KEARNEY, Neb. – One of the Storm’s leaders is living out a dream this summer.
Assistant captain Heikki Liedes has signed a two-year professional contract to play for Kalevan Pallo (KalPa) of the SM-liiga in Finland.
Liedes, who is a big fan of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, will now join a team that is owned and captained by one of his old NHL idols in Sami Kapanan.
Kapanan played in 13 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Flyers. During his career he appeared in 831 NHL games and had 458 points on 189 goals and 269 assists.
The NHL star started his career with KalPa, playing four seasons with the team before heading to the U.S. After his days in America were done, Kapanan returned to his roots and has been playing for KalPa since 2008.
Other partial owners of the team include current Flyers players Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.
Liedes, who is from Hameenlinna, Finland, said he couldn’t be more excited to be part of a team that has such a rich NHL culture.
“It’s surreal,” Liedes said. “Sami just signed a one-year extension so playing with him as a Flyers fan is going to be special and Kimmo’s brother plays for us too. It’s just amazing to think that Scott Hartnell, my favorite player, is buying my sticks and paying my salary.
The two-year Storm veteran said he was initially approached by the team back in January.
“My old coach signed a contract with KalPa to be an assistant and he told me they were interested,” Liedes said. “At that point I really wasn't interested but as the season went on I started to think about it. I told my agent in Finland to ask around to see if any other teams were interested and seven teams told us they were.”
“I decided to go with KalPa because I felt it was the best fit for me and it would be the best decision for my hockey career. I signed the contract on Tuesday and then joined the team for practice.”
The SM-liiga is the highest professional league in Finland and is one of the top leagues in all of Europe. NHL players such as Tim Thomas, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu all spent portions of their careers in the SM-liiga.
During the recent NHL lockout, stars like Erik Karlsson, Valtteri Filppula and Derek Stepan also played for teams in the Finnish league.
“This is a great stop for my career before trying to make my ultimate goal of playing in the NHL,” Liedes said.
The physical forward scored 16 goals and seven assists while adding 129 penalty minutes in 90 games with Tri-City. He said his time playing for the Storm and working with the coaching staff has helped him to be the player he is today.
“It has a made a huge difference,” Liedes said. “The coaching staff has helped me a lot making my game more complete. I feel like I improved a lot in the small areas of the game and feel like I can make a positive impact with my new team.”
“I would also like to thank the whole organization and everyone I’ve been associated with during my two years. You are the reason I was able to sign a pro contract and you helped me so much during my two years. This wouldn’t be possible without all of your support.”
The 20-year-old will now have to get used to speaking in his native tongue on the ice instead of English. But he doesn’t expect that will stop him from talking trash like he did here in Kearney.
“People in Finland have told me that when I speak Finnish now after two years in states I have an American accent,” Liedes said. “I’m sure it will feel weird at first but luckily there are a lot of North American players in the league so I can still chirp them!”
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)