Niittymaki wins MVP honors

He wasn’t even the most heralded Finnish goaltender in the Calder Cup Finals. But Antero Niittymaki dazzled in the spotlight, and earned the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2005 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Niittymaki, who turns 25 next week, becomes the fourth consecutive goaltender to win the honor. He was 15-5 during the postseason, with a 1.75 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and three shutouts.

After an excellent 2004-05 regular season which saw him go 33-21-4 with six shutouts in 58 appearances and earn a trip to the 2005 AHL All-Star Classic, Niittymaki was strong in the Phantoms’ playoff series victories over Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Providence.

But the native of Turku, Finland, saved his best for the 2005 Calder Cup Playoffs, outshining top prospect and countryman Kari Lehtonen of the Chicago Wolves. Niittymaki stopped an amazing 132 of 136 shots on goal by the Chicago Wolves (0.91, .971) and did not allow an even-strength goal over the first 259:38 of the series, a span of nearly 13 full periods.

The Jack A. Butterfield Trophy is named after Hockey Hall of Famer Jack Butterfield, a long-time AHL executive who served as league president from 1967-94. Previous winners include Brian Skrudland (1985), Wendell Young (1988), Jeff Hackett (1990), Olaf Kolzig (1994), Mike Dunham and Corey Schwab (1995), Derek Armstrong (2000), Steve Begin (2001), Pasi Nurminen (2002), Johan Holmqvist (2003) and Wade Flaherty (2004).