Christmas came early for Erno Suomalainen.
“Yes it did,” Suomalainen said Wednesday morning after rejoining the Missouri Mavericks as the backup goaltender. “I got the call from Coach (Scott) Hillman and thought, ‘This is like an early Christmas.’ I am so happy to be back.”
The 22-year-old native of Espoo, Finland, was on the team’s preseason roster but did not make the final cut. He returned to Finland, only to get the call from Hillman, asking if he would like return to Independence to serve as the backup to Shane Owen in the net.
“I got the call and left right away,” Suomalainen said while his teammates greeted him in the locker room. “I was in Finland, at my parent’s house, when I got the call. I was actually asleep when Coach called, and I was very excited when I found out it was him.
“I flew 11 hours with three flights – from Finland to Sweden, which is about an hour; from Sweden to Chicago, which was about nine hours; and Chicago to Kansas City, which was about an hour and a half. It took a while to get here, but it was all worthwhile.”
Suomalainen has not competed since the 2010-11 season when he was a member of the Finnish Second League (Mestis) championship squad, Sport.
“In the five years I’ve been coaching here in Independence, cutting Erno was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make,” said Hillman, who greeted the lanky 6-foot goalie and went over some paperwork before the start of Wednesday's practice.
“Coming over from Finland, he has had excellent training. He’s a good deal of international hockey experience and has represented Finland at several tournaments over the years, including a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in 2009.
“It was great calling him, asking if he wanted to return to the Mavericks and having him say yes. He has never played a professional game, but we like what we’ve seen in the past on tape, and we liked what we saw in practice.
“We have a solid No. 1 guy with Shane, so we don’t have to rush Erno back. We can wait and pick the right situation for him to play this season, because he is going to help us reach our ultimate goal – and that is winning a championship.”