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Aantti-Cipation

First look at Miettinen tonight when he skates on MSG line

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Bust out a map and drag your finger along the route from Helsinki, Finland to Kazan -- the capital city of the Russian Republic of Tartarstan -- and it's easy to determine it's a lot shorter than the distance between Helsinki and Winnipeg.

If you want to get all official about it, Helsinki and Kazan are 1,509 kilometres apart; whereas Helsinki and Winnipeg are separated by 6,741 kilometres.

But this isn't a story about geography, distances or trade routes.

No, this Tale of Three Cities is about career and comfort, family and familiarity. And Antti Miettinen believes he may have found the perfect fit right here in Winnipeg with the Jets.

"This is my eighth or ninth year in North America," said Miettinen after practice Monday. "This is my life now."

That's the conclusion the 31-year-old Finnish winger came to one day last month while wearing the colours of the Ak- Bars Kazan Snow Leopards of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. He won't get into details about what happened over there and, in fact, insisted repeatedly Monday he had nothing against the organization, the city, or the league.

As the team's own website declared (translated to English) upon news of his release, they 'cancelled contract with Antti Miettinen by a mutual assent.'

The cold, hard truth here is simple: as the father of two young children -- his son turns three this month and his wife just gave birth to a daughter two months ago -- being separated from his family just didn't feel right. And so, after he was able to secure his release from the Snow Leopards, and after the Jets claimed him on waivers after he had signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Miettinen loaded up his clan and moved them across the ocean to the Canadian Prairie.

"We tried to leave before the NHL season started, but (Kazan) didn't agree to that," said Miettinen, who signed in the KHL this summer. "I talked about it with my wife, we said we would give it a try and see how it goes and all... get adjusted there. But we never really got into it.

"As a professional athlete, of course I'm not happy about the ways thing turned out, because when I signed there I really wanted to be there and be a part of the team and succeed over there. But as a husband and a father I thought it would be best for all of us to try and get out of there."

And so, once the jet lag disappeared after his arrival in Winnipeg, once Miettinen saw the environment at last Saturday's game against Anaheim and skated on a line with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass -- the MSG line, joked Slater, who had previouisly centred the GST line (including Chris Thorburn) -- it just felt, well, right.

"I have nothing bad to say about the (Ak-Bars Kazan) organization or the city or anything like that," he said. "The routines they have there are different and it makes it a little bit difficult if you have small children, for me to be in the hotel and they're at home.

"It reflects a lot on your life, if the other side of it, your family, is not good. You are stressed out about it and worrying about everything. Even though you go the rink and try to focus, at least in my case it was in the back of my head... I was worrying if they were managing themselves. I don't have to worry about that stuff here now.

"I felt really good when I stepped on the ice here. It felt more like home. We're all happy. We have nothing bad to say, it's just the situation my family was in. I think it's better for me to be here to be the best player I can."

Now, before we go any further, some expectations need to be tempered here: the best player Miettinen can be, according to the Jets, is a responsible two-way winger who can occasionally flash some skill and pot the odd goal. In 472 NHL games with Dallas and Minnesota, Miettinen had 89 goals, averaging 15 over the last four seasons.

That'd be dandy production for a Jets team that is looking for some offensive punch from outside its Top 6 forwards.

"He hasn't skated too much with us, but he's a smart player who handles the puck well," said head coach Claude Noel. "I just want to get him in the game and get him into a position where he gets comfortable a bit."

That transitional part -- being made comfortable in a new town, in a new jersey but with his family in tow -- has already started.

"I'm just happy to be back playing," said Miettinen, grinning "I'm enjoying every day."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2011 C1

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