Antero Ansikorpi

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Position Defense
Shoots Left
Height 6 ft 4 in (194 cm)
Weight 230 lb (104 kg, 16 st 6 lb)
Species Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
NHL Team Louisiana IceGators
Nationality Finland
Born October 29, 1985 (1985-10-29) (age 37),
Kangasala, Finland
NHL Draft 131st overall, 2004
Chicago Blackhawks
Pro career 2004 – present

Antero Pirkka Ansikorpi (born October 29, 1985 in Kangasala, Finland) is a Finnish professional ice hockey defenceman currently playing for the Louisiana IceGators of the National Hockey League, and currently serves as the team captain. He is well known for his aggressive style of play at both ends of the ice. On defense, Antero plays a physical style and has garnered a reputation for being one of the hardest-hitting players in the NHL, whereas his hard slapshot, keen vision and hockey instinct makes him a threat on the offensive end. As of February 15th, Antero is second among NHL defensemen with 18 goals scored and leads the NHL in points by a defenseman with 52.

Childhood and Junior Hockey

Antero is the fourth of five children born to Kalevi and Kaija Ansikorpi; brothers Teppo (29), Erkka (27), and Jaska (20), and sister Leila (24). Like a lot of young Finnish pups, Antero was on skates at an early age, first taking to the ice at age 2 like his older brothers and sisters. In his early days, he admired Esa Tikkanen for his tough, determined style of play; he took the number 10 to emulate his idol. At age 7, a serious car accident would leave Antero with a broken leg and three broken ribs, costing him a year of development on the ice. His injuries were the most severe of the seven in their van, with Kaija being the only other one with any broken bones as she broke her hand.

Starting out in his early stages, Ansikorpi played forward in the Tappara developmental program, where he showed promise. When he was moved to defense at age 12, he was initially unhappy with the decision that was made, but he continued on and quickly developed into one of the premier junior defensemen in Finland. In 2002, at the age of 16, Ansikorpi received an invitation to play for Team Finland in the Junior World Championship in the Czech Republic. This was the first chance that he had to show the world his ability alongside players like Mikko Koivu, Tuomo Ruutu and Kari Lehtonen. Even at a young age, Ansikorpi was integral in helping Finland win the bronze medal, scoring a goal and registering 3 assists in the seven games played. He would help Finland win bronze medals the following two years, the second after netting the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic on home soil in Helsinki.

Early Career

On November 1, 2003, Ansikorpi made the jump from Tappara Jr. to the big squad, making his SM-liiga debut against Kärpät the following day. In 42 games that season, he would lead his team in assists (16) and points by a defenseman (21), while wrapping up the runner-up position for goals by a defenseman with 5. He accomplished this while achieving a plus/minus rating of +12 and racking up 74 PIMs to lead the team. It was during this season that he established himself as a physical force, to which former Jokerit head coach Hannu Jortikka said of him after an especially hard hit on winger Marko Jantunen, "He (Ansikorpi) has to be the hardest hitter in the league, and perhaps the world. The scary part about that is he's still very young, and will get better." After the season, the Chicago Blackhawks made Ansikorpi their fifth-round draft pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

NHL Career

Ansikorpi was set to make his NHL debut with the Blackhawks at the start of the 2004-05 season, but the lockout wiped out the entire season, so he was forced to wait a year before entering the NHL. He spent that season with Tappara, and emerged as an offensive threat as he led all SM-liiga defensemen with 39 points (13 G, 26 A) in 55 games. Though he only managed a single assist in the playoffs, he was the runner-up to Ilkka Mikkola in the voting for the Pekka Rautakallio trophy, awarded to the best defenseman in the SM-liiga. It was a major accomplishment for Ansikorpi , then 20 at the time, and he was showered with praise from his peers.

He would start the 2005-06 season with the Blackhawks, but he struggled to adapt to the fast pace of the NHL. Ansikorpi would wind up being sent down to the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate in Rockford, where he started to slowly grow accustomed to the different style of play in North America. He would be called up on February 8, 2006, and would continue the rest of the season with the Blackhawks. During that time, he would score his first NHL goal on March 7 against Columbus, and finish the season with 2 goals and 7 assists. Hall-of-Famer Denis Savard, who was then an assistant coach for the Hawks, said of Ansikorpi , "He's got all the tools to be a successful defenseman in the NHL. He's a big, strong kid that can move the puck and is not afraid to give up his body, and that will solidify his place in this league."

