Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Niko Hovinen: Giant in goal

The Flyers’ top farm team, the Adirondack Phantoms, will have numerous great storylines this season.

Niko Hovinen: Giant in goal

"I´m playing where I want to be this season," Niko Hovinen said. "The (AHL) is a good league." (Tom Mihalek/AP)
"I'm playing where I want to be this season," Niko Hovinen said. "The (AHL) is a good league." (Tom Mihalek/AP)

The Flyers’ top farm team, the Adirondack Phantoms, will have numerous great storylines this season.

Perhaps none is more interesting than the development of goalie Niko Hovinen, a native of Helsinki, Finland.

No goaltender in the AHL will be taller than the 6-foot-7 Hovinen, who is coming off a superb season in Finland (2.26 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) and will be playing his first pro season in North America.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Hovinen, 24, after going through the Phantoms’ practice in Voorhees on Monday.  “Obviously, the goal is to make it to the NHL, and before that, try to win some games and try to become a better goalie.

“I'm playing where I want to be this season,” he added. “The (AHL) is a good league, and we should have a good team here. My intention last season was to play one more year at home and be ready to come here."

More coverage
Phantoms to face Devils' affiliate in Voorhees
How Flyers players fared in European debuts
Pattison Ave.: When goal celebrations go wrong

Hovinen comes from an athletic family. His father, Seppo, was rated the no. 1 javelin thrower in the world in 1975 and competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and his mother, Ulla, holds the all-time Finnish record for the women’s discus and she finished fourth in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

If the lockout is lifted and the NHL season gets underway, Ilya Bryzgalov will be the Flyers’ starting goalie and Michael Leighton will serve as his backup.

The fact that Bryzgalov has eight years remaining on his contract _ even if an amnesty clause is added to the new CBA, the Flyers would probably hold onto him _ doesn’t bother Hovinen.

“I don’t really think about that,” he said. “I just try to make myself better and see what happens.”

Because the rinks in North America are smaller, Hovinen said, “the hockey is different and I have to play a little deeper than I did back home. That’s probably the biggest thing. The rink is a lot smaller, so the shots start coming faster and guys are making better plays. If I’m too far away (from the net), there’s going to be a backdoor pass and I’ll be out of it. I’ll try to adjust my game to that and be in the right spot.”

Hovinen will get his first opportunity to impress the Flyers’ brass on Tuesday when they play Albany, the New Jersey Devils’ affiliate, in Voorhees at 2 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Forward Adam Henrique and defenseman Adam Larsson, each of whom helped the Devils oust the Flyers in last year’s playoffs, are among the players on Albany’s roster.

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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