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Antti Niemi



 Antti Niemi

Antti Niemi (born August 29, 1983) is a Finnish professional ice hockey goaltender who is currently playing with the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League. During the 2009–10 NHL season as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, he became the first Finnish goaltender to win the Stanley Cup.

Playing career

Niemi played junior-level hockey for Kiekko-Vantaa from 1998 until 2005, where he also worked part-time as a Zambonidriver.[1] He turned pro with the Pelicans of the Finnish SM-liiga in 2005. Niemi played three seasons with the Pelicans, until he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League as an undrafted free agent in 2008. Assigned to Chicago’s minor league affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, Niemi spent the majority of the 2008–09 season in the American Hockey League (AHL). In February 2009, he was called up to the Blackhawks as an injury replacement. He made his NHL debut on February 27, playing one period in a 5–4 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Niemi recorded his first NHL start and win several days later on March 1, a 4–2 victory versus the Los Angeles Kings.

The following season, Niemi made the Blackhawks lineup out of training camp. Niemi started the second game of a back-to-back season opener against the Florida Panthers in Helsinki.[2] He stopped all 23 shots he faced against the Panthers earning his first NHL shutout in his native Finland on October 3, 2009. After a very respectable record of 26-7-4 during the regular season, Niemi was made the Blackhawks starting goaltender for the playoffs near the end of the2009–10 NHL regular season and prior to the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, replacing Cristobal Huet. During Game 2, Niemi recorded a shutout victory against the Nashville Predators at United Center, making him the first Blackhawks goaltender since Ed Belfour in 1996 to record a postseason shutout.[3] On April 22, 2010, Niemi stopped 33 shots to record his second shutout of the postseason, making him the first Chicago goaltender since Tony Esposito in 1974 to record two shutouts in one playoff series. On May 16, 2010, Niemi made 44 saves in a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Chicago ended up sweeping the series against San Jose in four games.

In only his second Stanley Cup finals game, Niemi made 32 saves, earning the Player of the Game honor from the National Hockey League.[4] On June 9, 2010, Niemi led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship with a 4-3overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Niemi was the third Finnish goalie to make it to the Stanley Cup finals and the first ever to win the Cup.

Niemi filed for arbitration during the offseason, and was eventually awarded $2.75 million. Chicago officially walked away from the deal on August 2 because of salary cap restraints, and signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco from the Dallas Stars for $1.3 million.

On September 2, 2010, Niemi officially signed a 1-year, $2 million dollar contract with the San Jose Sharks.[5] He made 30 saves in his first regular season victory with the Sharks, a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. After a poor start to the season, Niemi was platooned with fellow Finnish netminder Antero Niittymäki, but strong play in the month of February which saw him go 14-2-1 with a 1.91 GAA and .924 save percentage, cemented him as the Sharks’ starting goaltender.[5]On March 1, 2011, Niemi signed a four-year contract extension with San Jose worth $15.2 million.[5] His nickname with the San Jose Sharks is “Nemo”.

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