After four successful years as the goaltender for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and a stellar run in the postseason, Brad Thiessen anxiously waited for the first day of free agency July 5 to see what opportunities would come his way.
A few teams expressed interest, he said, but they signed other goaltenders.
So on the second day of free agency, Thiessen and his wife began to think about Europe.
“We thought maybe there would be a better opportunity over there then backing up in the AHL,” Thiessen said.
It wasn’t long before Thiessen got a call from the general manager of a team in the capital city of Finland, Helsinki, to join Finnish Elite League club HIFK because they need a starting goaltender.
Thiessen quickly agreed to take on the role and make the move overseas.
“It’s a good feeling to know you’re wanted,” he said. “I’ve never been to Europe but I’ve heard nothing but good things about Finland. Former teammate Jason DeSantis is joining the same team, so there will be a familiar face there.”
Thiessen, 27, leaves Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after a four-year run during which he was named the AHL’s top goaltender in 2010-11. He had a regular season record of 88-49-12-6, 2.47 GAA and a .906 save percentage. In the playoffs, Thiessen was at his best, posting an 18-16 record with a 2.31 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
In Finland, Thiessen will be playing on a bigger ice surface in a game that leans more toward skill than physicality. He’s looking forward to the challenge and happy to go into a season as the starting netminder.
“I still feel like I can be the guy who can play every night. Maybe down the road I can make the switch to a veteran backup, but right now the starting job is important to me,” Thiessen said.
The move to Europe was still somewhat of a surprise, even though Thiessen said he knew his time with the Penguins was over when the season ended. He expected to be playing somewhere in North America this year, and as a result of the move to Finland, Thiessen and his wife had to shorten their summer plans.
Training camp in Finland opens on July 29, followed by a tournament against other European teams and then the start of the regular season on Sept. 13.
“I’m back home in British Columbia now and never expected to start things up again until September. We had to cancel our trip to Hawaii and focus on work outs and on-ice training again,” Thiessen said.
After four years in Wilkes-Barre, Thiessen admitted he will miss the people in the community as well as the people in the Penguins organization.
And while his contract with Finland is for one-year, Thiessen wasn’t ruling out a return to North America in the future.
“I’m not closing the door on anything. We’ll see where this year takes me,” he said.