Ansikorpi would start out the 2006-07 season as a member of the Blackhawks, but with all the talent on defense, it was cutting into his playing time. On November 28, he was traded to the Louisiana IceGators in exchange for Alexi Kharlamov, where at first he was displeased. After hearing news of the transaction, Ansikorpi told reporters, "I go from a well-respected hockey city like Chicago to the middle of nowhere...maybe I can help make it (hockey) work down there. But playing in a place like Louisiana where it's never really winter is odd." It started to show up in his game as well as he went a career-long 29 games without registering a point. The discouragement built to the point where after being on the ice for what would be the game-winning goal in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, Ansikorpi swung his stick at the glass, breaking it and inadvertently injuring three fans with broken glass as well as the snapped blade of his stick. He would be suspended for ten games for the incident, but head coach Sebastien Giroux would keep him seated for the final two games as well. "Ansi is a good kid and plays with a lot of heart," Giroux said after the incident, "but he needs to keep his emotions in check when things don't go his way." Despite his return to the lineup, Ansikorpi and the Gators would meet a quick demise after clinching their first Southeast Division title, with the New York Rangers sweeping them in four straight games.

It was then that Ansikorpi vowed things would be different. "We will be back here this time next year," he said to reporters, "We will make it past the first round, and we will not stop until we are playing for the Stanley Cup. I will promise you that."

2007-08 Season and Playoffs: Rise to Elite Status and the Stanley Cup

Ansikorpi and the Gators would start out the 2007-08 season with a bang, going 10-1-1 in the month of October to start out. They would christen their new home, Blue Yonder Arena, with eight straight victories and a 12-1-2 record in their first 15 games, making "The Frozen Swamp" an intimidating place for opponents to come into. A large part of that was due to Ansikorpi's play, who had started to develop into one of the NHL's premier defensemen. He, along with veteran Roman Shamenko, would be paired against the opponent's best line, and by the All-Star break, they had yielded only 5 even-strength goals. This was enough to gain Ansikorpi his first career All-Star berth, but more importantly to him, Giroux named him as one of the team's alternate captains along with center Kevin McCaine.

At the end of the season, Ansikorpi would finish the season with 14 goals and 64 assists, which was 3rd among all NHL players. His 78 total points easily led all NHL defensemen and was 2nd to team captain Petteri Korvanen's 81 points for the Gators. Heading into the playoffs, Ansikorpi was confident of his team's play and when asked about their chances of winning the Stanley Cup, he said, "If we keep playing the way we are now, then anything less than the Stanley Cup will be a disappointment." They would be taken to a seventh game against the Philadelphia Flyers, but with over 23,000 supportive fans at their side, Ansikorpi would assist on two goals in a 3-2 victory to move on and set up a showdown with the 2nd-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.

With superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin waiting for them, Ansikorpi knew that he had his work cut out for him. Starting in Pittsburgh would make things even more difficult, but the Gators escaped with the series tied at 1. Giroux would match Ansikorpi up against Crosby, and he would make sure that he could not work his magic, only managing three assists in the entire series, with two coming in a 5-4 victory in Game 2. After that, he would be hounded by Ansikorpi and the Gators would win the series in six games. Many people who followed the series were ready to dub Ansikorpi as the best all-around defenseman in the NHL, with one going as far as to say, "At 22, Antero Ansikorpi has established himself as an elite blueliner, and is ready to knock at the door of legendary status." A five-game dismantling of the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, in which Ansikorpi held another superstar scorer in Jaromir Jagr without a point, would net the Gators a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. But it came with a price, as Korvanen would be lost for the final two games after getting a high stick to the face, injuring his right eye.

Before facing the Dallas Stars for the Stanley Cup, Korvanen would present his fellow countryman with his sweater, adorned with the captain's C on the chest after their final practice before Game 1. He would tell Ansikorpi, "This is your team now, and we will win or lose with you, young niellä." (Niellä is the Finnish word for "wolf".) After the inspiring ceremony, the Gators would storm out to a 4-0 victory, taking the first game in dominating fashion. A 3-2 loss in Game 2 proved to be a minor setback, but the Gators' young captain knew it was too early to give up. Returning home to a raucous Blue Yonder Arena, Ansikorpi would net goals in Games 3 and 4 to put his team on the verge of their first Stanley Cup victory. But the celebration would have to be put on hold as the Gators would lose 4-3, with Ansikorpi drawing a misconduct penalty in the third period after arguing a questionable hooking call to him. During his time off, the Stars would score two goals to seal the deal.

