Team Finland: Kelusky set to lead Finns
After helping Canada win gold as a player at the first two Federation of International Lacrosse World Indoor Championships in 2003 and 2007, Tracey Kelusky now finds himself on the other side as one of the many countries scheming to end Canada’s reign as the four-time defending champion of the event.
The 43-year-old from Peterborough, Ontario has taken the reins as head coach of Finland’s men’s national team after serving as the team’s offensive coordinator on the squad four years ago.
Finland placed ninth that year out of 13 teams and returns roughly 60 or 70 per cent of that roster.
And Kelusky likes what he sees in his squad.
“They remind me a whole lot of the Canadian guys, blue-collar guys who aren’t afraid to get their noses dirty and who aren’t afraid to get in and mix it up,” he enthused. “We are a passionate group, a hard-working group.”
When Finland takes to the floor at the 2019 FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Langley, they will be aiming to build on their ninth-place finish from 2015. That was the second-best showing among the five countries making their WILC debut, with only Israel (who finished fourth) faring better.
Kelusky is not under any grand impressions that his team is quite ready to contend for a spot on the podium – Canada, Iroquois Nationals and the United States have finished one, two, three at all four previous WILC events – but he also expects them to show improvement over their inaugural debut, when they went 2-1 in group play and 2-3 overall.
Teams are split into pools, combined accordingly to their skill level, for preliminary play prior to the playoff round.
“We are an underdog and we are always going to be an underdog, but we are fighting to get into the Blue Division and that top-six ranking,” Kelusky said. “And if we get into the Blue Division, then we have definitely exceeded expectations.”
The team also hopes to build off a strong showing at the 2017 European Box Lacrosse where they finished third out of a field of 14.
Who exactly is the man tasked with taking Finland to the next level?
‘Lacrosse is his life’ is just one of the many quotes about Kelusky in past articles.
The funny thing is, that wasn’t always the case for him growing up.
Like many young Canadians, Kelusky juggled hockey and lacrosse but he began the latter sport later and primarily played lacrosse to stay in shape for hockey.
But when a legend such as John Grant Sr. is one of your coaches in the game (he and John Grant Jr. were best friends) you are bound to pick up a thing or two, and when the time came to choose a sport – his options were playing semi-pro hockey or accepting a field lacrosse scholarship to the University of Hartford – Kelusky went the latter route and the rest is history.
He left Hartford with a slew of records and still stands second among the school’s career leader in goals (139) and points (209). His field success caught the attention of the National Lacrosse League, with the Columbus Landsharks selecting Kelusky first overall. Kelusky spent 14 years in the NLL, primarily with Calgary where he captained the Roughnecks to a pair of NLL titles (2004 and 2009).
Kelusky won the 2001 NLL Rookie of the Year Award, a five-time league all-star and he retired with 383 goals and 823 points over 195 career games, earning himself a spot in the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame.
While in Calgary, Kelusky also taught and coached at the National Sports Academy, and once his playing days were behind him, he immersed himself in the coaching ranks, serving as an assistant with the Peterborough Lakers (Major Series Lacrosse) and in the NLL, first with the New England Black Wolves and now with the expansion Philadelphia Wings. Alongside this, he also helped found a lacrosse company, Evolve Elite Lax, to help young players further develop their game.
And from there, he was recruited to Team Finland by his former coach with Calgary, Devan Wray, with Kelusky running the offence, and now, as head coach after Wray had to step away.
Joining Kelusky on the coaching staff will be Neil Doddridge and Pentti Pekkonen. Pekkonen was formerly Team Finland’s captain and is the only coach of the three who is based out of Finland, meaning he will oversee much of what the team does in terms of preparation in the lead up to the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship.
Finland has already named their 24-player roster.
In goal, the team has the trio of Juri Elonen, Lauri Uusitalo and Riku Jokela.
Markus Mattila will captain the squad, with Jimi Wiren, Severi Koskinen and Roope Jokela serving as assistants.
The rest of the team consists of Jani Viitanen, Mika Uotila, Joakim Hlavaty, Akseli Rantanen, Tuomas Tilkanen, Simo Teperi, Valtteri Laaksonen, Oskari Bly, Henrik Haarala, Luke Lehtimaki, Robert Raittila, Joakim Miller, Anssi Kaisalmi, DJ Saari, Tyler Crompton, Alex Kiviniemi and Bret Kujala.
Eelis Copeland and Risto Suontausta are the team’s reserves.