"It's pretty funny when I got to the rink and I saw he was sitting next to me. It brought me back. We have both come pretty far and it's fun to be in the same locker room again. We shared the same locker room for three years. We had a great time and worked hard together and now it's really cool to be in an All-Star locker room with him."
-- Niklas Backstrom on Pekka Rinne
They're pretty darn funny when paired together in an NHL dressing room, but that's only because they practiced their shtick for three years in a Finnish National League locker room.
Backstrom and Rinne were together again Saturday, four years removed from when they were last teammates for Karpat, Rinne's hometown team, in the SM-liiga. Karpat plays in Oulu, where Rinne was born. Backstrom is from Helsinki.
"He's more cocky now," Backstrom told NHL.com. "He used to be a real nice guy. … No, no. He still is a nice guy."
Rinne, who at 26 is three and a half years younger than Backstrom, tried to convince us that he was the starter for Karpat from 2002-05 when the duo was together.
"He was my backup goalie," Rinne said, smiling.
Backstrom just stared at him. It didn't take long for Rinne to back down.
"No, just kidding," he quickly said. "It was the other way."
"The only bad thing I could say about him is maybe he was too tired a couple of times (when we played together)," Backstrom added. "He was always the guy we were waiting for."
Since the rookies playing in Saturday's YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck dressed in the Western Conference locker room, the four goalies, including Roberto Luongo and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, were all put together in a row on one wall.
Rinne was in the corner by the door with Backstrom right next to him.
"It's pretty funny when I got to the rink and I saw he was sitting next to me. It brought me back," Backstrom said. "We have both come pretty far and it's fun to be in the same locker room again. We shared the same locker room for three years. We had a great time and worked hard together and now it's really cool to be in an All-Star locker room with him."
Rinne said he felt his confidence rising because of his location in the locker room.
"We got to know each other pretty well and he had some great years in Oulu and it was a great learning experience for me watching and learning from him," Rinne said. "We won a couple of Finnish championships, so it was great."
Rinne actually made it to the NHL ahead of his older and former teammate, but he played in only two games for the Predators in 2005-06, when Backstrom was still playing for Karpat.
Backstrom came over the following season and quickly immersed himself as the Wild's No. 1 goalie. He played in 41 games as a rookie who celebrated his 28th birthday during the 2006-07 season.
Rinne played in just one game last season for the Predators, but after three seasons and 145 games with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, he's now he's trying to steal ice time away from Nashville's perceived No. 1, Dan Ellis.
"He spent three years in the minors after playing for his hometown, so for sure you are going to grow up when you go to a different country with a different culture all by yourself," Backstrom said. "I think that was a good learning experience for him to move out of home and see the world. He's the same hockey guy, but maybe he's a little more grown up."
Rinne and Backstrom try to stay in touch, mostly by text messages, throughout the season. They have yet to face each other in a game.
"We were together when he was a young guy and now it's really fun to see him playing at this level and making it," Backstrom said. "I knew he would be a really good goalie, so it's not that big of a surprise. You always need a little bit of luck to get the chance and he got the chance this year and he's making the best of it."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org