Sensing the loss in momentum, Ansikorpi came out before Game 6, and when asked how he felt about the upcoming game, he said, "We will win tonight...mark my words. Even if I score the only goal in the game for either team, the Cup is as good as ours." The Stars would take that to heart, scoring twice in the first five minutes and leading the Gators to question their captain's brash predictions. But Ansikorpi would set up the Gators' first goal early in the second, sending winger Martin Sedlacek in on a breakaway, which he converted. The Gators would score later in the period, tying the game at 2; both teams would go scoreless in the third to set up a dramatic overtime period in which both teams would not score. It was at 9:32 of the second overtime that Ansikorpi would find his way into the high slot in front of Marty Turco. He would receive a pass from McCaine, which he one-timed over Turco's blocker, setting off a memorable celebration in which he threw down his stick, gloves and helmet, and slid from blue line to blue line with arms raised in the air. He would have made the other blue line if he didn't get mobbed by his teammates, who joined to celebrate in his goal that clinched the Stanley Cup.

Ansikorpi would end up with 19 points on 4 goals and 15 assists, of which 3 of the goals were scored in the Stanley Cup Finals, while finishing with a +16 rating and racking up 29 PIMs. For this, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ansikorpi would also receive the distinction of being the first European-trained captain of a Stanley Cup champion team, as well as being the youngest captain (22 years, 7 months, 6 days) of a Stanley Cup champion. After the series ended, the Gators would be greeted by a half-million fans for each of their celebrations in Lafayette and in New Orleans. During the New Orleans celebration, Ansikorpi provided a quote that would live on in the city that was still beleaguered by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, pointing to the Cup as it sat on the stage and saying, "This Cup is a symbol of hope for the great city of New Orleans, that it will rise from the devastating blow that it has been given, and the enduring pain that has resulted from it. And from that, we find out who we truly are...we are one. We are proud, and we will overcome anything that comes our way."

2008-09 Season

Personal Life

When not on the ice, Antero likes to play the drums in his free time. As a teenager growing up in Finland, he started playing the drums with the aspirations of starting a band with older brothers Teppo and Erkka. However, his abilities would become noticed by Marco Tomasson and Katti Kapanen of the heavy metal band Eternal Winter, and offered him an invitation to the band at the age of 19. But Antero turned it down in order to pursue his other dream of playing professional hockey, to which Kapanen, a lifelong Tappara fan, said in an interview with Metal Edge magazine, "I always thought Antero looked better wearing a hockey sweater and having one stick in his hands. So I told him that I would be his biggest fan if he ever made it to an elite level. And he has, and I am proud to be associated with him."

Antero is currently engaged to Aurora Leppälä, his high school sweetheart, who moved in after he signed his contract extension. They live together in Magnolia Bend, Louisiana, and have plans to get married after the completion of the 2008-09 season.

Career statistics

Regular season Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1999–00 Regina Pats WHL 5 0 0 0 17 -- -- -- -- --
1998–99 Prince George Cougars WHL 33 0 0 0 149 -- -- -- -- --
1999–00 Prince George Cougars WHL 61 1 8 9 245 6 1 0 1 31
2000–01 Prince George Cougars WHL 2 0 0 0 16 -- -- -- -- --
2002–03 Medicine Hat Tigers WHL 46 1 8 9 178 -- -- -- -- --
2003–04 Medicine Hat Tigers WHL 27 1 2 3 65 -- -- -- -- --
2003–04 Louisiana IceGators ECHL 33 1 2 3 240 2 0 0 0 0
2004–05 Houston Aeros AHL 53 0 4 4 207 2 0 1 1 16
2005–06 Chicago Blackhawks NHL 56 1 4 5 259 5 0 0 0 38
2006–07 Minnesota Wild NHL 65 2 4 6 158 -- -- -- -- --
2007–08 Louisiana IceGators NHL 48 0 1 1 120 4 0 1 1 20
2008–09 Louisiana IceGators NHL 34 0 0 0 74 6 0 0 0 24
NHL totals 147 2 5 7 352 10 0 1 1 44