Despite suspensions, Wingels enjoyed Finland

Despite suspensions, Wingels enjoyed Finland
January 9, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Tommy Wingels was suspended for five games during his stint with KooKoo in Finland. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Tommy Wingels paid the price for trying to maintain his hard-hitting, physical style while playing for KooKoo of the second-tier Mestis League in Finland.

On two separate occasions, the Sharks’ forward was suspended. On October 17, he was handed a three-game ban for a high, hard hit on Vantaa defenseman Sami Kautto, who suffered a concussion. It was a hit that might have gotten him banned a few games in the NHL, too, and can be seen here in this YouTube clip (featuring Zapruder-ish slow motion/zooming).

More recently, Wingels, who was credited with 102 hits in just 33 games last season, sat for another two games for tripping an opponent from behind into the boards.

“For me to be ready for the NHL season to start, I felt I needed to play a physical game, even though that wasn’t really the style over there,” Wingels said on Wednesday after he skated at Sharks Ice for the first time since before the lockout. “There’s definitely more hitting over here with the smaller ice. It’s more difficult to finish checks over there. I was disappointed I was suspended; I obviously don’t think I’m a dirty player at all. That wasn’t my intention, but it happened.”

Overall, though, it was a positive experience for the 24-year-old, who had 22 points (8g, 14a) in 18 games with KooKoo (based out of Kouvola, Finland, about 85 miles northeast of Helsinki). In a perfect world, Wingels would have stayed and played for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate in Worcester, but he was not on the team’s “clear day list” at the end of last season, thereby rendering him ineligible.

“Hockey players want to play hockey. We couldn’t start here, and to be a professional I had to do what I can to make myself best ready to start the season here when it did,” Wingels said. “They did everything they could to make me feel comfortable, and I really enjoyed the experience in Finland.”

Wingels had to adjust to approximately 3-4 hours of daylight there in the winter, but there were several redeeming qualities to his adventure.

“The fans are a bit different. It’s like you see at soccer games, they’re very passionate, wearing scarves and cheering during the games. I thought that was a unique aspect that was different from the game here, and sports here in general. That was pretty cool.”

Wingels returned to North America shortly before Christmas, and stayed close to his hometown of Evanston, Illinois, where he skated with several Blackhawks and other assorted NHL’ers in Chicago.

He’ll be one of the more intriguing players to watch when training camp gets underway, presumably on Sunday, and the organization is expecting him to take the another significant step in his development after opening eyes in 2011-12.

“I feel good for camp here,” he said.