"On the Fly" is a new regular feature on DallasStars.com. Senior digital correspondent Scott Burnside sits down with a member of the Stars for a few random, off-the-cuff questions to gain insight into their lives, thoughts and careers on and off the ice.
Today's edition features veteran netminder Kari Lehtonen, the second-overall selection by Atlanta in the 2002 NHL draft
Previous installments: Jason Spezza | Jamie Benn | Stephen Johns
Scott Burnside: What was the hardest part about coming to North America?
Kari Lehtonen: Probably the language -- going away from everything I knew. But at the same time, it was such an exciting experience to learn new things and be on my own. And I (could) see the world and chasing your dream. It was really awesome. First, I did training camp and played in the preseason with Atlanta and they sent me down (to Chicago of the American Hockey League). And then, I was in the minors basically the whole year until the last month. I was nervous, but calm at the same time (before his first NHL game with the Thrashers). It was something that I was so excited to get to play and become NHL player.
I remember in Atlanta, with the horrible traffic, we had day rooms at CNN Center (the Omni Hotel). I remember walking from the hotel room to the game and I called my mom and I called my agent to thank them both, and it was really, really cool. I still remember that. And we were able to win 3-2 against Florida. That was exciting. I think Niklas Hagman scored the first goal in the first period, but before that, I was able to (make a) pad-stack save, or maybe that was against Hagman. Either, or. He scored or I made that save. I had about maybe 10 saves in the first period before they scored, so I was kind of rolling and going good, so that didn't bother me. It wasn't like first or second shot went in, which could have been harder. That's what I remember.
Video: MIN@DAL: Lehtonen lunges to deny Parise's backhand
SB: What was the most significant hockey purchase or gift of your childhood?
KL: Like for every goalie, I think it was the first goalie mask. I played with the old helmet, cage thingy for a long time. I don't know if I was maybe 12, 11 years old, my parents got me a mask. That was a big moment. It was a copy of a John Vanbiesbrouck, Florida (Panthers) mask. That's what I wanted and that's what I got, so that was really cool. I don't remember (wearing it the first time), but I'm sure I was really proud wearing it. I have no clue where it is. It's probably somewhere in my parents' house. I need to go digging. They're still (living in the) same place where I grew up. It's fun to go there and sleep in my old, little bed again.
SB: Do you remember the first time that you were either asked for an autograph or that someone came to interview you?
KL: No, I don't. But I was 15, 16 first time when, I think I was 15 when the men's team goalie got hurt and I got to go on a road trip with them (in the Finnish Elite League). That's probably first time when they were asking me questions and it was fun. Esa Tikkanen was playing on the team and Pasi Nurminen was the starting goalie. That was really cool experiences for a 15-year-old to get to be a backup for one game. It was about an hour drive to Lahti, which was the city we were playing against. In Finland, you just go right before the game, kind of like the minor leagues here with the bus ride. I'm sure I was nervous. I had a good warmup, I think. You're in your own bed by 11:30. The next season, I got to play I think three or four games, 16-year-old, and Pasi was backing me. Same thing in the NHL, Pasi was my first goalie partner. That was really neat. He was nice to me. It was kind of, he's like Antoine Roussel, but a goalie. When he goes on the ice, he gets these crazy eyes and wants to eat the puck. But in the locker room, he was very nice. I became good friends with him and he took me under his wing first in Finland and then in Atlanta. He's a part owner and coach of his hometown team.
SB: If you could go back and visit 18-year-old Kari Lehtonen, what advice would you give him?
KL: I would love to give many advices, but I don't think he would listen, you know? I think that's just part of the life experience when you're young -- young and dumb sometimes. And you grow up and you keep finding your path and following your dreams. I'm sure I wouldn't change many things, what I did or didn't do. But I don't know if that would take me here where I am now, so I'm not regretting anything right now. I'm comfortable with where I am today. It's a really good feeling. I'm excited about the future and I'm excited about today, so that's a good place to be.
Video: DAL@BOS: Lehtonen robs Grzelcyk with diving save
SB: If you were going to be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
KL: Hmmm. Well, probably like a palm tree. I'd like to be hanging on the beach. Nice wind, and not really other trees next to me. Got my own space.
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.