When Hannu Toivonen came into training camp this year, he had something to prove. The 21-year old wanted to show the Boston Bruins organization that he has what it takes to be a No. 1 goaltender in the National Hockey League. And so far, he’s proven he can be.
Prior to coming to Boston, Toivonen played in Finland with the HPK junior team and then in the Finnish Elite League with HPK Hameenlinna, where he boasted the league’s top record at 35-8-13-4.
In 2003-04, Hannu Toivonen came to the United States to play for the Providence Bruins. In his first professional season there, he played in 36 games with a 15-16-4 record and 2.30 goals against average.
The following year, while the NHL was in the midst of its lockout, Toivonen was able to spend another season in Providence and hone his skills for the chance to play with Boston. He played 54 regular season games and posted a 29-18-3 record, a 2.05 GAA, and carried the P-Bruins to the Calder Cup semi-finals before losing to the eventual champions, the Philadelphia Phantoms. In 17 playoff games, Hannu went 10-7 with a 2.43 GAA. When the season ended, Toivonen finished the year ranked in the top ten of every AHL goaltending category. After a strong training camp this year, Toivonen made the jump to the NHL.
Just two games into the 2005-06 season, starting goaltender Andrew Raycroft went down with a strained hamstring and Toivonen was quickly thrown into the starting role. He made his NHL debut on October 8, 2005 against the potent Pittsburgh Penguins offense of Mario Lemieux, Ziggy Palffy, and rookie sensation Sidney Crosby. The Bruins won the game 7-6 in overtime, with Toivonen registering 23 saves and recording his first NHL win in his first NHL game.
“It was great, it was my first NHL win,” said the young Finn. “The game wasn’t that great but that doesn’t matter, a win is a win. I’m always going to remember that my first game was my first win. It was good to get it off my back right away and not have to worry about it anymore. It was a great feeling.”
During that opening season stretch, Toivonen played in six games and extended his record to 4-2 with a 3.24 goals against average. With those numbers and his continued solid play, Toivonen’s 6’2”, 210-pound frame looks like a perfect fit in the NHL. Working hard each and every day, Toivonen continues to mature between the crease. Now, with 13 games under his belt, Toivonen has proven he can be successful at this level.
Coach Mike Sullivan has confidence in his young goaltender too. He has yet to shy away from starting Toivonen against any opponent and continually reminds people of the confidence that he and the team has in him. With Raycroft or Toivonen between the pipes, the Bruins know that each goaltender gives them a chance to win every time they take to the ice.
“It’s the timely saves that you need your goaltenders to make to help you win,” said the Head Coach. “It’s difficult to win in this league if you don’t have that. Hannu has certainly been there to make that save for us. It’s important for your goaltender to be one of the top players on the ice for your team. He’s done that.
“Hannu is a capable guy, and I think every game that he plays, he feels that much more comfortable,” continued Sullivan. “I think after having a couple of games under his belt he knows that he belongs. He has that certain level of confidence that’s essential for any player to have success in this league, and he should, for good reason.”
Competition within a position is a good recipe for success. It forces the players in that spot to play at their best, constantly pushing each other to their peaks. In hockey, the biggest competition is between the pipes. Behind the league’s reigning Calder Trophy winner, Toivonen knows he must take advantage of every situation. It’s important for him to earn the respect of his teammates and the coaching staff, and gain confidence in himself while doing so.
“He’s done a great job,” said Andrew Raycroft. “He gives us a chance to win every night. He’s learning. He’s doing a good job and he’s going to be good. It’s great to have a guy you get along with more than anything else.”
Toivonen has made the transition from the American Hockey League to the National Hockey League as smooth as anyone could expect. Like a sponge in water, Toivonen has absorbed everything around him.
“In the new NHL there’s a lot more offense out there and it makes more work for the goalies,” said Toivonen. “It’s a lot different, but I feel I’ve adapted pretty well. Everybody has to do it and the guys that do it the quickest are going to be the most successful, so you just have to work at it everyday.
“As far as the travel, it’s much better in the NHL,” commented Toivonen. “Almost every game, you travel the day before, so you get to prepare well. Everything is always taken care of for you, so it’s easier to just get ready for the game. You’re on the road a lot more, but it certainly is so much better. In the AHL, you ride a bus and some of those rides are long. It makes it harder to get off a bus to try and play.
“There are a great bunch guys in this locker room and everybody pushes each other, obviously me and Rayzor (Andrew Raycroft) push each other so it’s good,” said Toivonen. “I’m just a rookie, a 21-year old kid just playing with the guys. I need to be realistic about it, but I just want to play obviously, and in the future, I want to be an impact player for this organization. Someday I want to get that number one spot but it never comes easy.”
With his flashy, butterfly-style and quick reflexes, Toivonen, at times, has made it look easy. He continues to impress Boston with his poise and talent. The journey should be fun to watch.