Patient Valimaki works and waits for opportunity on Flames blueline – Toronto Sun

Author of the article:

Kristen Anderson

The Calgary Flames’ Juuso Valimaki and Dan Vladar defend the net against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 26, 2021.
The Calgary Flames’ Juuso Valimaki and Dan Vladar defend the net against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 26, 2021. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

This is a frustrating exercise, no doubt, for any young defenceman trying to make it in the National Hockey League.


Skating. Practising. More skating. Working out. Skating.

And sitting in the press box.

Juuso Valimaki doesn’t mind though.

It’s part of the process and the Calgary Flames’ blueliner knows about it all too well. He’s been in and out of the lineup since Darryl Sutter joined the organization as head coach in early 2021 and continues to bide his time until he earns an opportunity.

“It’s been easier and I’ve handled it a million times better than I did last year,” the 23-year-old rearguard was saying the other day, breathless, drenched in sweat, and one of the last players to leave the ice after the Flames’ skated at Toronto’s Coca-Cola Coliseum. “It’s definitely something I can be proud of, that I can feel the growth in me as a person and on the mental side of things. Now, kind of all the adversity that I’ve gone through is kind of starting to bring the positives in it. Now, I’m able to handle things a little bit better.


“It’s definitely not fun, I’m not saying that. I would just like to play.”

The road can be long and winding and, sometimes, the path from the first round of the NHL draft — in Valimaki’s case, 16th overall in 2017 — to being an everyday player is frustrating.

But that’s OK, according to him.

His chance will come.

“I’m still at the start of my career and I know, at some point, all the work will pay off,” Valimaki said. “When you’re young and you work and you move on and you get better and you get to higher levels. You see the work paying off. It’s going to be the same thing, I just need some patience.”

If there was an award for the “most patient up-and-coming-NHLer,” it would be the Tampere, Finland, native who has been grinding since the 2018-19 season.


He initially got fans excited during the 2019 post-season and although it was only two games, Valimaki showed poise and confidence. In fact, it looked like he was en route to being a major contributor on Calgary’s back end. This, after recovering from a high ankle sprain.

So, it was a shame when he tore his knee (in spectacular fashion) during an off-season training session heading into 2019-20. He required surgery to repair the damage and couldn’t skate for five-plus months.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Valimaki, who has logged 80 NHL games through three NHL seasons, was able to skate in the Finnish Liiga for the first 19 games of their season in late 2020, which gave him momentum when the Flames started their shortened 2020-21 campaign.


But when Sutter was hired, he fell down the depth chart and felt the stern wrath of the incoming boss who did not sugarcoat his thoughts about Valimaki, scratching him seven times after his arrival. Valimaki, too, was hard on himself.

Yet, this year, the former captain of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans sees things differently.

“I’ve missed so many games with injuries and everything,” said Valimaki who has played seven games this season. “I would just like to play — it’s all I want to do. All I can do right now is focus on my work and practice hard and stay ready and I think that’s kind of the way I can sleep at night and enjoy life.

“I’m doing everything I can, it’s all up to me.”

The Flames believe in Valimaki’s potential otherwise they wouldn’t have re-upped him in the summer for two more years.


And, no doubt, they’ll need him at some point of this seven game road trip which sees the Flames head to Philadelphia following Sunday’s clash at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire. The last time the team was on the road, they used all eight of their blue liners.

So, Valimaki works. And waits.

“That’s the word that I’ve heard the most in the last couple of years — patience, patience, patience,” he said. “It’ll pay off eventually. I’m just a positive, happy guy so I don’t see why there would be a reason for me to be something else right now. I know I’m still a young player that doesn’t have tons of experience.

“I’m just learning and getting better.”

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