‘He will get everything free in Finland’: Kiviranta-mania is running wild


Isolated in a small, dark studio about two hours north of Helsinki, Antti Makinen prepared to call last Friday’s Game 7 between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars.

Makinen is the voice of the NHL in Finland, where he broadcasts games solo and remotely, off a 25-inch TV. Game 7 was a 4 p.m. ET start — an early start for Makinen, too. “It started in Finland at 11 p.m. local time, not too bad,” said the broadcaster, who often calls Jokerit KHL games live, takes a nap, then calls NHL games at 2 a.m. On Friday, he needed only “a couple sandwiches and a coffee” to stay alert.

There were plenty of Finnish stars in the series. Mikko Rantanen (41 points in 42 regular-season games) plays wingman to Nathan MacKinnon on Colorado’s top line. Dallas defenseman Miro Heiskanen (an astounding 21 points in 17 games this postseason) is getting serious consideration for the Conn Smythe. Joonas Donskoi, Roope Hintz and Esa Lindell are all household names in Finland, too.

When Stars forward Andrew Cogliano, who has never missed a playoff game in his 13-year, 1,000-plus game career, was deemed unfit to play, undrafted 24-year-old forward Joel Kiviranta (13 total games of NHL experience) drew into the lineup. Makinen knew Kiviranta from his time in the Finnish Liiga and for suiting up for Finland in the 2019 World Championships. “The last time he scored a playoff goal was 2014, he was in B junior,” Makinen said. “He’s not a goal scorer. He’s an all-around player. To be honest, he gets in the lineup after sitting six games … and I don’t expect much.”

Kiviranta opened the scoring in the second period to tie the game 2-2, and Makinen said to himself, “OK, well that’s amazing.” Kiviranta then pickpocketed MacKinnon twice in the third. “What a game he is having,” Makinen thought. Then, Kiviranta scored his second goal, with 4½ minutes remaining in the game to tie the game 4-4. “On the call, I shouted, ‘Joel f—ing Kiviranta,'” Makinen recalled.

“I was just amazed, this guy, Joel Kiviranta, is the guy that scores the goals for the Dallas Stars,” Makinen said. “You have [Tyler] Seguin, you have [Jamie] Benn, you have [Corey] Perry, [Joe] Pavelski. When Cogliano is not dressing and this guy called Kiviranta comes in and everyone thinks it’s going to be a downgrade for the Stars. Nobody knows this guy.”

Overtime turned into double overtime, and Kiviranta lost his defenseman to find open space in the slot. He sniped one past Michael Hutchinson for the hat trick and the series-clincher. “I totally lost it,” Makinen said.

Makinen’s call on that goal has since gone viral — “Joel Kiviranta!!!!” Makinen wailed — as hockey fans don’t have to understand the language to appreciate the unbridled enthusiasm; the only thing North Americans might be able to compare it to is Gus Johnson.

Makinen got about 90 minutes of sleep Friday night before waking up and driving two hours to coach his son in a major peewee tournament. “We won the tournament, but nobody cared about the results,” Makinen said. “Everyone wanted to talk to me about Joel Kiviranta’s goal and the screaming and the team and what the heck I am doing on the broadcast. I’m like, ‘Hey, stop, we’re here for the junior team, can we focus on the kids?'”

Within 24 hours, Finnish designer Larvinen began selling hoodies and T-shirts with Makinen’s now-famous catchphrase. By the end of the weekend, Makinen said he was sent an mp3 — a fan had turned his goal call into a custom ringtone.

“We have six million people in Finland,” Makinen said. “On Friday afternoon, maybe 50,000 knew who Joel Kiviranta was. Saturday morning, the whole country knew Joel Kiviranta.”

The Finns are passionate about hockey, and cherish their hockey heroes. When Kasperi Kapanen scored the golden goal at the 2016 World Junior Championships, he was immortalized on a stamp. Mikael Granlund also got the postage treatment just for scoring a cool, lacrosse-style goal at the 2011 Worlds. Thousands of fans packed in Finland’s largest gathering spot, Rautatientori Square, when Teemu Selanne brought the Stanley Cup there in 2007.

“For Kiviranta,” Makinen said. “Basically, the next 10 years, he will get everything free in Finland.”

It’s all the more surprising when you consider Kiviranta’s story. The Stars took notice of the winger at last year’s Worlds, his senior national team debut. Finland shocked Canada for the gold medal — as fans at home literally partied their pants off — but Kiviranta was more of a role player, scoring three points in nine contests. The Stars signed him to a two-year, entry-level contract worth $925,000 in average annual value. He began the season with the Texas Stars in the AHL, as expected, as he adjusted to North American ice.

In January, his parents visited from Finland. Though Kiviranta was playing in the minors at the time, his parents asked if he could get them Dallas Stars tickets; they wanted to see a live NHL game. Kiviranta got them tickets for Jan. 3 against the Red Wings, which, serendipitously, was his NHL debut.

Kiviranta was called up for 11 games total, and in each one impressed the coaching staff.

“There was a game in Colorado earlier in the year,” Dallas head coach Rick Bowness said. “We’d brought him up, and I remember Joe Pavelski tapped me on the knee and said, ‘Bones, give me Joel.’ So, the players have a tremendous amount of confidence in Kivi. He’s a great little competitor.”

Kiviranta, who had just one goal in the regular season and averaged 10:39 of ice time in his 11 appearances, made the Stars’ extended postseason roster. He is generally quiet but has a blunt sense of humor, and he quickly became a favorite among his teammates. Kiviranta played in two games in the bubble before getting the nod on Friday.

“We had a secret Finnish weapon over here,” Benn, the team’s captain said.

While still catching his breath after coming off the ice in Game 7, Kiviranta did a TV interview in which he called the game “unreal.”

“Today was the day I played the first Game 7 in my life. I didn’t know what to expect,” Kiviranta said. He then chuckled and said, “Just a normal hockey game for me.”

Later, Kiviranta said: “I just hope I get more games here.”

He then joined his team in the locker room, where they awarded him their costume chain as the best player of the game. When his teammates clamored for a speech, Kiviranta kept it short:

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