Interview with Finnish journalist Risto Pakarinen

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment


Friend of the blog Risto Pakarinen spoke with Sharkspage this week about recently signed Finnish goalie Antti Niemi, Antero Niittymaki, the upcoming NHL Compuware Premiere games in Finland and Sweden, Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray and goaltending prospect Hari Sateri, and which team to look out for in the Swedish Elitserien among other topics.

Risto watched the Pittsburgh Penguins kick off their Stanley Cup season two years ago in Stockholm, watched the Chicago Blackhawks start their Stanley Cup run in Helsinki last year, and he will be covering the Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets visit to Sweden this year.

The Finnish journalist, currently living in Stockholm, authored the 2007 collection of short stories titled Off the Post, and has contributed to NHL.com, the IIHF.com, and The Hockey News among many other media outlets. For more on Risto, visit his blog at ristopakarinen.com.

[Q] What is your reaction to the Sharks signing Niittymaki and moving away from Evgeni Nabokov at the start of free agency this summer?

[RP] I really like Nabokov. I think he is a great goalie. Sometimes the optics can make it easier for you to make certain moves. I think Niittymaki certainly deserves a chance. In the Turin Olympics, with Kiprusoff declining the invitation to the camp and other goalies going down, I think Niittymaki was the third goaltender and he carried the team to the Finals. He took a big paycut going to Tampa Bay. He basically put his career on the line and had a great season which I think proves he can perform under pressure, which is what he absolutely has to do with the Sharks.

[Q] How is the media in Finland and Sweden treating the NHL Compuware Premiere games in Europe. Is it a big media story?

[RP] Everything depends on the teams. Sweden had the Penguins and the Senators. The Senators had Daniel Alfredsson, and the Penguins had Malkin and Crosby, that was an easy sell. Last year they had Detroit with five Swedes, and that was an easy sell. Finland had Florida and Chicago. Florida had Ville Koistinen, he played like what, 20 games last year? The Hawks had Niemi, and he was fighting for a roster spot.

This year Finland gets Minnesota and Carolina. They have Jussi Jokinen, Tuomu Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen, Antti Miettinen and Mikko Koivu. They have five big players there, and they will sell the Finnish games well. This year Stockholm gets the Sharks against the Blue Jackets. There is Douglas Murray, he is not a big name here at all. Over here he went the college route, so he has played maybe 1 World Championships and 1 Olympics for Team Sweden. That has gotten him a little bit of name recognition over here. He is the grandson of Lasse Bjorn, but he is not a Sundin or a Forsberg, or even a Lundqvist. So for ticket sales, they still have Joe Thornton and some of the other big guys on the Sharks, and Douglas Murray, but it is a tougher sell. Who does Columbus have? Fredrik Modin just signed with Atlanta.

The end of last week they said there are still tickets left for the games, and they are actually putting them on sale. It is not sold out.

[Q] What are your thoughts on the Sharks signing Antti Niemi. Some people have said the Sharks made an offer sheet to Niklas Hjalmarsson to pressure the Hawks salary cap situation to free up Niemi, something GM Doug Wilson has denied.

[RP] I don’t think there was a plan, Marty Turco taking $1.3M, really hurt Niemi. He made $826K last season, and then they win a Stanley Cup. Obviously the guy expects a raise. He basically had between $826k and $1.3M to negotiate with. I am positive the Hawks had Marty Turco in their back pocket.

Antti Niemi has his arbitration at the end of July. He was hurt by the dates, and he was hurt by the fact that Marty Turco was waiting. I think he was NHL or bust. He came over there, it was late in his career coming over, he was around 26. I think it was his dream to play in the NHL (and not to return to the Finnish SM-liiga).

Niemi is a real quiet guy, a real low profile guy. He just had a small thing for his day with the Stanley Cup in Finland, and then he just partied.

[Q] Antero Niittymaki seems to be a low profile, easy going type of individual too. How do you see Niemi and Niittymaki operating in tandem?

[RP] I think they will get along. The little bit I have talked to Antti Niemi, he is so down to earth. I am sure it will be a good tandem because I think they can actually let the better guy play.

Niemi has gotten a lot better, his development has improved in the last 5 years. He really learned a lot with Pasi Nurminen in the Finnish league. When the former NHL goaltender Nurminen came back from Atlanta, I think he became the majority owner of the (SM-liiga) Lahti Pelicans. He is like the owner/coach/goalie coach of the team. I think Niemi’s 2-3 years there were big. That is when he made his big breakthrough on the Finnish national team. His style, he has a good hockey sense, he reads the game well. He is calm to the point of being boring. Sometimes you want to see the flashy saves, but the goalies know if you had to make that one highlight reel save, you made a mistake. You don’t want those.

I think Niemi and Niittymaki are both solid. Niittymaki had an offer from the KHL, apparently for a lot more money than he got the previous year, and then with the offers this year to get back on track. That is why I was pleased with his signing with the Sharks. It was such a gamble, such a bold move that he made.

[Q] And it may pay off big this year?

[RP] Yes.

[Q] What are your thoughts of San Jose Sharks 2008 fourth round draft pick Harri Sateri, who has played for Tappara Tampere in the SM-liiga in Finland? Will he likely return there next season? There are some people who think he is the Sharks top goaltending prospect in the organization, and this is the same team who had a rookie lead the AHL in wins last year (Alex Stalock).

[RP] I think he is going to play in Finland for another year probably. His Finnish team said something along those lines. He’ll go to the camp, but then he will be back. That is what his contract says that he can go back to Finland if he is not on an NHL team. I think the understanding is that he will go to camp, and then not go back to the AHL. He will go back to Finland and come back next year.

[Q] Is there an NHL player you could compare him to?

[RP] I was helping Rocky Bonanno write a fantasy article on up-and-coming international players for NHL.com, and there was a line about comparable players. I deleted all those lines, because if I said someone was the next Sundin, it might not happen.

[Q] Is San Jose on the radar for Finland?

[RP] Now it is big time. Finnish people follow Finnish players.

[Q] What team should fans keep an eye out for in the Swedish Elitserien (SEL) this season?

[RP] HV-71. They are the reigning champions, they have a good team and really good young players for 3 years now. They have Martin Thörnberg, they are fast and they are skilled. They have a solid core of Johan Davidsson, who played with the Ducks. (Jonathan Cheechoo played for HV-71 during the NHL lockout. Defenseman Daniel Rahimi, who was part of the August 2009 Sharks trade with Vancouver for Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lucowich, played with HV-71 last season).

[Q] Is the KHL much competition for the SM-liiga in Finland, and the Swedish Elitserien, it seems like they pull a lot more players from Europe than from the NHL?

[RP] Absolutely. It is the money. I may be off by a few players, but I think there are like 30 players from Finland this year in the KHL, and there are maybe 40 from Sweden.

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