Ville Leino has always admired Russian players, and now after six seasons in the NHL, he's going to experience playing hockey against them first hand in the Kontinental Hockey League.
''I was lucky to have spent a season and a half on the same team as Pavel Datsyuk. Sergei Fedorov, Aleksander Mogilni, Aleksei Kovalev... Those are players that I grew up with. There's also Teemu Selanne from Finland. He's a role models for almost all Finns'', said Leino.
The Finnish star, who recently joined the Bears straight from the NHL, has already had a few practices with the team and is getting ready to travel to Russia with them for his KHL debut.
''This will be a new challenge for me in Europe. This is a completely different league with a different atmosphere. Considering I spent six years in North America, I don't know too much about the KHL, but I'll get to know it very quickly and I'm sure I'm going to like this style of hockey. I'm going to enjoy the game and I'm going to try to help the team to get more points'', said the 31-year-old with the number 18 on his back, and then commented about his new team that:
''Medvescak's team is made up of some very talented players and you can see that they try hard on the ice. I know some of them from North America already and I know Coach Doug Shedden. He's a great coach. The familiar surroundings will make it easier to get used to everything.''
After signing Leino, Coach Shedden said that he believes Leino will be a key character in decisive moments and a player that will make a difference on the ice.
''I’m a creative player, and since the ice is bigger dimensions here, there’s more room to create plays and I’ll be able to show more of my skills, especially in front of the opponent’s net.''
Leino is a forward that can play both center and wings. But he says he does a better job playing wing.
''In the past few seasons I mostly played wings. Sometimes if we were short players I would play center, but I’m not the best at that. I hope that I will be a winger here because when you play that position you can do more in attacks because you don’t have so many defensive responsibilities.''
The Finn’s favourite career moment was the playoff finals with the Philadelphia Flyers against Chicago. Despite losing game six, that was a special event for him. When asked about his expectations for the season with the Bears, he said:
''We’re going to work on making the playoffs. We’re not far from that goal. To begin, we’ll try to do our best in the upcoming road games and come back to Zagreb with as many wins as possible.''
After defeating Slovan 1:0 at home, the Bears have four games ahead of them in Russia – Yugra, Traktor, Lada, and Neftehimik.