Celebrating his 38th birthday earlier this month, September 2, 2013 also made for an interesting fact that not many know about one of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top blueliners, Sami Salo, he’s actually the oldest player on the team’s roster.
An offseason acquisition prior to the 2012-13 season, along with fellow defenseman Matt Carle, the Lightning sought a way to upgrade their defensive core and found that in the Turku, Finland native, who enters his 15th season in the NHL this year.
The move meant making the change from West to East and playing for a team in the United States for the first time in his career, after only playing for North of the border teams’, the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s never easy to move on, especially if you’ve been with a team for a long period of time,” Salo said. “Getting acquainted with new friends and new teammates isn’t easy, but we have such a good group here that it made it easy to transition from the West Coast to the East Coast.”
Luckily, Salo also saw a familiar face on his new Bolts team, defenseman Mattias Ohlund.
“I played with Mattias in Vancouver for a few years, so I got some inside information from him as well,” Salo said. “As a teammate, he’s been really supportive and made it easy for me to come to the team.”
The welcoming atmosphere of Tampa Bay did its part in helping Salo become a believer in “hockey in paradise,” as he first became acclimated with the new territory.
It’s been really nice and people here are really friendly and supportive. Tampa Bay loves their hockey, so it’s been really great. - Sami Salo
“It’s been really nice and people here are really friendly and supportive,” he said. “Tampa Bay loves their hockey, so it’s been really great.”
In his first season with the Lightning, Salo skated in 46 games scoring two goals and adding 15 assists. He also managed a plus-seven rating and finds himself just five goals away from 100 career-goals.
Though entering the Lightning organization in a lockout-shortened campaign and amidst a coaching change last season, the addition of Salo was nearly perfect timing too. Four months after joining the team, Tampa Bay entered a new era with head coach Jon Cooper.
Cooper’s heavy emphasis on defensive coverage is a strong area of focus for the Bolts this preseason, according to Salo.
“Coming for just the last few weeks made it tough for him to implement his new system,” Salo said. "Now he gets a fresh start with training camp every day and that’s what he’s been doing, implementing his style of game. Guys have been really happy with it.”
While the Lightning organization has made it clear that they’ll look to rely heavily on a number of players they’ve devoted their time to developing, it might seem as if the age difference would be a challenge for a man of Salo’s age, who’s a seasoned NHL veteran. Salo though, feels it’s time for the younger players to get their chance in the spotlight.
“When I first came to the league, there weren’t many new players on any of the teams, especially younger guys,” Salo said. “It was really nice to see that younger guys are getting their share of ice time. They’re really deserving of it and they show that they can play at this level and hopefully a bunch of them will stay on the team.”
And it’s just another example of why the merging of seasoned talent and enthusiastic rookies is growing into the perfect storm. Linemate Victor Hedman, who’s no stranger to the Lightning and NHL, even has something to learn from a player as experienced as Salo.
“Playing with him has been tremendous so far,” Hedman said. “He’s one of those guys that can just watch how poised he is with the puck and how easy he makes the game look.”
He was also an inspiration for Hedman as a kid.
“I used to look up to Sami when I was younger,” he said. “It’s a surreal experience playing with him now and a great opportunity for me to play with a guy like him.”
Despite not being the center of attention with the Lightning, it’s something that Salo doesn’t quite mind. The mild-mannered defenseman prefers to spend the time cultivating another thing during training camp, an improved Tampa Bay team.