Photos by Hillary Ehlen and Russ Hons/UND Athletics
Hometown: Espoo, Finland
“Just walking by these banners every day and imagining getting one up there yourself with all the names. It’s pretty cool to see it every day and I just want to do it again.” – Joel Janatuinen
Joel Janatuinen knew he would have to end up in America if he wanted to pursue his hockey career while keeping his mom happy by continuing his education.
He got his first taste of American culture — and New York traffic — when he tagged along with the Finland national team to a tournament in Lake Placid. It was the year before he would find himself playing hockey in the USHL, in a town with a little less traffic than JFK airport.
Janatuinen went back to Finland and lit up his country’s Jr. A. SM-Liiga league in 2013-14. His 48 points in 46 games were good enough for Janatuinen to get his move to America to play for the Sioux City Musketeers. He committed to UND in January 2015, making his dream a reality and becoming the first Finnish born player to ever wear the UND sweater.
The dream continued the following season when UND won the national championship.
Not only is Janatuinen maturing as a threat on the wing, he’s been impressive in the classroom. The junior majoring in Kinesiology has been named to the NCHC Academic All-Conference Team twice.
We met up with Janatuinen in the depths of the Ralph to talk about his journey to UND and if this year’s team has what it takes to go a long postseason run.
When did you realize your future was in the U.S.?
Joel Janatuinen: “That was my last year back home. I was having a pretty good year in the highest junior league back home, Junior A, under 20s, and I had a couple buddies on my team that had committed, one is at Penn State (Erik Autio) and one is at St. Cloud (Mika Ilvonen) right now. Those guys were committed and I started thinking about the next year and what I was going to do. I didn’t want to get stuck between the highest pro league back home because I wanted to take the next step (in my career), and didn’t want to get stuck between the pro league and the second league, and the second league was kind of dropping off. And I wanted to get an education while playing at a really good level hockey.”
What was it about UND that drew you here all the way from Finland?
Janatuinen: “I started doing my research back home when I set that goal of playing here in the states. UND was one of the first programs that popped up … Looking at the players who came through here it was for sure one of the schools I really wanted to come to. I didn’t think I’d end up here, but it was one of the places I wanted to end up so it is pretty awesome to be here.”
Your accent isn’t very noticeable.
Janatuinen: “I studied in English for nine years. I was in an international school back home, so it was pretty unusual.”
That must help with the trash talk.
Janatuinen: “I think the guys see the name on my back and assume I don’t know English so they chirp me about it. But, I think I speak pretty good English.”
What’s it like walking past your national championship banner, knowing your legacy has already been cemented?
Janatuinen: “It was pretty awesome. Just walking by these banners every day and imagining getting one up there yourself with all the names. It’s pretty cool to see it every day and I just want to do it again.”
Do the younger guys ask you about it?
Janatuinen: “Not really. They don’t ask me about it because they want to win their own one.”
Does this team have what it takes to capture a banner like you did in 2016?
Janatuinen: I think so. Just have to keep the four lines rolling. Every line can contribute. I think that’s our strength and that’s what we have to keep on doing to have success. I think we’re improving every week, getting better and better so I think we have a great season ahead of us.”