Sami Aittokallio is no stranger to the Colorado Avalanche these days. He’s been with the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, for two seasons and has also seen time on NHL ice on two separate occasions.
He, along with a plethora of others, took part in Colorado’s September training camp and continued to show why he is with the organization. For the 22-year-old netminder, the run up to the NHL season is becoming a familiar routine, free from the excessive nervousness that is commonplace with first-year participants.
“You know, being on the ice and all that stuff, that’s what I like to do. So I don’t take too much pressure from that. I don’t know. It’s kind of the same as always,” said Aittokallio during Colorado’s training camp.
Camp is a time of year when one focuses on individual growth within a team game. Players look to find success together while emphasizing their own development over the previous season, standing out from the pack in the hopes of getting a chance to crack an NHL roster.
For Aittokallio, this means being stable and true to the form that has gotten him this far.
“I just have to be myself. Do the same thing I have been doing every single year and give my all every time,” said Aittokallio. “Show that I belong here and try to steal a spot.”
Aittokallio joined the Avalanche organization—by way of the Lake Erie Monsters—for the 2012-13 campaign, making the jump from Finland to the United States to further pursue his hockey career. For some, relocating to another country can be quite the shock. For Aittokallio, adjusting to the new culture and style of hockey wasn’t much of a challenge.
“It was pretty good. The start was a little weird, all the living and all that stuff, but I got used to it pretty quickly,” Aittokallio said. “I knew the language so that helped me a lot. Overall I think it’s been pretty good.”
Coming along with the change in culture was also a new goalkeeping philosophy, preached by legendary goalie coach Francois Allaire, who joined the organization at the start of the 2013-14 season. Allaire’s techniques, which focus on economy of movement, can be hard to integrate into a goaltending routine. Aittokallio insists that the new style didn’t require as much overhauling as many might have expected.
“It’s pretty easy for me. I didn’t need to change much. Just a couple of things,” said the Finn. “I would say it kind of helped me to cut some extra movement and all that stuff, so obviously that’s good.”
In fact, with the adjustments to his game came some improvement between the pipes as well. Aittokallio went 15-15-3 with the Monsters last season, posting a 2.65 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage, showing success over his 3.00 goals-against average and .899 save percentage from the previous campaign.
While the endgame is obviously a spot on an NHL roster, Aittokallio is enjoying his time with the Monsters.
“It’s been really good, our fans are great. We have lots of fans coming to the games every night so that’s obviously good,” Aittokallio said. “We’ve got a young team again this year, but I see a lot of great guys this year. We have lots of Europeans so it’s good for me too.”
Aittokallio is 0-1 during his brief stints in the NHL, with a .884 save percentage and a 3.36 goals-against average. He was stellar in his debut, a tight game versus the always potent Los Angeles Kings during the 2012-13 season. Aittokallio remained resilient despite an early deficit, allowing his teammates to battle back before he was forced to leave the game late in the third period with leg cramps.
The match ended in a 3-2 shootout loss.
Aittokallio is starting this season with the Monsters, looking to help them back into the postseason as he continues his upward trend in net.