Work in Sports
Finland's Suhonen to coach Blackhawks
Posted: Monday May 22, 2000 09:20 PM
CHICAGO (AP) -- There's much more to the new coach of the Chicago Blackhawks than pucks and power plays.
Alpo Suhonen has produced a Finnish version of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," been a consultant to the movie "The Icebreakers" and last year ran for a spot in the European Parliament.
Now he's the first European-born NHL coach in 50 years, given the job of taking the Blackhawks back to the playoffs after a three-year absence.
Suhonen, 51, is indeed a man for all seasons, coaching for nearly 30 years, first in Europe, then as an NHL assistant in Winnipeg and Toronto.
When he needs to get away from the game, he has done so, turning to the theater and even politics for a rare perspective.
"Systems and tactics are key things but also to be able to relate with people and understand as much as possible how humans behave individually and together," Suhonen, a native of Finland, said Monday when the Blackhawks officially introduced him at a news conference.
"It's no different if you go into theater or into business or into hockey or wherever. Humans operate there."
Suhonen worked with Blackhawks director of hockey operations Mike Smith in both Winnipeg and Toronto and they have more in common than their love for hockey. Both have outside interests. Smith holds a doctorate in political science and Russian studies from Syracuse.
Suhonen said his first meeting with former Philadelphia coach Fred Shero in 1974 made a big impact on his life and career.
"Almost his first comment to me -- I was a young starting coach -- was: 'What are you doing with your life?' I asked him what he meant and he said the key thing is a young person realizing what he's doing with his life, not with his hockey first."
But now hockey will come first, although Suhonen showed his sense of humor Monday when asked what his first order of business would be.
"I officially start the first of July so the next thing is to have a holiday," he said, using the European term for vacation.
Suhonen wants to play a fast brand of hockey, incorporating the speed and puck control of the European game with the necessary physical defensive play in the NHL.
"I think it will be a lot different with Alpo behind the bench. We'll start to bring in some European stuff," said Blackhawks star Tony Amonte, who's played for eight coaches in nine NHL seasons.
"He and Mike like the crafty forwards who can stick handle and move. Mike has a game plan and this is the first step. I think there will be lot more moves this summer to get the players he feels he needs."
Smith had three candidates he wanted to interview for the job and Suhonen was on the top of the list. He never talked to the other two.
"In today's age of parity, the head coach and his staff maybe have never played as critical a role in developing a team," Smith said. "It's a big thing, now."
Suhonen said coaching calls for toughness but also a "softness" in dealing with players.
"Of course there is a business of winning or losing. The first couple of months, the training camp and the exhibitions are going to be very big, that's where you kind of set the tone," he said.
Suhonen apparently is the NHL's second European-born head coach. Johnny Gottselig, born in Russia but raised in the United States, coached the Blackhawks from 1944 to 1948.
Ivan Hlinka of the Czech Republic is to become coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, replacing Herb Brooks, but the team has yet to make it official.