Nummelin seeks success in second NHL stint

Originally published in Eishockey News in 2006

By Lucas Aykroyd

When Petteri Nummelin was 16 years old, he learned that you should never give up. As the son of Timo Nummelin, the only man ever to be named Finland’s Best Player of the Year in both hockey and soccer, the young Turku-born defenseman faced constant comparisons and snide remarks about how he’d only made the junior national hockey team due to his father’s fame. At one point, he decided he’d had enough.

“I quit hockey for a month, and just played soccer,” Nummelin recalled. “But finally, I decided I really wanted to play hockey. Mikko Koivu’s father was coaching the team for my age group, and I asked him: ‘Can I get a second chance?’ He told me he couldn’t promise me a place on the team or ice time, but I did manage to get back on the roster.”

In a sense, history repeated itself when Nummelin signed a multi-year deal with Minnesota on June 14. Wild forward Mikko Koivu, the younger brother of Montreal captain Saku Koivu, encouraged Nummelin to take a second shot at NHL glory even though the veteran blueliner had struggled with Columbus in his first attempt in 2000-01, posting four goals and 12 assists in 61 games.

For some defensemen, those numbers would be acceptable. But the 178-cm, 84-kg veteran had forged a reputation as an offensive whiz during his years with TPS Turku, Sweden’s Frolunda, and Switzerland’s Davos. Disappointed, Nummelin returned to Europe–until this season.

“I think I started off really well,” said Nummelin, Minnesota’s leading scorer among defensemen. “Right now, I’m going through some ups and downs. But I just have to battle through and play my own game.”

The 34-year-old logged 32:06 of ice time on October 27 versus Anaheim, the second-highest amount in franchise history. But he’s averaged closer to 21 minutes on a nightly basis, and his role isn’t as prominent as with Switzerland’s Lugano in the five preceding seasons.

Nummelin was the equivalent of Nicklas Lidstrom or Scott Niedermayer in the Swiss League. With 57 points in 2003, he became the first blueliner to win the Swiss scoring title since current San Jose coach Ron Wilson (101 points in 1985), and also earned two league championships (2003, 2006). In 2006, he helped Lugano to a stunning comeback from a 3-0 first-round series deficit versus Ambri-Piotta, and led all playoff scorers with 33 points in 17 games.

“It’s a big challenge to come to the NHL and try to get lots of ice time,” said Nummelin. “It’s up to you. If you play really well, you’re going to get that ice time. If you don’t, you won’t.” Kim Johnsson, Nick Schultz, and Martin Skoula are among the other rearguards battling for extra minutes under coach Jacques Lemaire.

Nummelin’s game, based on skating and skillful passing, is well-suited to today’s NHL. He also excels in shootouts. Using nifty dekes, he’s scored on each of his four shootout attempts this season, but modestly attributes it to “a lot of luck.” It seems more likely that Minnesota players are feeding off each other’s success, as Mikko Koivu leads the NHL with six shootout goals, while Brian Rolston has added four.

Nummelin has represented Finland 12 times at the IIHF World Championships since 1995, and won one gold, two silver, and three bronze medals, plus Best Defenseman honors in 2000. But he plans to be in the NHL playoffs with the Wild when the 2007 tournament kicks off in Moscow: “I hope I don’t have to go this time.”

If Nummelin brings a winning mentality to Minnesota, it’ll be big news for fans of a club that’s never gone further than the 2003 Western Conference finals. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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