In Kempele, a miracle occurred that prompted an NHL team to fly Seppo Urpilainen to the United States. Now, he reveals how Jesse Puljujärvi was rehabilitated at a record pace after challenging hip surgery

Oululainen sanomalehti Kaleva teki jutun siitä, miten jääkiekkoilija Jesse Puljujärven kuntoutus hoidettiin Kuntomossa, linkki juttuun tässä.

The Kuntomo team took charge of Jesse Puljujärvi’s rehabilitation following complex hip surgery. Despite facing setbacks in the United States, the physiotherapist and strength coach, Urpilainen, instructed the hockey player to continue the same regimen that had been implemented in Linnakangas.

The message was succinct. Dr. Edwin Su requested a Teams meeting. The American orthopedic surgeon, specialized in hip operations for elite athletes, wanted a detailed account of everything that had been done in Kempele over the past few months. Dr. Su, who had performed hip surgeries on both of Jesse Puljujärvi’s hips in New York on June 19th, wondered how the hockey player had been rehabilitated to playing condition so swiftly. Initially, he had estimated Puljujärvi’s recovery time to be 8–10 months. Even that assessment was optimistical, considering that 25-year-old Puljujärvi was the first professional hockey player to have both hips resurfaced.

After the demanding surgery, Dr. Su had anticipated that the Tornio-born hockey player could cautiously begin ice training no earlier than October. However, Kempele had kicked into high gear. Puljujärvi stepped onto the ice for the first time at the end of August and was ready to return to games by mid-December—just six months after his surgery.

Understandably, Dr. Su, who handles surgeries for well-paid NFL and NBA players, was intrigued. The experienced and respected Edwin Su would have preferred to manage Puljujärvi’s rehabilitation with his own team in the United States. However, the player himself disagreed. He wanted to return home to Oulu, believing it was a better physical and psychological choice.

Markus Lehto, who acted as Puljujärvi’s agent, was tasked with exploring alternatives from the northern region.

– Kuntomo successfully convinced us," says Markus Lehto, a player agent with a long career. After his surgery, Jesse Puljujärvi spent four weeks in New York before stepping into Kuntomo’s Linnakangas office meeting room for the first time on Monday, July 24th, at 9:00 AM. Kuntomo is a local sports, coaching, and wellness company in Kempele. However, it’s inaccurate to say he “walked” because you could tell from the way he moved that he had undergone major surgery.

The situation was challenging in other ways as well. Jesse understandably felt uncertain. There were six or seven people waiting for him, offering pastries and coffee, and he didn’t know any of us beforehand. Jussi Lotvonen, the entrepreneur behind Kuntomo, explains the initial scenario.

Preparations at Kuntomo had already begun on July 7th. A team had been assembled, and internal meetings were held. Lotvonen was overseeing everything. Alongside him were four physiotherapists, a couple of strength coaches, and massage therapists. The expertise of a specialized physiatrist was also within reach.
Physiotherapist and strength coach Seppo Urpilainen, aged 54, took the lead in the project. The other strength coach, Markus Seikola, ultimately didn’t lead any training sessions, but as a former hockey player, his emotional support was crucial for Puljujärvi, especially during the early stages of rehabilitation.

The brief meeting on July 24th Monday morning went as follows:

  • We introduced ourselves and explained our plans.
  • Then we got to work. The physiotherapists conducted assessments to gauge Jesse’s progress. We evaluated his mobility and strength. In the gym, we examined how he could function on one leg and on two legs," Urpilainen explains.

Lotvonen emphasizes that Puljujärvi always had the option to step back:

  • It was an open card. If Jesse wanted something different, he could have simply sent a message saying he wouldn’t be coming tomorrow. We don’t need to make lengthy contracts; we trust our professionals to do their job.

Puljujärvi understood that this matter needed to be handled meticulously because the future of his entire professional career was at stake.

Summarizing the rehabilitation effort in numbers:

  • Puljujärvi trained at Kempele’s Linnakangas facility every morning and afternoon, totaling five hours per day.
  • Additionally, he received body maintenance treatments, including massages, in the evenings on two or three days a week.

Everything was managed as a team:

  • We discussed among ourselves whether Jesse needed a massage, physiotherapy, or anything else. I was in contact with Pasi and Petri every day," Urpilainen says, referring to his colleagues, physiotherapists Pasi Lieto and Petri Jalava.

Urpilainen spared no effort, fully committed to the project throughout.
– “24/8! I was always available and present,” quipped Urpilainen. On Sundays, Urpilainen and Puljujärvi tried to maintain some distance from each other, but even on those days, communication remained active.

