Niko Suoraniemi has revealed how a chance meeting with a Fife Flyers fan in Amsterdam led to him signing for the Kirkcaldy club last week.
The Finnish defenceman struck up a friendship with Flyers supporter Paul Walker after the pair met at an international floorball tournament in the Dutch capital four years ago.
Paul, who played for Fife Floorball Club at the time, encouraged Niko (30) to speak to Flyers about a possible trial – which he did at the start of this season – but Flyers were unable to accommodate him at the time.
He subsequently signed for Polish side Orlik Opole but, after Flyers lost D-men Kyle Haines and Matt Nickerson to injury and suspension, Paul again contacted his mate and suggested he get in touch.
On this occasion, with Flyers in desperate need of defensive cover, a deal was quickly arranged for Suoraniemi to fly over in time to make his debut against Braehead Clan on Saturday.
“I contacted the club a few months ago about coming in to practise but they had a full team,” Suoraniemi told the Press.
“I signed for a team in Poland and played five games, then Paul told me a defenceman was injured in Fife, so I contacted the club again – now I’m over here.
“It went pretty quick – we talked about it on Wednesday, it was finalised on Thursday morning and by Thursday midnight, I was here. I’m very grateful for this chance.”
While Suoraniemi is an experienced ice hockey pro with previous clubs in Sweden, Finland, Netherlands and Denmark, he also plays floorball at amateur level during the summer.
Floorball, a type of floor hockey, is an indoor team sport, similar to unihoc, which was developed in the 1970s in Sweden and is hugely popular in Scandinavia.
“I have a couple of friends who go to the tournament in Amsterdam every summer and there’s a team from Fife that plays also, so that’s where I met Paul,” Suoraniemi explained.
“He started saying ‘you should come over to play in Fife’ and now I’m here. I would have never thought that!”
Suoraniemi’s debut on Saturday proved to be a baptism of fire as Flyers poorest home performance of the season saw them go down to an 8-2 defeat to Braehead.
However, he was pleased with how the team responded in Sunday’s penalty shots win over Edinburgh Capitals.
“We played a good game on Sunday, unfortunately we couldn’t win in regulation, but it was a big step forward from Saturday, which was not so good,” he said.
“We played good as a team, everybody worked hard with the back-checking, so it was nice to see that we can play this kind of hockey and that it’s a good hockey club here.
“I hope Saturday wasn’t just my fault! It’s disappointing always when you lose and you can’t be happy when you have a performance like that.
“When you lose a game 2-8 then you have to look in the mirror and see what you can do better – and I think that’s what everybody did.”
Despite his whirlwind start, Suoraniemi has had good first impressions about Fife, and the Elite League.
“The guys have all taken care of me in a very good way, such as giving me tips for the games and warning me about getting used to the boards in Fife,” he said.
“It’s also a very skilled team – and it’s always nice to play with good players.
“It’s also more European hockey than I expected. I thought it was going to be more American hockey with more hitting and dumping the puck but it’s more European, which I like.
“It’s very nice to be here, it seems a nice fan culture and a nice close family in Fife.
“I’d heard many good things about the league so I’m very fortunate to be here and play at this level.”
While Suoraniemi was drafted in as cover for the injured Haines, he is hopeful that he can impress enough to be retained for the rest of the season.
“Everyone has their two weeks notice, but I want to stay here; that’s my goal,” he said.