Kallionkieli learns from tough luck

Perry Bergson

Marcus Kallionkieli may have redefined bad luck for the Brandon Wheat Kings.

In three normal Western Hockey League seasons without injuries, the six-foot-two, 195-pound forward from Helsinki, Finland might have played more than 200 regular season games. Instead, he played just 24 in the 2019-20 season, didn’t come to Brandon for the shortened 2020-21 Regina hub season and was in the lineup for just 36 games in the 2021-22 campaign.

“It was tough,” Kallionkieli said. “Obviously it was a good learning experience.”

He has certainly faced more than his share of adversity.

Kallionkieli developed a nerve issue in his hip during the 2018-19 season when he played with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, but it wasn’t discovered until he was at Vegas prospects camp in 2019 after the National Hockey League club drafted him 139th overall in the fifth round. He had surgery in Los Angeles soon after.

In the meantime, Brandon chose him 22nd overall in the 2019 Canadian Hockey League import draft.

He didn’t arrive in the Wheat City until December, but it took him a while to get into shape and acclimatize to the league.

It’s no wonder, because after the surgery, his recovery was limited to walking for the first three or four weeks. Eventually he got to lift weights and then was able to return to the ice about a month before he got to Brandon.

He made his Wheat Kings debut on Dec. 10, 2019, becoming the third Finnish player to suit up with the club since the CHL draft was instituted. The others were Toni Rajala in 2009 and Sami Sandell in 2004.

After a three-point effort in his second game, Kallionkieli went six games without a point. He was finally finding his way when a concussion sustained on Feb. 12, 2020 knocked him out of the lineup for nearly a month. He ultimately put up just 11 points despite displaying flashes of dominance at times.

The bad luck continued this season. He was healthy when he flew in to Brandon, but arrived after practice had already started and rushed straight onto the ice to join his teammates. Without the benefit of stretching and warmups, he promptly injured his groin and didn’t make his debut until Oct. 30.

“It’s hard but you just have to keep focussed,” he said.

On March 11, in the same game that Ridly Grieg was injured in against the Winnipeg Ice, Kallionkieli sustained another concussion and didn’t return until April 15 near the end of the regular season.

He doubts he was ever completely healthy this season but still contributed 11 goals and 16 assists in 36 games.

“I think I played good but some games not that well,” Kallionkieli said. “I think I did a pretty good job.”

Marcus Kallionkieli bounces the puck on his stick during a Brandon Wheat Kings practice.

Marcus Kallionkieli bounces the puck on his stick during a Brandon Wheat Kings practice.

Kallionkieli, who turned 21 in March, speaks English well but is quiet by nature. Still, if he was around his teammates, he usually had a smile on his face and clearly enjoyed their company.

“It was a good group of guys,” Kallionkieli said. “We always had fun and that’s the main point.”

His teammates also liked having him around. His two fellow overagers both sung his praises when asked.

“I got to know him pretty well over,” Chad Nychuk said. “At 18. I didn’t really get to know him quite that well but this year, he came and was a big part of our playoff run. He had a very good playoff run for us. Saying goodbye to him is going to be tough.”

Goaltender Ethan Kruger agreed.

“I didn’t know him as well as Chuck (Nychuk) but he is a good guy,” Kruger said. “He’s on the quieter side but you get him open up and chatting he’s a really good guy. He’s funny and he’s going to have a long career ahead of him.”

Last season, when he didn’t come to Canada for the hub, Kallionkieli started in Finland, earning a goal and four assists in nine games with HIFK in the U20 SM-sarja, the country’s top junior league. He finished the year with the American Hockey League’s Henderson Silver Knights, scoring twice in six games.

He also brought some unusual experience with him from earlier in his career. Kallionkieli actually played in a four-overtime game in the USHL, which Sioux City lost to the Sioux Falls Stampede on April 17, 2019.

Unfortunately for the Finn and his Brandon teammates, their season ended with a triple-overtime loss in Game 6 to the Red Deer Rebels on Sunday in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

“It was really, really, really tough,” Kallionkieli said. “We fought really hard that game and just couldn’t get the win but I’m proud of the boys and the effort we put in.”

Kallionkieli’s mother Marlei is Brazilian and his father Markku is Finnish. He grew up in Finland, other than when his dad worked in Portugal for a while. He also has three sisters and two brothers.

While he was in Brandon, he lived with billets Ralph and Sonia Kampe and the White family in 2019.

“It was good,” Kallionkieli said. “They’re good people.”

He’s not sure what next year’s plans are yet, but it might be the Silver Knights.

But right now, with his final junior game behind him, Kallionkieli preferred to reflect on what he’ll remember about his time in Brandon. The biggest thing is the fans, and he had a direct message to deliver to them.

“Thanks for coming out this year,” Kallionkieli said. “With COVID and stuff, it was a good thing that you could come and watch us play. A huge thank you.”


» Twitter: @PerryBergson

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