October 14, 2010
by Michael Zuidema - The Grand Rapids Press
Don’t bother telling Ilari Filppula that he looks like his younger brother, Valtteri.
“I think it’s more he looks like me,” Ilari said. “Because I’m older.”
Ilari, 28, may be two years older than Valtteri, but he’s playing a bit of catch-up with his little brother when it comes to North American hockey. Ilari is starting his first season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, while Valtteri is in his fifth year with the Detroit Red Wings.
Still, comparisons are inevitable. Both are capable playmakers with good hockey sense and strong puck handling skills, and both occasionally have to be urged to shoot more.
Ilari had hoped to wear No. 81 in Grand Rapids, like he did back home in Finland, but the team prefers to keep its numbers lower so they issued him No. 15 -- the same number Valtteri wore when he starred for the Griffins during the 2005-06 season.
Then, there’s the fact that they obviously come from the same gene pool.
“Everyone is saying that. I don’t think we look that alike if we’re standing next to each other,” Ilari said. “But people who don’t see a lot of us, even some pretty close relatives, sometimes confuse us. I don’t think anything of it.”
Valtteri helped him get settled in Michigan, letting Ilari stay with him in Detroit during the preseason and giving him tips about Grand Rapids.
Before leaving Europe, Ilari had a solid seven-year run in the Finnish Elite League. He won the Jari Kurri Trophy as playoff MVP last season, helping TPS Turku win a title with two goals and 12 assists in 15 postseason games.
When the Red Wings offered him a contract in June, he jumped at the chance to move to North America.
“It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass and look back some day and think, ‘Maybe I should have gone,’ ” he said.
The Filppulas are the fourth set of brothers to play for the Griffins, joining the Brookbanks (Sheldon and Wade), Millers (Kelly, Kevin and Kip) and Nelsons (Jeff and Todd).
Filppula seems to be settling in with Griffins and has three assists through two games.
“I think he’s been very effective for us, but he’s got to learn a couple things out there on the defensive side of things,” Griffins coach Curt Fraser said. “When he does, he’ll be a very valuable asset.
“He can make plays, he can make things happen on the ice. When we get him in good positions out there to do that, hopefully, he can continue to get better and better and better and lead us on the offensive side of things.”
Filppula said he still is adjusting to the faster brand of North American hockey and its smaller rink.
“Just the way they play hockey here, it’s just so much more direct, I feel like you get less time with the puck. You just need to be faster with it,” he said. “There’s so many plays that you can’t do here that you can do back home. It takes a while to get used to what you can do and what you can’t do. It’s a learning curve.”
Obviously, the ultimate goal is to one day play in Detroit alongside his brother. If and when that happens, there won’t be any sibling rivalries to contend with.
“Growing up, we never played against each other or any of that, so we cheer for each other and help each other,” Filppula said. “He’s been here and I’ve been in Finland, so there’s not any of that.”