Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2010, 25

Antti Niemi is a smiles as the Stanley Cup arrives in Finland
Antti Niemi is a smiles as the Stanley
Cup arrives in Finland.
(Walt Neubrand/Hockey Hall of Fame)
There is a long history of Hawks' netminding heroes, going back to Chuck Gardiner and Mike Karakas and on through Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour. And now a new unlikely hero has been added to the legacy — Antti Niemi.

Antti was almost Finnished before he began, if you'll excuse the pun. While labouring away in near-obscurity in his homeland, Chicago signed Niemi as a free agent in May 2008, but Antti didn't debut with the Hawks until February 2009 when, at the age of 25, he played 3 games towards the end of that season. But standing on his head in training camp, he earned a spot on the team, platooned with Cristobal Huet. Chicago began the 2009-10 season playing the Florida Panthers in Finland, and Antti seized the opportunity, earning a 4-0 shutout in his first game of the season, with his family, friends and fans applauding his every save.

Antti Niemi proudly hoisting the Stanley Cup on stage with a musician at a local drinking establishment
Antti Niemi proudly hoisting the Stanley Cup on stage with a musician at a local drinking establishment.
(Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame)
With the duo of netminders in place, Chicago enjoyed a strong regular season. Niemi won 26 (7 by shutout), lost just 7 and had 4 O/T losses with a sparkling 2.25 goal-against average. But when it came time for the post-season, Coach Quenneville repeatedly sent Niemi out to 'Finnish' the job. And he did, leading his Hawks to the first Stanley Cup championship since 1961!

Antti Niemi's just desserts began on Tuesday, August 10 when the Stanley Cup arrived in Vantaa. While Vantaa, Helsinki, Espoo and Kauniainen make up the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, Niemi's hometown has a population of its own of almost 200,000 residents.

Antti and his wife Jonna met the Stanley Cup late that afternoon, and did a brief tour of the city, stopping at a couple of drinking establishments. A band was playing in one, and Antti took the Cup up onto the stage with the musicians, cheered wildly by those in the crowd.

Ready for a day of celebrating on Wednesday, the 11th, the Niemis started the day with breakfast at Hotel Vantaa, joined, of course, by the Stanley Cup. By the time the dishes had been cleared, Antti was off to nearby Haaga to visit his old high school. By 10:00AM, he walked into Pohjois-Haaga High School, with the Stanley Cup cradled in his arms. While the school churns out great citizens, no alumnus until Niemi has gone on to play in the NHL, let alone capture the Cup.

Antti Niemi and the Stanley Cup visited his
old high school Pohjois-Haaga.
(Walt Neubrand/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Fans pack the Isku-Areena in Lahti, Finland to get glimpse of the Stanley Cup where Antti Niemi previously played. (Walt Neubrand/Hockey Hall of Fame)

After a brief stop in picturesque Roihuvuori, Antti arrived at Heureka, the amazing science centre located in Vantaa. It is easy to understand why Heureka is an immensely popular Finnish destination. While there, the curator tried to understand how Antti had turned ice into silver. Lunch was spent conversing with Vantaa's mayor, Juhani Paajanen, at Heureka.

Antti Niemi and friends with Lord Stanley in the sauna.
Antti Niemi and friends with Lord Stanley in the sauna. (Walt Neubrand/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The netminder next stopped at the arena in Valtti where he played his minor hockey. Then, a helicopter transported Antti, Jonna and the Stanley Cup to Lahti, an hour away, where Niemi was a member of the Pelicans. A very special event awaited his arrival. The Isku-Areena Lahti was packed with fans anxious to see Antti and the Stanley Cup. Niemi arrived on the ice surface carrying the Stanley Cup while riding on a Zamboni, which made a circuit of the rink and deposited Niemi and his treasure near centre ice. The Cup was placed on a table while speeches were made honouring Niemi's accomplishments.

Following their sauna Antti Niemi and his friends posed for a group photo with the Stanley Cup.
Following their sauna Antti Niemi and his friends posed for a group photo with the Stanley Cup.
(Walt Neubrand/Hockey Hall of Fame)
A private party for close family and friends followed, with the celebrants converging on Onnela, a massive dinner club that evolves into a dance club. A Finnish celebration isn't complete without a sauna, so Antti invited friends from school and hockey to join him in the sauna. For Finns, the sauna is not so much a luxury but a necessity. It is estimated that there are over 2 million saunas in Finland, which boasts a population of 5 million. There was never any doubt that Antti would build a visit to the sauna into his day of celebration. While the Stanley Cup can't withstand extreme temperatures like those in a Finnish sauna, the Stanley Cup party managed just fine with infrequent Cup visits.

Antti Niemi led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship, but found himself odd man out in Chicago, so hopes to repeat the celebration with his new team, the San Jose Sharks, in 2010-11.

* * *

The Stanley Cup crosses the Atlantic and spends a couple of days with Patrick Kane when we meet right back here on Tuesday. See you then!

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.



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