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Joel Kiviranta: The Funniest Finn and Dallas Stars Playoff Overtime Hero

Before Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche, few hockey fans knew Joel Kiviranta. How did he become the Dallas Stars playoff overtime hero?

Dallas Stars forward Joel Kiviranta
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Let’s start with the end of the story and work backward. Joel Kiviranta scored a hat trick for the Dallas Stars as they beat the Colorado Avalanche in Friday’s Game 7’s overtime 5-4 win. The Stars now move to the Western Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now let’s move quickly to the obvious question: who’s Joel Kiviranta? Before these heroics, few hockey fans anywhere would have heard of Kiviranta – well, outside of Finland. He is an undrafted 24-year-old who, until the 2019-20 season, had played in his home country but not in North America. He might have come to North America sooner, but no one thought to invite him.

Related: Roman Polak Seemingly Walks Away From Stars and NHL

How Did Kiviranta Get to the Dallas Stars?

Since Kiviranta was 18 years-of-age, there have been six NHL Entry Drafts. During those drafts not a single NHL team called his name. He’s only on the team because former Stars player Jere Lehtinen – who’s now the general manager of Team Finland’s national team – got in touch with the Stars management to suggest they take a look at the little-known Kiviranta.

They took a look; he signed; and now the Stars are off to the Western Conference Finals. [Obviously, stuff has happened in between, but those are the main events of the story.]

Specifically, the Stars sent scouts to see Kiviranta play. Shortly after he was a member of Team Finland’s 2019 gold medal winning World Championship, the Stars convinced him to sign with Dallas. And apparently convinced is the right word; rumor has it that Kiviranta was worried about playing in North America because he was thought his English wasn’t good enough.

But today the Stars are pleased he came. The 24-year-old’s hat trick goal moved the team past Game 7 and into the next series. However, these heroics would not have happened at all if NHL Ironman Andrew Cogliano could have played. Actually, it’s a bit ironic Cogliano couldn’t play. When he was with the Anaheim Ducks, early in 2018 he was suspended two games. That two-game suspension snapped his ironman streak at 830 games. Before that, the winger had the fourth-longest consecutive-game streak in NHL history.

More of Kiviranta’s Backstory

It’s interesting that Kiviranta seems to have come from nowhere. Obviously, that’s not true. However, it’s tough to find information about him. Fortunately, after his game-winning goal, Hockey News writer Ken Campbell wrote a nice article about him and pulled some of his own research together.

One interesting point is that the youngster seemed unfazed by the pressure of the Game 7. He noted that, “It was my first Game 7, but it felt like a normal game for me.” Campbell’s article tells us that Kiviranta was “well-coached in Finland,” where he scored two goals to help the Finns win the World Championship in 2019 and a bronze medal at the 2013 U-18 World Championship.

The article also suggests that, apparently the guy is also a fun guy to be around. Stars defenseman John Klingberg says,“Getting to know him in the bubble, he’s a really funny guy. He’s the funniest guys of the Finns.” [In my career in education, I knew several educators from Finland and they were known to be serious folks.]

Related: Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars Potential Trade Partners?

Kiviranta: Going Into Game Seven

Kiviranta was expected to be a healthy scratch during the Colorado series. Although he had played in Dallas’ last game of round one against the Calgary Flames and had an assist, when Mattias Janmark was ready to return to the line-up that left Kiviranta watching from the rafters. When Cogliano couldn’t go for Game 7, he drew in on the Stars fourth line to replace him.

Then, what a game. Kiviranta’s first goal of the game was a tip-in of a Klingberg shot. Then late in the third period, after the Avalanche’s Vladislav Namestnikov seemed to have scored the game-winning goal, Kiviranta struck again – only 10 seconds later. That forced overtime.

Watching the overtime goal, you could see Kiviranta’s on-ice IQ. He saw that Andrej Sekera was stuck behind the goal and skated backwards about 10-feet away from the goalie into the high slot. Sekera saw and found him, and Kiviranta’s one-timer was the winning goal.

Will the Cinderella Story Continue?

Talk about a Cinderella story. Until this game, Kiviranta had scored only one career NHL goal. But his last two were huge for the Stars and helped his team stave off a 3-1 series collapse and move into the Western Conference Finals. The Stars will now meet the Vegas Golden Knights who finally scored on Thatcher Demko to knock the upstart Vancouver Canucks from Stanley Cup contention.

I wonder if the young Finn will see any ice time against the Golden Knights starting Sunday.

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