From Wildcat to Predator

NMU goalie Tolvanen goes to Nashville camp

Northern Michigan University sophomore goaltender Atte Tolvanen stands ready to take on Alaska-Fairbanks skaters on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. On this night, the Finland native tied the all-time NCAA record with five consecutive shutouts and is less than two full periods shy of the all-time consecutive scoreless minutes mark. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

By RYAN STIEG

Journal Sports Writer

MARQUETTE — Last season, Atte Tolvanen made a huge statement to the hockey world.

The Northern Michigan University goaltender racked up five straight shutouts, tying the NCAA men’s record, and came just short of setting the record for consecutive scoreless minutes.

Not only that, but his performances turned the Wildcats’ season around and helped them earn the eighth and final WCHA playoff spot.

With that kind of accomplishment on his record, the Stanley Cup runner-up Nashville Predators decided to take a closer look at Tolvanen and invited him to their summer development camp held just a few weeks ago. Tolvanen said that it was hard work, but that it was fun at the same time.

“It was nice to get a call like that,” he said. “I was hoping to get a chance to show what I could do this summer. It was physical, but fun, too. We had to get up early in the morning like at 6 o’clock, but I had a good group of guys that helped make things enjoyable.”

The camp opened with some workouts and on-ice skills work and over the course of the week included community activities and the Future Stars Game on the Predators’ home ice, Bridgestone Arena.

“We basically did everything,” Tolvanen said. “We went over little details on how to be successful and how important those things are.

“We had an exit meeting and they might possibly be interested.

“What happens next year is going to be really important on whether more opportunities come. It was a good confidence boost, though, getting to go to a camp like that and I’ll be better prepared for next season.”

The experience was extra special for Tolvanen, who got to compete with his younger brother Eeli.

Eeli was drafted in the first round by the Predators and was considered “a steal” by analysts.

He also led the U.S. Hockey League with 30 goals and was supposed to play at Boston College. However, due to some admission issues where he was considered ineligible, Tolvanen will now play for Jokerit Helsinki in the Kontinental Hockey League of Europe and Asia.

Tolvanen said that competing against his brother was fun and that the final results between the siblings were similar.

“It was awesome,” he said.

“When we’d play before, we’d say to each other where to shoot. Now he was trying to shoot everywhere on me. He got a couple past me, but I stopped him, too. It was pretty even and it was fun to go head to head.”

Even though he has yet to see Atte Tolvanen perform live on the ice, new NMU head coach Grant Potulny thinks highly of him and thinks both he and fellow goalie Mathias Israelsson will be a vital part to the Wildcats’ success.

“He’s a very focused and committed individual,” Potulny said.

“That came out very clear in our meeting with the way that he handled himself. I think he knows what he wants and he has plans to try to get to that goal.

“Also, over the last five years, he’s been a strong player. He was dominant in the NAHL (North American Hockey League) and if you look at last season, the team’s success goes hand-in-hand with his performance.

“We’re lucky to not only have him, but Mathias (Israelsson) to back him up. With both of them playing well, it gives the rest of our team confidence.”

Potulny also feels that his impressive shutout run shows just how good Tolvanen can be, especially with the type of shutouts he produced.

“There are two different kinds of shutouts,” Potulny said.

“There is the kind where you don’t face a lot of shots and you make like 18 saves and it goes in as a shutout.

“There are also times where you make 35, 40, 45 or even 50 saves. To have shutouts like those during his streak really speaks to his talents and his abilities.

“Now we just need to help him out. You can’t expect a guy to have five shutouts in a row. The goalie’s job is to give up two and hopefully, the rest of the guys can win the race to three.”

Potulny also thinks Tolvanen’s close look by an NHL franchise will benefit the Wildcats as well.

“This kind of thing shows what our guys are striving to become,” he said.

“It gives our players a chance to not only show what they can do, but see what else is out there. It also gives you a good barometer of where you are in your own development.

“So that kind of thing is important for all of our players going forward. Hopefully after this year, we can get some more guys to camps next year, instead of just one, maybe have three or four.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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