Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The goaltending carousel continues: Niittymaki returns to Flyers as a scout

Some ex-Flyers eventually return to the club while in the late prime of their careers, while others return to the fold once their playing days are over to serve the franchise which shepherded them into the NHL.

Antero Niittymaki falls into the latter category, as the club announced on Wednesday that the Finnish national and former goaltender will re-join the Orange and Black as a scout.

The 32-year-old played for TPS Turku in the SM-liiga this past season, though put up unimpressive numbers of 1-7-3 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage over 34 games. He last faced North American competition in 2011-12, going just 4-8-0 split between Springfield and Worcester of the American Hockey League.

“We believe Antero's understanding of the game will make him a good all around scout," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said upon announcing the move.

Niittymaki is set to work in Europe, and will be mentored by another former Flyer from Finland, long-time organizational scout Ilkka Sinisalo.

“I had a few opportunities to coach at home here [in Finland] but I don’t think I’m that kind of person. I’m not a coach. I don’t feel like I’m the right person for coaching. I said no to all of those opportunities and I kept coming back to scouting," Niittymaki admitted to a Flyers insider.

Niittymaki made his NHL debut in February of 2004, beating the Washington Capitals in his first career start, then backstopped the Philadelphia Phantoms to their second and last Calder Cup title in 2005 -- winning the Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP.

Once the NHL returned later that Fall, he switched back and forth between starter and backup with Robert Esche, then was the primary crease guardian for the disastrous 2006-07 season, and became backup once more upon the acquisition of Martin Biron. Hip injuries hindered his progress, and he was dealt to Tampa Bay in 2009 and moved to San Jose the following season.

All told, the former sixth-round pick from 1998 and man who famously had Chicago gangster Frank Nitti painted on his mask finished his Philadelphia tenure at 62-62-22, with a 3.01 GAA and save percentage just over 90 percent.

I always liked it there [in Philadelphia],” Niittymaki added. “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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