Monday, June 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo has special ritual to salute late father

TAMPA — For Lightning defenseman Sami Salo, every game begins the same, with a glance to the sky and a silent salute.

The ritual is for his father.

Toivo Salo was 52 in 1995 when he died of stomach cancer, weeks before his 20-year-old son played his first professional game for TPS Turku, his hometown team in Finland.

"I was devastated," Sami said of his father missing that seminal moment.

"He was the one who put me on skates when I was 5 or 6 years old. He was the one who always after work took me to the hockey practices and games, even though he had a long day."

It just seems natural, then, that Salo pays tribute to the steel mill worker who doubled as equipment manager for his minor hockey teams and after whom he named his 9-year-old son.

After all, Salo said, "I know he's watching."

If that is so, Toivo has much of which to be proud.

Salo, 37, who this month signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract with Tampa Bay, has played 13 seasons, nine with the Canucks and four with the Senators, who in 1996 drafted him 239th out of 241 players selected.

He has 93 goals, 305 points and is plus-114 in 761 games. He played in the 2011 Stanley Cup final with Vancouver, played for Finland in three Olympics and during the 2004-05 lockout won a Swedish Elite League title with Frolunda.

None of it, Salo said recently at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, would have been possible without his father.

"Blue collar," is how he described Toivo, whose job from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. was coating and plating pipes and railings.

Asked what he took from his father, Salo said, "His work ethic. That's been my key playing the games … always being a good work ethic. That's from my dad. He worked really long days. It didn't matter if he was tired, he still gave his best effort to take me to the rink."

Though they had a "tight" relationship, it was strictly father/son, Salo said — "We weren't really pals" — and Toivo was his son's toughest critic.

"He was really vocal about how I played," Salo said. "I played tennis as well until I was 15. There were a few games he almost made me walk from the court back home, even though I thought I played my best game but ended up losing.

"It was the same with hockey. He always criticized me, and that's what pushed me to be a better player."

Salo is there in much the same way for his son, Oliver, whose middle name, Tobias, is a takeoff on Toivo's nickname, Topi.

Salo attends Oliver's games as much as he can and revels in the skills his son shows as a forward. Salo has even been behind the bench as an assistant coach for Oliver's teams.

"The only thing I've done differently is I haven't criticized him yet," Salo said, laughing. "I haven't put expectations on him. As long as he's having fun and he meets new friends, I'm happy."

There are plenty of expectations on Salo.

He is expected to help solidify Tampa Bay's blue line, and his booming right-hand shot should boost a power play that last season was one of the league's worst.

Salo and his wife, Johanna, recently were in town looking at houses and schools for Oliver and daughters Julia, 14, and Peppi, 6. But before the family relocates from Finland for the season, there is a necessary chore.

"In the summertime we try to go to (Toivo's) grave and put flowers on a weekly basis," Salo said. "I'm just grateful for the opportunities he gave me to play hockey and that he pushed me down the right path."

A quick look skyward before every game says the same thing.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

TAMPA — Every year during draft season, players from the Tampa Bay area are selected in the NFL, MLB and even NBA drafts.But NHL?Sure enough, in the third round of Saturday's NHL draft, the Jets selected Nathan Smith, a forward who was born in ...
Published: 06/24/18
Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

It's rare to see an NHL draft pick with Tampa Bay ties, but the Jets used a third-round pick Saturday on center Nathan Smith, 19, who played for Mitchell High School in Trinity and most recently for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.Smith was ...
Published: 06/23/18
Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Despite limited salary-cap room, the Lightning is among at least five teams expected to talk with Islanders All-Star center John Tavares, who can be a free agent July 1, when the courting period begins Sunday, ESPN reported.Tavares also is expected t...
Published: 06/23/18
Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Even without a first-round pick, the Lightning wrapped up its draft with seven picks Saturday, starting with Gabriel Fortier, an undersized 18-year-old forward from Quebec in the second round."They were guys that we really wanted," Lightning director...
Published: 06/23/18
Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

The Lightning is on the board in the 2018 NHL draft, using their first pick — 59th overall in the second round — on Gabriel Fortier, an undersize left wing from Quebec."I spoke with them a couple of times, so I knew there was an interest,...
Published: 06/23/18
Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

The Lightning isn't scheduled to pick until the second round, but there's no telling how active they might be with trades, so you'll want to follow our live coverage throughout the NHL draft Friday (Round 1) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7) in Dallas.(funct...
Published: 06/23/18
Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

The Lightning has re-signed one of its restricted free agents in backup goalie Louis Domingue, who will be back with Tampa Bay on a two-year deal worth $2.3 million.Domingue, 26, was acquired from Arizona in November after he had posted a 4.33 goals-...
Published: 06/22/18
Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

The Lightning has filled one of the openings on Jon Cooper's coaching staff, announcing Friday  that former Tampa Bay forward Jeff Halpern has been hired as an assistant coach.Halpern, 42, has spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the ...
Published: 06/22/18
Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

As expected, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he does not intend to re-sign veteran forward Chris Kunitz, who will seek his fifth Stanley Cup with a different team next season.Kunitz, 38, brought much-needed playoff experience in his lone...
Published: 06/22/18
2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

NHL schedules all balance out at the end, but the Lightning will open 2018-19 with five straight home games and end the season with its last four on the road.The Lightning released its schedule Thursday evening for the upcoming season, with all sorts...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18