Niemo's trip a family affair

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:11 PM ET


 TAMPA -- Ville Nieminen held the Stanley Cup above his head in the spring of 2001, high enough for papa Esa to see.

 The Colorado Avalanche had just claimed hockey's most precious prize and, although his father had died after a long illness prior to the playoffs, the Finnish winger knew his dad was proudly watching from above.

 "He has season tickets," Nieminen quietly proclaimed yesterday after the Flames' morning skate.

 "It's a pure joy. My family has always lived for hockey."

 Nieminen's mother, Liisa, is flying into Calgary today from Finland to watch her son's push for a second Stanley Cup ring, this time with the Flames, and to help care for her grandson, Viljami, 2 1/2 -- born to Ville and longtime girlfriend Kaisa Nurmi.

 "She's a great babysitter but we won't let her cook," offers Nieminen, 27, whose mother hasn't seen him play in person since last fall in Chicago.

 "We'll go out to restaurants.

 "It's a good experience for her to come to the games (in Calgary).

 "She was there in Denver (in 2001) for the final game.

 "It's a lot easier for her to watch the games in Calgary than to wake up at three in the morning to see them on TV (in Finland)."

 Nieminen credits his mother's dedication to his hockey career for helping him ascend to the NHL and allowing him to get his name on the Cup, maybe for a second time.

 Just as Nieminen learned the game from his father, a former Finnish Elite League player, the Flames winger is now passing that love to his son.

 Dad helps Viljami work on his wrist shot on the kitchen floor, flicking a baby soother back and forth.

 Games 1 and 2 of the Cup final in the Eastern time zone allowed the young boy to stay up late, watching his dad play on TV.

 "He's a hockey player," smiles Nieminen, whose son was born shortly after his first Cup win in Colorado.

 After parts of three seasons in Denver, Nieminen landed in Pittsburgh late in 2002.

 After a disappointing nine-goal year the following season, he wasn't sure he'd be re-signed. But Brian Sutter brought him to Chicago last fall, a prelude to brother Darryl Sutter acquiring him at the trade deadline.

 Last spring, Nieminen served as colour commentator for the CANAL TV network in Finland during the Cup final beside play-by-play man Pentti Lindegren.

 Lindegren is now covering his former sidekick in these playoffs.

 "He was not scared to criticize the players," Lindegren says.

 His former colleague's praise isn't surprising considering Nieminen's outspoken nature, a trait that's ruffled feathers within the Finnish hockey establishment.

 Despite always saying what's on his mind, Nieminen was named this week to his country's World Cup team, partly because of his outstanding playoff performance with the Flames.

 Both Lindegren and Nieminen point out the TV booth could provide a home for the feisty winger when his playing days are over.

 "Absolutely," smiles Nieminen.

 "People said I was a better commentator than hockey player.

 "I'd love to stay in the game."

 For now, his only focus is on Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final tomorrow at the Saddledome, with his mother on hand to see him play.

 Nieminen's confident his father will be watching, too.


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