The close companionship fostered mutual trust. Urpilainen praises Puljujärvi’s remarkably strong internal motivation. – “Jesse worked incredibly hard. Initially, he must have been in a lot of pain, yet he never complained. – Jesse is a very smart guy. Previously, he didn’t have that clear thread running through his training. There was a lot of learning involved. We had to emphasize the purpose of each exercise,” Urpilainen explains.
Lotvonen, who has experience in endurance sports and works in that field, agrees: – “Jesse relied on his Oura ring’s data. Then we learned together. Everyone is an individual. We discovered that after a very intense training period of 2–3 weeks, Jesse’s body would recover in about four or five days. Oura indicated load based on heart rate variability, but there was no overload.”

– “If we had always hit the panic button, saying that Jesse was in an overworked state and we had to lighten the load, we would never have achieved this. Or we would have, but it would have taken a year,” emphasizes Lotvonen.
Urpilainen and Lotvonen both agree that Puljujärvi’s project pushed the limits throughout: – “It’s top-level sports! Nevertheless, we were constantly responsive. We measured lactate levels, conducted control exercises, and monitored creatinine levels in the blood. We observed how Jesse recovered.”
Urpilainen emphasizes that progressiveness was at the heart of the project. As the responsible party, he closely monitored what Puljujärvi was capable of throughout the journey. Based on this assessment, they devised plans for the upcoming weeks.

Rehabilitation always involves minor setbacks, so it’s not always possible to strictly adhere to the plan. In such cases, they wiped the slate clean and reevaluated the plan together. For Puljujärvi, adjustments were more frequent in the early stages, but as the process progressed, clarity emerged.
Puljujärvi worked on the ice with Urpilainen in both Liminka and Kempele. Initially, they met once a week, then increased to two and three times. During ice training, they enlisted the expertise of Joni Ahmavuo, a skill and skating coach based in Florida.
Jesse’s skating posture needed refinement. The surgery had improved his mobility, and this needed to be ingrained in his motor cortex, Urpilainen explains. When Puljujärvi’s agents, Markus Lehto and Sami Mettovaara, visited Linnakangas in September, Urpilainen dared to assure them that the player would be in good shape by the end of the year.

Eventually, that day arrived even earlier. Puljujärvi signed a professional tryout contract with the NHL team Pittsburgh Penguins in early December. The Penguins wanted to fly Urpilainen to Pittsburgh alongside Puljujärvi.
– “I went there to share all the information about what we had done with Jesse in Kempele and my opinion on what should be done going forward,” Urpilainen explains.
– “It was really nice that they treated me as an equal. I was fully involved with staff privileges.”
Urpilainen returned to Finland after just over a week. Communication with Puljujärvi continued. After a couple of weeks, Puljujärvi started sending messages: his legs weren’t working on the ice, there was pressure in his groin, and he couldn’t get into the right position.
Puljujärvi had called the surgeon’s right-hand physiotherapist, who had given instructions. The Penguins’ AHL physio team also tried to help, but nothing worked.

– “I told Jesse to forget all other instructions and do exactly as I say. It sounds unbelievable, but after three days, Jesse called to say his legs were working again.”
From there, Puljujärvi’s point production in the minor league took off, eventually leading to a two-year, one-way NHL contract with the Penguins.
According to Urpilainen, the difference in training was that he instructed the player to do the same things that had proven effective in Kempele. Puljujärvi had been using resistance bands for a month, but Urpilainen told him to focus on raw strength and explosiveness with full range of motion.
Lotvonen sums up the situation succinctly.
– It’s very common. When strength is built up, there’s often a fear that using that strength during games will lead to fatigue, slow down performance, cause stiffness, and increase the risk of injuries. However, scientific evidence actually shows the opposite.

Kuntomo’s team sought approval for their approach from agent Markus Lehto in advance. He had no reason to doubt the message coming from the north.
– Our dialogue with Jussi (Lotvonen) and Seppo (Urpilainen) has been continuous throughout the entire process. I have complete trust in their expertise, and I can only speak positively about their actions. We are extremely grateful for the way they have dedicated themselves to Jesse’s care," says Lehto.
He also discussed the situation with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They reached out to Urpilainen on Monday.
– “I’m absolutely confident that things will continue to work well,” Urpilainen asserts. According to him, Puljujärvi’s hip strength currently surpasses the average NHL player.
– “Jesse is in better shape than ever. And we can make him even better.”
How is it possible? – “I am passionately interested in how an athlete’s body functions, the underlying principles, and how they can be applied in a specific sport. I believe that the combination of scientific curiosity and practical application has yielded the results we’ve achieved with Jesse,” Urpilainen responds.
A strong demonstration of expertise from Urpilainen and Kuntomo.