FRISCO -- Since Kari Lehtonen made the full time jump to the NHL back in 2005 he hasn’t seen much playoff action. Just two Stanley Cup playoff games to be specific. That’s why he’s looking forward to the chance to play for Finland at the 2012 World Championship.
“I want to get used to playing in May and extend the season. That’s what you need to do when you are ultimately in the playoffs and going deep there,” Lehtonen said. “I think that will be great for me to make the summer a little shorter and keep playing.”
Lehtonen’s two NHL playoff games came in 2007, when the Atlanta Thrashers were swept in the first round by the New York Rangers. That year was also the last time he played in May, helping lead Finland to a silver medal at the World Championship, posting a 4-2-0 record with a 1.93 goals against average, and earning best goaltender of the tournament honors.
The Stars netminder sees the tournament experience as similar to the playoffs, where goaltending can be key to a team’s success.
“I’ve done it a few times and you have to try to find your best mode. It’s so short, you have to be on your game totally, because there’s going to be a couple of other goalies that will be for sure,” Lehtonen said. “It’s the same thing probably as a playoff situation. It’s always goalie battles and you try to be the better one. I think that’ll be good for me to get that experience again.”
Lehtonen does have postseason experience besides those two NHL playoff games back in 2007. He led Jokerit to the Finnish Elite League championship in 2002 and was named the playoff MVP. He led the Chicago Wolves to the AHL’s Calder Cup Finals in 2005.
But he hasn’t played beyond the NHL regular season for several years, and the Stars see this chance for Lehtonen to play at the Worlds as a good building block for the Dallas netminder.
“Whenever you get a chance to see what it feels like to playing in May, it’s a good experience,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan.
Lehtonen won’t be the only Stars player playing in May. So will Jamie Benn (Canada), Loui Eriksson (Sweden), Alex Goligoski (USA), Richard Bachman (USA), Philip Larsen (Denmark) and Tomas Vincour (Czech Republic).
“I do think it’s important, and I think they’re good experiences,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “In the case of some of these guys, they want to make a good impression and get some international experience with the Olympics right around the corner again, and I think that’s all part of it. In the case of Kari, I think it’s important that he plays under that microscope and backstops his country. I think it will be good for him.”
Lehtonen and the Finns will be under a microscope. The tournament is being played in Finland and Sweden. Finland, currently ranked No. 1 in the world and a tournament favorite, will play all of its games in Helsinki.
But it will also be a trip down memory lane for Lehtonen, who played his junior hockey and in Finnish Elite League for Jokerit Helsinki.
“I don’t think that hurts to go back after 10 years since I left, and to go back to the same building,” Lehtonen said. “I think that will be pretty cool.”
And it will be a chance to get some valuable experience as well.
2012 World Championship
When: May 4 – May 20
Where: Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden
Who: 16 teams including the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Italy and France
Television: NBC Sports Network will carry all the Team USA preliminary round games, all four quarterfinal games, a semifinal game and the gold medal game