM-liiga, and on Saturday his team won a Game 7 against JYP Jyväskylä to advance to the championship final for the first time since 1991.
Given the effort expended in that victory, there was no way he could stay up to watch the Leafs play the Washington Capitals on television in a game that started after 2 a.m. local time.
“I’m so wasted after our games,” Kapanen told Sportsnet in an interview. “Using so much energy and, I guess, it’s about the tension and the nervousness standing on the bench behind the guys. I just recently stopped playing (in 2014). There’s times that I’m kind of feeling helpless not being able to play and affecting the situations by doing something.”
He is extremely close with his son and has a morning ritual when Kasperi plays the night before. The first thing he does after getting out of bed is go to NHL.com to check out the scores and highlights.
“Always cross my fingers and hope the best,” he said.
And so you can imagine what must have been running through his mind when he discovered that his boy not only scored his first career playoff goal in the second period of Saturday’s game, but also added the double overtime dagger to help Toronto even its series with Washington.
It was not too much unlike how he felt in the stands when Kasperi scored the gold-medal winning goal for Finland in overtime of last year’s world junior tournament in Helsinki.
“When you start watching his reaction you know that he’s in the centre of heaven, and how much it means to him,” said Sami. “He has a tendency and an ability to step up in the big times, the world juniors and some tournaments before that. He’s playing his better games when something is on the line. He’s repeating himself and I think he’s gaining confidence on those previous moments that he’s going to get it done.
“To me, it’s just fatherly joy on watching something like that. Then you go back and you start thinking, ‘S—, I did never score in overtime in the playoffs in NHL and he did it in his second game.’
“Really happy for him.”
It has been a breakthrough season for the 20-year-old, who was a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins and arrived in Toronto as part of the Phil Kessel trade.
He got a nine-game taste of the NHL last year and was disappointed to be sent back to the American Hockey League afterwards. Once there, he started penalty killing and produced a point per game and was a natural call-up when Nikita Soshnikov went down with an injury in late March.
The speedy winger isn’t being deployed in an offensive role while playing alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin on the fourth line, and didn’t get his first NHL goal until last weekend against Pittsburgh. It was his 16th NHL game and his father says the long wait bothered him.
However, Sami Kapanen ultimately believes the trials will benefit Kasperi over the long run.
“I think it makes (it) more enjoyable,” he said. “I’m sure that he has an appreciation on everything that he’s doing right now. There’s a tendency for younger guys (when) you’re a top-end player in your own teams, your own age groups, and you get a lot of things fairly easily.”
The Kapanens are hockey royalty back home. Sami’s father, Hannu, is a former player and national junior team coach who is enshrined in the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kasperi was developed in the KalPa system and texted with his father before puck drop in Washington, expressing excitement about their semifinal victory. He also chided Sami about partying after the win because his father had a typo in one of his messages.
“I’m like ‘Dude, I’m going on a workout right now,’” said Sami. “He’s like ‘Yeah, right.’ So I had to send him a picture to making sure that he believed I was working out after the game instead of having a party.
“I wished him good luck and said, ‘Take your win, it’s going to be a big win for you guys.’ I had no clue that he was stepping up that big.”
The one thing Sami has resisted doing these last few weeks is offer much advice. He appeared in 87 career Stanley Cup playoff games, including three separate series against Toronto, but wants his son to experience everything for himself and lean on the Leafs coaching staff.
Plus, he’s been occupied with KalPa’s unexpected playoff run. They’ll face defending champion Tappara Tampere in the final and have a chance to do something special after a few lean decades.
“It would mean everything,” said Kapanen. “There’s been a bankruptcy twice in the 90’s and I stepped into ownership with Kimmo Timonen in 2003 and basically have been chasing the cup ever after that. Fourteen years now and this is the closest we’ve been so far.”
The last time Kuopio was this excited about its hockey team Sami was just beginning to carve out his own playing career.
“In 1991, when the team played the finals, I was 17 and I was like Kasperi now – I played my first games with the men’s team in the playoffs,” he said. “I had two or three regular-season games before. I played in the playoffs all the way to the finals and we got beat by TPS (Turku) 4-1. So, 26 years this city’s been waiting for the opportunity and here it is now.