If you are friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, it is no secret that I take the odd occasional jibe at the Toronto Maple Leafs. I take it as my right as a Montreal Canadiens fan and because it’s just so damn easy.
However, last night the Leafs personified one story that I originally set this blog up for. Long while back I was going to use the blog to detail my journey into making it as high as I can within hockey, and though the blog’s focus has shifted since then it is still stories like the one of Jussi Rynnas that this blog one day hoped to speak of.
In case you didn’t know who Rynnas is, he is a Finnish goalie in the Maple Leafs’ system and has been part of the system since signing with the team as a free agent in 2010. Sure Rynnas signed from the Finnish top league SM-Liiga, which in itself is not that uncommon, but the journey he has undergone is truly spectacular and long.
Rynnas played in the Porin Assat junior system and after he did not get a place on the top flight team at the end of his junior career, he left to gain experience from the Finnish third division and played for Kankaanpaan Jaakarhut. For those not familiar with the Finnish league systems, the third division is actually the fourth highest league after Mestis, Suomi-Sarja and the Second Division. As far as I can remember and can tell, the third division is mainly for guys playing for the fun of the game.
I wholly agree with the sentiment shared by the Finnish Urheilulehti magazine: I don’t think any Finnish player has ever climbed from so deep in the league systems to play in the worlds’ toughest hockey league.
Rynnas saw action in the third division and travelled through Mestis to the SM-Liiga where he impressed first his team, the fans and the NHL scouts. Rynnas said in a number of media interviews that he was surprised by his contract in the SM-Liiga and the NHL was never a goal, but maybe a distant dream. The dream came within his grasp as he had tens of teams after his signature.
Rynnas said in an Urheilulehti interview in 2010: “When I was playing in Kankaanpaa, I was only thinking that I’ll play here and see where I’ll end up. Getting the contract with Assat was an unbelievable feat for me. I would’ve laughed at the NHL talk during the Assat season as well, but I guess when you work hard and set your mind to it, good things can happen.”
Even after signing the contract in 2010, Rynnas has only now seen his first NHL minutes and has undergone a tough road to get there. When the Leafs called James Reimer to the team for the first time, many Toronto hockey writers thought that Rynnas had been the steadier goalie of the two throughout the Marlies season. When Ben Scrivens was called up, Rynnas was having a tough start to the year. He had twisted his ankle during summer training and in January he took a puck to the head and was sidelined with a concussion. After recovering, he was sent down to ECHL for a conditioning stint.
Rynnas has come a long way to play his first NHL minutes and his story is nothing short of inspirational, regardless of how many minutes he goes on to play from now on. He has done something that no one thought he’d achieve at the end of his junior career. He has faced adversity and overcome it to reach his goal, if only for 39 minutes and 23 seconds. To date. He did not let any pucks behind him in those 39 minutes he was on the ice after Jonas Gustavsson was pulled.
There will be a lot of hype around Rynnas for a few days now, but he has earned it. Hopefully the Leafs have some sense to keep him after his contract is up at the end of the season or some other team has the foresight to sign Rynnas in the off season if the Leafs deem that Rynnas does not fit in with their plans.
But having said that, Rynnas and what he has done is a pure example of what hard work and dedication to the game can lead to. Let’s hope that we’ll see him face some more action for a full 60 minutes.