Voorhees, NJ – After coming to the United States for the first time as a rookie in the 2003-04 season, Flyers defenseman Joni Pitkanen finally feels at home here in Philadelphia.
"It is very difficult to come from Europe and play in [the NHL]," said Pitkanen, who's English has improved dramatically since he first joined the team. "It's real tough. But it's not just about game - getting used to the language, living over here. But things are better for me now. My language is better and I'm more used to living here now.
Pitkanen is also feeling more comfortable on the ice, especially after spending the entire 2004-05 season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, helping them to the Calder Cup. In 76 regular season games with the Flyers' AHL affiliate, Pitkanen scored six goals and added 35 assists for 41 points.
Looking closer at his numbers from last season, however, reveals a more surprising statistic. While it is apparent that Pitkanen is skilled with the puck and can generate excellent offensive numbers, he also logged 105 penalty minutes. Compared with 44 penalty minutes in the NHL in 71 games with the Flyers the previous year, that number represents a dramatic increase for the 6-3, now 215-pound blueliner.
Pitkanen is quick to admit that his year in the minor leagues helped him adjust to the North American playing style.
"It was very good. They were a very good team and I won my first career hockey championship with them," he said. I learned a lot of things throughout the entire year -100 games. The more games you play, the better you get defensively. It really helped me a lot.
Flyers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has paired Pitkanen with Mike Rathje, one of the players the Flyers signed this summer. Rathje's intimidating size and physical presence will hopefully open up space for Pitkanen to dazzle with his skates, and take more offensive chances.
"He's fast and he covers all of the defensive zones," said Pitkanen of his new partner. That really helps me to play up (offensively) more. He passes the puck very good, also.
As far as what he has to do to have success, Pitkanen keeps it short and simple.
"Trust the skills that I have - playing hard, passing, shooting. I have to trust my own game.
Lineup Set for Saturday Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock has decided on his lines for the Saturday's preseason contest at the Wachovia Center against the Washington Capitals. The forward lines will be Brian Savage, Keith Primeau and Turner Stevenson; Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Patrick Sharp; Mike Knuble, Mike Richards and Jon Sim; and Josh Gratton, Michal Handzus and Branko Radivojevic.
On defense, Pitkanen and Rathje will be a pair, as will Dennis Seidenberg and Eric Desjardins, and Randy Jones and Kim Johnsson. Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki will be the goaltenders.