"Playing in the NHL … it’s all I ever wanted to do," said Fredrik Norrena, a 33 year old rookie goaltender with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006.
Norrena may have thought his shot at the NHL had passed him long ago. He chose to security of lucrative long term contracts back home in Finland and in Sweden rather than face the long odds of making the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had drafted him in 2002.
"It was the security," Norrena said. "I have a family to think about, and they have to come first."
He put together several strong seasons with TPS Turku in Finland and Linkopings HC in Sweden.
But in the summer of 2006 he finally decided to chase his NHL dream, signing with the Lightning only to be traded to Columbus in the Marc Denis for Fredrik Modin trade.
"If Tampa hadn’t signed him, we would have," Blue Jackets president and general manager Doug MacLean said. "Turns out we got him anyway."
"It’s new territory, a new world. And that’s exciting to me," said Norrena. "I’ve waited a long time for this. Now I just want to cherish it."
When the Blue Jackets brought Norrena in, they might have had him penciled in as their third goalie on the depth start, slated for the minor leagues. But he outplayed Ty Conklin for the back up job in the NHL. And when Pascal Leclair went down for much of the season with leg injuries, Norrena was thrust into the starting job.
He thrived, posting a 24-23-3 record with the weak Blue Jackets team. He sported a 2.78 goals against average and three shutouts.
He may have been the league's unknown surprise, but he was always confident in his abilities.
"The last five years, I’ve watched (Calgary Flames goaltender) Miikka Kiprusoff come over and do very well," Norrena said. "I’ve seen Kari Lehtonen (in Atlanta) and Antero Niittymaki (in Philadelphia) play well over here. Now, I think it’s my turn."
"I’d say Freddy is an unconventional butterfly goalie," goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk said. "Basically what that means is, he’ll stop the puck by whatever means necessary. There’s no textbook on him, really. He’s got really fast feet. To beat him low is pretty hard."
Norrena, who had been a regular on Finland's World Championship and Olympic teams, was unable to duplicate the magic in two more NHL seasons. he would pick up 11 more wins in 45 games over the following two seasons.
Norrena returned to Europe and continued to play until 2014. He is now a goaltending coach in Finland.