This was published on Wednesday, but several other stories buried it. We've bumped it to the top for that reason. - Travis
Niko Hovinen was a hyped up goaltender in 2006 when the Minnesota Wild drafted him. Playing for the same junior team, he drew comparisons to Kari Lehtonen who was drafted 2nd overall a few years earlier. The sky was supposed to be the limit for the 6'7" youngster, but all that hype pushed him down instead. Hovinen says the pressure suffocated his love for the game to the point he almost gave up on it.
"I had no confidence left three years ago", Hovinen recalls. "I was afraid of making mistakes and being a failure and that’s why the pucks seemed to go even through me. I couldn’t catch anything back then."
"I was so sick of it that I almost quit playing for good."
Hovinen openly admits that he was too young to deal with that sort of pressure.
"All of the hype back then caused me a lot of pressure. I was really young afterall. The problem was between my ears. When I played for Jokerit, I felt like I had nothing to win, but everything to lose."
"Hockey didn’t feel good anymore and I even stopped caring about the goals that I allowed."
Already starting to look like a lost cause, Hovinen needed something to happen for his career to be saved.
That something was the first Finnish starting goalie in the NHL, current Pelicans GM and goalie coach Pasi Nurminen.
"When Nurminen called I was surprised, but also happy of course. It gave me a new sparkle. I thought that if he was able to develop Antti Niemi to the top, why not me as well."
"I didn’t know what to do with him, if it wouldn’t work out", Nurminen recalls. "Or I did; I’d keep working with him for another year. If that hadn’t helped, I would’ve given up."
Needless to say by now, things did work out.
"Nurminen started to develop my technique since day one", Hovinen tells. "We changed the focus of my style and when I noticed that it helped, it also helped my confidence immediately. He demanded a lot in practices. It effected my development."
Nurminen sent Hovinen to the Pelicans' farm club for a while during the 09-10 season. Hovinen says that was when he started taking steps forward with his mental development.
"That was the turning point. Before going there I had been too nervous about games, but there it all changed when I just got to play so much. I learned new, important routines that helped my concentration."
The work continued last season on the Pelicans.
"My technique started to come around last season. That’s why Nurminen basically focused on my psyche during the season; supporting me especially when it was hard to win games."
After having to retire because of a knee injury in 2005, only at 29, Nurminen has focused on goalie coaching and quickly excelled with that. Hovinen has seen from close distance how Nurminen works and considers himself lucky to be working with him.
"The main thing is that he can organize game type practices for goalies and on the other hand, he’s a terrific mental helper. I can call him any time and tell him about anything that worries me. He's always there for me."
Nurminen was also known as a fierce competitor as a goalie and Hovinen says that hasn't changed either.
"You don’t really want to get lazy in his practices, because if you do, he starts taking side angle slapshots in your head or back or whatever part that’s not protected that well. And of course he shoots as hard as possible to make it hurt as much as possible." [laughs]
"He probably still thinks he’s a better goalie than anyone he coaches. And that’s alright. He’s still fucking awesome in goal!" [laughs]
Hovinen wants to keep working with Nurminen for this year, but says the plan is to move to North America next year.
"Right now it looks like I’ll play in the SM-Liiga this season and then move over to North America."
"I have to work even harder so that I could be even better prepared after a year."
The hype around Hovinen disappeared for a few years, but it's definitely coming back now. Can he deal with it better now? Hovinen is already considered the best goalie in the SM-Liiga.
"The best in the league? Niko? For crying out loud!", Nurminen tries to shrug it off. "People should be saying that he can’t catch anything anyway. At least then he wouldn’t get any pressure." [laughs]
his report was based off of a Finnish-language story in the publication Veikkaaja.