By Jim Diamond
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Late in the second period of Thursday night’s game against the visiting Dallas Stars, Predators forward Miikka Salomaki was in the slot in the Dallas zone, a step ahead of Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. Salomaki’s initial shot was stopped by Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, but that rebound… oh that rebound.
With his skates just outside the blue ice of Lehtonen’s crease, Salomaki pounced on that rebound and deposited it behind his fellow Finn for the first goal of his NHL career. As he skated toward the corner, he snuck a peek over his shoulder, just to make sure the puck was in the net.
“I wasn’t sure at first that it went in or not,” he said. “Just awesome feeling.”
And with that goal, Salomaki joined an exclusive club of players who scored their first career goal in their first career game.
Salomaki made quite an impression on his head coach.
“It was a good first impression, right?” Peter Laviolette said. “Guys get sent down to the minors and they go and work on their game. Last year, he was one of the top guys there. This year, reports on him have been very good. He comes up and plays a straight north game, a hard game. The goal was a good example of that; get it and go, right down the middle. I thought he played a real solid game.”
Recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League earlier Thursday, Salomaki was needed due to the sudden spike in injuries the Predators are experiencing at forward.
It was the second recall in the span of less than a week for Salomaki. He was brought up in time for last weekend’s two games in Southern California, but he did not see action against the Kings or the Ducks and was sent back to Milwaukee on Monday.
“It was good to get called up last week too,” he said. “I didn’t play, but I think it was good for me to see how people do things here and get in more.”
Getting a chance to be in the lineup Thursday, Salomaki made the most of it. Laviolette put him on a line with veteran Olli Jokinen, a Finn who Salomaki grew up watching and admiring. The two played together for Finland at the World Championships last summer.
“We played on the same line there the first few games,” Jokinen said. “He’s a good kid. He works hard. What you saw tonight, that’s what you are going to see from him.”
Jokinen made Salomaki’s transition to the NHL easier.
“It was so nice to play with him,” Jokinen said. “He’s been one of the best players of Finland like 20 years or something like that, and I’ve been watching him.”
And good guy Olli showed one of the reasons why he is so loved by his teammates. As linesman Brad Kovachik was about to fish the puck out of the Dallas net, Jokinen kindly requested the puck from Lehtonen so that his linemate would have a souvenir of his milestone.
“You want to make sure they don’t shoot the puck away,” Jokinen said. “Sometimes the refs take the puck and switch the puck. You want to act quick and make sure that is actually the puck he put in. It was actually nice that Finnish goalie Lehtonen, he gave it to me.”
Asked if he remembered who got his first NHL goal puck, Jokinen smiled and said, “It was Ray Ferraro. I remember scoring the goal. Ferraro passed it to me behind the net and he grabbed the puck. I still have the puck in the office. It’s a great memory.”
You always remember the first one. And thanks to Jokinen, Salomaki will have that puck.
And since Jokinen’s hair looked so good skating away with the puck, here’s a shot of him doing just that.