Salminen keeping in rhythm with Moose

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

📝 by Patrick Williams

Oskari Salminen has appeared in 12 of the Manitoba Moose’s first 18 games, ranking him among the busiest goaltenders in the American Hockey League.

But that is a downright light workload for the 23-year-old, relatively speaking. After all, this is a workhorse who played 55 of 60 games for his Finnish club Mikkelin Jukurit last season. Put another way, that’s 92 percent of his club’s schedule in one of Europe’s top circuits.

Citing the opportunity for more playing time after appearing in only 14 games the year before, Salminen joined Jukurit in 2021 and helped the team to a second-place finish in the league and a spot in the postseason field for the first time since being promoted from Finland’s second-division league before the 2016-17 season. He went 29-14-11 with a 2.07 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and a league-best nine shutouts.

Salminen said the heavy workload “wasn’t too bad, because when you’re doing [well], you don’t feel all the stress. It keeps you in kind of a rhythm.”

With that success, it was time for a new challenge. Salminen and his agent combed through their options and landed on the Winnipeg Jets. While Connor Hellebuyck is the undisputed number-one goaltender, Salminen saw long-term opportunity in Winnipeg. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract in May.

That decision might pay off for Salminen. Mikhail Berdin, a fixture with the Moose for the past four seasons, returned home to Russia to be closer to his family. Hellebuyck’s back-up, David Rittich, signed with the Jets in the offseason, but it is only a one-year deal. Arvid Holm, Salminen’s partner with the Moose, is the organization’s only other pro goaltender under contract at the moment.

After the Young Stars Classic prospects tournament in Penticton, B.C., and then training camp with the Jets — “It was really fun to be with the best of the best,” he said — Salminen began his North American career with the Moose and made a quick impression, shutting out the Rockford IceHogs in his debut on Oct. 16.

He can also bail his team out. During a visit to Texas last month, the offensively dangerous Stars had stunned Manitoba with two goals in the final 1:02 of regulation on the way to a 6-5 overtime win. But the next night, Salminen made 39 saves to earn a split of the two-game set. Last week, he stopped 38 shots to help the Moose grab a point in a shootout loss to Central Division leader Milwaukee. Salminen is 4-0-0 with a 1.21 GAA and a .962 save percentage when starting a game after a Moose loss, and 6-3-1 (2.52, .915) overall this season.

“I feel like I’ve adjusted,” Salminen said of taking on the AHL, a league where opponents can deliver shots from anywhere in the defensive zone. “It’s much quicker. It’s up-and-down, especially compared to Finland, where there’s lots of trap and defensive play. You have to be ready.”

Salminen has been able to adjust to the relatively lighter workload as well. The Moose’s geography necessitates a demanding travel schedule across the far-flung Central Division and beyond; Manitoba kicks off a four-game trip west to Abbotsford and Calgary this weekend. Salminen and Holm being able to share the net effectively is a must, and they have done so, helping Manitoba to a 10-5-2-1 start through the first quarter of the season.

“It’s been good,” Salminen said of earning enough work in net. “It’s still one or two games a week. When you get one or two games a week, you get to keep the rhythm, so it helps.”

Salminen and the Winnipeg organization put in considerable offseason work becoming more familiar with each other. He trained in Helsinki over the summer, and his goaltending coach there quickly got in touch with Moose counterpart Drew MacIntyre after the new contract was signed. MacIntyre, whose 17-year pro career included 440 games for nine AHL teams (including the Moose from 2006-08), helped tailor an offseason training plan that had Salminen good to go when it was time to head to Winnipeg for camp.

The pair have hit it off quickly.

“I like [MacIntyre] a lot,” Salminen said. “He’s a young goalie coach, who’s really interested in this stuff and likes to develop himself also.

“I feel like I’m in a good place now.”