Antero Niittymaki's retirement announcement did not catch a lot of headlines here in North America. But the veteran of 234 NHL games played will still very much be involved in the National Hockey League.
Niittymaki has been named as a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. He will continue to live in his native Finland while serving as a European scout. He has not been hired to scout only goalies, but all skaters as well.
Chronic hip injuries have forced the 32 year old Niittymaki off of the ice. He actually had hip replacement surgery and tried continuing his career with two seasons in the top Finnish league. But ultimately the daily grind and the wear and tear was too much for Niittymaki's hip.
The recurring hip problems prevent Niittymaki from ever becoming a dominant NHL goalie that I think he was capable of being.
Niittymaki certainly made quite the statement in 2006 regarding how capable he was as an elite goaltender. With Miikka Kiprusoff and Kari Lehtonen injured, Niittymaki was a surprise starter for Finland at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics. He went on to put forth one of the most amazing Olympic hockey tournaments in recent memory. He was named as the tournament's MVP and top goaltender as he led Finland to undefeated record until the gold medal game which they dropped to Sweden.
In the NHL he played briefly with Tampa Bay and San Jose but was best known in Philadelphia where he played the bulk of his career. Originally drafted by the Flyers in the sixth round (No. 168 overall) of the 1998 NHL entry draft, he joined the Flyers in 2003-04. The previous season he backstopped the Flyers farm team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, to the AHL championship.
Niittymaki played 161 games for the Flyers. His career totals included a .902 save percentage and 2.95 GAA in 234 games. His record in that time was 95-86-31 with 5 shutouts.
“I always liked it there [in Philadelphia],” Niittymaki said. “I had a great seven years there. I kind of grew up with the organization in the minors and then got a chance in the NHL. I was able to kind of get my name out there with the Flyers and I always felt that was my team. That organization was closest to me. I like the way the organization works and all the people there and everything about it. It’s where I always wanted to be. “To have a chance to work with them, I love that. I never even thought about calling anybody else.”
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