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Born in Port Arthur in 1928, Viljo 'Joe' Wirkkunen would go on to leave his mark on the international hockey scene and contribute to the development of hockey in his hometown.

Developing a love of hockey while a young boy, his ability to pursue the game as a player was cut short when, at the age of 12, he contracted polio. Told he may never walk again, he took on the challenge to regain his strength and his determination paid off. Through extensive exercise and walking, he went on to win walkathons and remain active in sports such as baseball, curling and golf throughout much of his life.

Wanting to stay involved in hockey, he became a technician of the game, serving as a referee and coach in the Port Arthur minor hockey program during the 1940s. In the early 1950s Finland was searching for a Finnish speaking instructor with knowledge of the Canadian ice hockey system. Port Arthur resident Frank Sargent, who was a former President of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, sought suggestions from the local hockey community, and Joe's name was recommended. Travelling to Finland in 1951 he gave lectures and ran hockey clinics and helped the National Team prepare for the 1952 Olympics in Oslo.

Returning to Finland as Head Coach of the National Team in 1959, he became the first non-Finnish born person appointed to that position. Taking teams to the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and 4 World Championships, he led Finland to the 1962 European Championship silver medal, the best showing by any Finnish team up to that point.

In addition to his coaching duties, he also wrote three instructional books in Finnish for coaches and players. Finishing up his head coaching duties in 1966, he was often called upon to travel with the team to various competitions throughout the 1970s. Credited with laying the foundation upon which their nation built a strong hockey program, the Finnish government awarded Joe the Silver Medal for Merit in Sport in 1978. In 1985 he was amongst the first slate of individuals inducted into the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame.

This builder of sport, who passed away in 1986, also contributed his talents to the hockey programs of Thunder Bay, serving as the first coach of the Thunder Bay Twins and as a coach in the Port Arthur Minor Hockey league during the 1980s, marking over 40 years of involvement in the game of hockey.

Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, September 27, 2008

Joe Wirkkunen

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