Kotka is home to Steveco and a first draft NHL pick

Rasmus Kupari made ice hockey history for his hometown of Kotka, Finland when he was drafted by the NHL in summer 2018. His career started in this small town on Finland’s southwest coast with the local club Titaanit, with his father as his coach.

Kupari was a first round draft for the Los Angeles Kings, although he will continue to play and hone his skills with his current Finnish team, Oulun Kärpät, for at least one or two seasons.

When this article is published, the Finnish Ice Hockey League will be into its new season and we will find out if this 18-year-old can live up to the expectations put on his young shoulders when he plays with Oulun Kärpät.

At the time of this interview, conducted at the Maritime Centre Vallimo in Kotka on a sweltering August day - yes, there are sweltering summer days in Finland - the start of the Finnish ice hockey season was a few weeks away and Kupari’s three-year NHL rookie deal with the L.A. Kings would be starting.

The odds of jumping from Kotka to the world’s premier hockey league are not exactly high, so Kupari has definitely secured his place in the town’s hockey history books. He secured the 20th position in the first draft, a best ever result for team Titaanit.

Kupari will spend at least one season with Kärpät in Oulu where he plays second line centre. When he was drafted, he was described as an explosive centreman with great puck skills.

The whole family takes a victory lap

Rasmus’ father, Marko Kupari, works as a stevedore at Steveco’s container terminal in Kotka. He joined the company long before Rasmus was born. Marko has been a permanent employee at the harbour for twenty years, and has a total of 24 years with the company under his belt.

Naturally, he’s thrilled by his son’s success.

“The deal Rasmus has is a magnificent thing. Of course I am proud and happy for him to have reached his goal. However, now he can’t just rest on his laurels, he has to set new goals.”

Marko thinks Rasmus’ success is a victory for the whole family. They have always encouraged their children to do sports.

The children’s sports endeavours have kept the parents busy chauffeuring them to practices and games. They clocked up quite a few kilometres and hours, especially when Rasmus moved from Titaanit to the club Kookoo in the city of Kouvola some 60 kilometres away, for the 2015–2017 seasons. But, they feel it was all worth it.

The biggest kicks come from ice hockey

Like his son, Marko Kupari once played forthe Titaanit. Hethen started coaching the juniors. That’s where at the hockey training centre under his father’s tutelage, Rasmus began his journey to the ice rinks of the big world.

“I’ve always liked to play ice hockey. It is great fun and it gives me the biggest kicks,” Rasmus says.

He thinks Kotka was a good place to grow up into ice hockey and it gave him a good start. A small city has a small club that, according to him, provides good training and lots of ice time.

With small age groups, teams have to be combined. This has the advantage of letting the youngsters play with older players. That was Rasmus’ experience as well.

“I believe it was helpful to to go up against physically stronger players.”

Talent rises to the top

Marko Kupari also thinks there are downsides to small clubs.

“More volume in terms of aspiring players is needed. The competition between sports is hard. Also, former players should be encouraged to take up coaching. That said, there’s a lot of excellent work being done and there is a strong will to go forward,” Marko says.

He is not worried about talented young players.

“Those who have the will and the potential will get themselves onto the number one team in the area. Juniors should be included in playing for the championships.”

Unwavering strive for development

It is clear that Rasmus Kupari possesses exceptional talent. Skating, moving, puck skills and reading the game are considered his greatest strengths. Talent alone, however, is not enough.

“I’m driven by a will to exercise and become better all the time. I moved from Kouvola to Oulu for the bigger challenge. Developing yourself takes determination, even selfishness,” says Rasmus.

Determination also means hard choices. Rasmus had to leave his home, family and friends behind. It helps, though, that his girlfriend moved to Oulu with him.

“Kotka is an important place for me, which is always nice to visit.”

Finding time for hobbies

On a training day, Rasmus goes to the indoor rink by 8:30am, training until 12:30pm, followed by lunch, then afternoon training on the ice. On a match day, the schedule is morning training, rest, and the match. There is always at least one day off a week.

Despite the gruelling schedule, Rasmus has time for hobbies: films, cooking, badminton and football. Most recently, he took up golf and joined the Kymi Golf club.

“Golf is a great pastime, but it is not easy!”

Adding mass and power

The NHL deal fulfilled one of Rasmus’ dreams, but he is already focused on the next goals.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to get selected for the Los Angeles Kings team and one day win the Stanley Cup. That’s my dream. In the NHL, the play is fast, and the rink is small. To make a difference in the game, I need to add to my power and my mass.”

Text: Eija Anttila
Photos: Olli Urpela

About Author

Mia Brunila