GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the fifth-year pro, moments like this haven’t come along very often.
But Tuesday, Phoenix Coyotes left winger Lauri Korpikoski more than earned his 15 minutes in the spotlight. Not only was the 27 year old officially added to Team Finland’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but he tied a season-high with three points in a rout over the Calgary Flames.
However, as has often been the case during the former first-round pick’s tenure in the NHL, his moments were overshadowed by something or somebody else.
Inside the Coyotes’ locker room following the 6-0 victory, that somebody was captain Shane Doan.
As Korpikoski stepped in front of the throng of cameras and media members in an effort to try and put his day in perspective, Doan, as only he could, took back control of the room with a series of sarcastic barbs aimed at his suddenly-popular teammate.
“Hey Korpi, I got the game-winner,” Doan yelled out mid-interview.
While Doan was in fact correct that his second period tally — one that was more about body placement than skill — turned out to be the de facto winning goal in a six-goal blowout, his ribbing was merely a chance to provide some levity in the face of the typical post-game obligations.
It didn’t stop there.
“I was in the hospital, Korpi,” Doan chirped with a smile on his face in reference to his month-long battle with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
While eyes continued to dart back and forth tracing the 10-foot distance between Doan and Korpikoski during the one-sided banter, the latter stayed on point — a trait that has served him well both on and off the ice.
At first glance, the Coyotes forward might seem like an odd selection to participate in the Sochi Games alongside offensive-minded players like Mikko Koivu, Olli Jokinen and Teemu Selanne.
Korpikoski has never been a 20-goal scorer, lacks the end-to-end speed that often thrives in the open-ice setting of Olympic hockey and doesn’t have an international career filled with years spent playing in tournaments upon tournaments outside of the 2004 U18 World Juniors.
Yet come February, Korpikoski, along with fellow teammates Martin Hanzal, Mike Smith, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek will make the long trek over to Russia as a representative of his native country.
And as Tuesday’s performance indicated, he’s more than worthy of the nod. In fact, there might not be a better on-ice reflection of Dave Tippett’s brand of hockey than Korpikoski.
He’s light on flash and heavy on substance. He kills penalties with the same vigor most employ on power play opportunities. And most importantly, he can thrive playing two-way hockey on any line, one through four.
Of late, Korpikoski has been paired with Hanzal and Radim Vrabata on Phoenix’s top scoring line. All the trio did Tuesday was combine for seven points, including a back-breaking effort goal by Korpikoski that opened the game up for good midway through the third period.
“He can be a difference maker, because he can play fast,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said of Korpikoski. “He goes hard to the net. There are times though where I think the offensive side of his game goes down when we take too many penalties. We need him, because he’s a good penalty killer.
“But if we can stay out of the penalty box, he can get up and go. He can be a valuable player for us, and you saw that tonight.”
While Korpikoski joked that the national teams should be announced every week if it produces the same type of results he was able to have against Calgary, his impact on Phoenix’s success is no laughing matter.
This season, though limited at times due to injury, the 6-foot-1 forward has recorded points in nine of his 25 appearances. Of those nine games, eight have resulted in points for the Coyotes.
It’s the kind of impact that even the locker room’s leading jokester couldn’t ignore.
“Obviously Vrbata, Hanzal and Korpikoski, when they’re rolling we’re good,” said Doan. “Korpi getting one [goal] and two [assists] tonight was huge for us. It’s big for us to get contributions and different guys going.”
The self-effacing veteran Korpikoski didn’t quite give himself the same rave review when evaluating what’s been working of late.
“It’s nice to score,” he said. “But if you look at where I get my chances and where I get my points, it’s through being a good defensive player and working hard. I don’t get points by cheating the game. I have to be responsible. Points come with hard work.”
It’s that understated, blue-collar approach that will certainly make him an asset in next month’s Winter Olympics, as well as one at Jobing.com Arena in the weeks and months to follow. Even in the midst of his finest hour as a professional, that much is not lost upon Korpikoski.
“It was obviously a good day today getting the call up by the national team,” he said. “But I also have to concentrate on playing with the Coyotes and getting into the playoff push.”