In the interest of the current postseason run, I have decided to profile another popular Bruin. This marks two consecutive major articles that were in depth analyses of players. I’ve never done this before, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. I’m sure my father, a great netminder in his time, will be glad to see an article on such a magnificent goalie.
Tuukka was born in a major shipping city in eastern Finland on March 10th, 1987. He first strapped on the goalie pads at the age of 5 and gained his first experienced in organized hockey with the youth teams of his hometown club, SaPKo. In his mid-teens, he played for the junior team of the Ilves club based out of Tampere, a once great Finnish industrial city, before making the pro roster in ’04. He must have turned quite a few heads in his junior days, as he was drafted by Toronto in ’05 and won a bronze with the national U20 team at the World Junior championships in Canada the next year. With his aggressive style and competitiveness, he became a sensation in the SM-liiga and throughout all of the European hockey world. Eventually he could not be contained, and he crossed over to North America. He did not do so as a Leaf, however, but rather as a Bruin, as Boston traded goalie Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for Rask’s rights.
Tuukka’s first Bruin experiences were observations as a spectator of the Baby B’s in Providence during the 2006-07 season, where the team made it to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs. He became the starter next season, going 27-13-2 and getting a call-up to the big show in November where he recorded his first NHL win against Toronto, 4-2. Next season proved that Rask had developed even more, as he won 33 of 57 games (with four of those wins being shutouts) and became the full-time back-up to Tim Thomas on Causeway Street after the NHL All-Star break (though he ended up playing only one game, a 1-0 triumph over the Rangers).
In his first full season, “Took” was really put to the test. The end of the first half of the season marked a period of ineffective play for Thomas, which forced Rask to take up the majority of the goaltending work. Surely a 23-year-old Finnish kid with only 5 NHL games under his belt would do a terrible job supplanting the defending Vezina winner, right?
Haha! WRONG! Tuukka led the league in both GAA (being the first qualifying rookie to do so with a GAA below 2.00) and save percentage. Miraculously, despite this, he was not named a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Those writers SUCK. Oh well. Rask also struck a chord with his teammates, as he built up a reputation as a great locker room presence with a wonderful sense of humor able to laugh at himself. With his performance being even better under pressure, he led the B’s to a first round, six-game upset over the division winning Sabres. He then hopped out to a 3 game lead over the Flyers in the semifinal round, but… well, we know what happens next. It was not Tuukka’s fault by any means; the team was injury plagued and going up against a deep roster with good coaching. That would be fuel for the next season, however.
Though Rask became second-string again in 2010-11 due to Thomas returning to form (and winning his second Vezina in three years), the Finn certainly had an impact on the team and earned his ring. As the back-up, he became just the second Finnish goaltender to win the Cup in history after Antti Niemi did so with the Blackhawks the year prior. His greatest accomplishment came this season, however, as he showed the entire hockey world what he was capable of as a starting goaltender for an Original Six team and playing a fully healthy year (abbreviated though it was). Despite not being a Vezina finalist, he was most certainly a goaltender to watch, as he was one of the leaders in several statistical categories. I believe that the future looks good for Rask and though it’s possible he will never fully fill a certain someone’s skates, he just may be the goalie of the future. Time will tell, and so will this Conference Finals series! Thanks a ton for the read, folks. Enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day weekend.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, psychologist and father of logotherapy