The winner of a Stanley Cup title and a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympic Games was born in Vantaa, a town in Greater Helsinki. He spent the last season in Montreal, but in the previous campaign, he managed to play for three different NHL teams. Most recently, Niemi played in Finland in 2012, when he joined Pelicans on a lockout contract. And now, he’s back at home, having signed with Jokerit.
After so many seasons in North America, the veteran goalie is probably not used to start his season in July already. “That’s true,” Niemi admits. “The team started working so early, and we’re going to have our first test game later this week already. I have to get used to it, but I am glad to be a part of Jokerit!”
According to Niemi, this summer wasn’t the first time he wanted to get back home. “Each of the latest few summers I have thought about getting back home,” Niemi explains. “I didn’t play many games in the NHL. Thus, I feel like I took the right decision. Everything happened very fast, I didn’t want to wait until July 1st. As you can see, I’m already working towards the new season.”
Being native of Greater Helsinki, Niemi always wanted to line up for Jokerit. “I attended school in Helsinki,” Niemi recalls. “In those years, the Hartwall Arena was being built. You can easily imagine what I was dreaming about in my youth: playing in the arena with a sold-out crowd. And in the end, I did it. I played my third NHL game at the Hartwall Arena on October 2009. I’ll remember forever about that game. Even more so considering that I had a shutout for Chicago, defeating the Florida Panthers. I hope to feel the same kind of emotions in the next season with Jokerit.”
In spite of his age, Niemi isn’t considering finished his North American adventure yet. “I needed to play more games and to change something. However, I don’t know what will happen later. For now, I want to live the moment as I settle in.”
The veteran goalie never played in the KHL. Thus, he will undoubtedly need some time to adapt. “I need to get used to the new things, but so far, I like everything,” Niemi explains. “Jokerit is a very professional organization. Of course, here it’s a very different hockey. But anyway, there are many skilled players and the games will be played at another pace. It will be an exciting experience.”
Niemi is also about to face trips in new territories for himself. “Of course, I can’t wait to travel to the Far East. It will be fascinating to follow that route and visit China.”
During the talk, Niemi wasn’t scared to praise the current Jokerit’s boss, the Finnish hockey’s legend Jari Kurri. “For a Finn, it’s an incredible thing to play for a team led by such a person. He has the right experience to lead the team towards new heights.”
Even at thousands of miles of distance, Niemi followed his hometown team’s success in the KHL. “Last year, I watched several games,” the goalie says. “My colleague Janis Kalnins showed excellent hockey.”
Of course, Niemi was delighted by the recent Finnish triumph at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. Finland was represented by several players who will wear the Jokerit jersey next year. “It was an exceptional event for our country. Of course, the guys will add some much-needed experience, more positive energy. It’s an incredible thing to have a guy like Marko Anttila in our team.”
Born on August 29, 1983, in Vantaa (Finland).
Playing career: Kiekko-Vantaa, Finland, 2002-2005; Pelicans, Finland, 2005-2008; 2012; Chicago, NHL, 2008-2010; Rockford, AHL, 2008-2009; San Jose, NHL, 2010-2015; Dallas, NHL, 2015-2017; Pittsburgh, NHL, 2017; Florida, NHL, 2017; Montreal, NHL, 2017-2019; Jokerit, KHL, 2019-today.
Achievements: Stanley Cup champion, Finland’s player of the year, Olympic Games bronze medal.
Main photo credits: Jokerit’s official site