From Finland to Ferris: The Roni Salmenkangas Story
BIG RAPIDS – Roni Salmenkangas had never been to the United States before, but that did not stop him from wanting to play collegiate hockey in America.
“We never saw him. He never saw the school, and we picked him up in the fall,” said Bob Daniels, Ferris State head coach.
Many of us send a few, or even dozens of emails each day.
One email that traveled across the world to Big Rapids introduced Salmenkangas to a brand new opportunity.
Salmenkangas is a hockey player from Finland.
Last summer, he emailed Coach Daniels asking for a spot on the team.
“We’ve gotten emails and we’ve followed through over the course of a year. One thing leads to another and we take a player. It’s rare that really within one week span of time, we get an email from a player we’ve never heard of, did a little research, two phone calls and we have him committed,” said Daniels.
From day one, FSU’s goaltender coach, Dave Cencer, knew Salmenkangas had talent.
“I knew this kid had legitimate talent. You could tell just watching the clips that he sent. His athleticism was through the roof,” said Cencer.
Coach Cencer worked with the Chicago Blackhawks for a year, so he called some of his contacts in the NHL to find out more about Salmenkangas.
“He was a very athletic goaltender, a very talented goaltender and someone who had a very high ceiling in terms of potential at our level,” said Cencer.
The collegiate level is a bit different than what Salmenkangas was used to overseas.
“It’s a little more rough here. Obviously guys are older than in junior hockey, and we have a really small rink here, so the game’s a lot more faster. As a goalie, you have to be so much more careful with your positioning,” said Salmenkangas.
So far this season, Salmenkangas has made his coaches and parents very proud.
His parents came to Big Rapids to visit him, and it ended up being Salmenkangas’ first start and first shutout as a Bulldog.
“It was great. They loved it too and they loved the atmosphere here. They were really, really happy that they came here. I think that I came to the right place, and they think so too,” said Salmenkangas.
A major adjustment for Salmenkangas and the Bulldogs has been the cultural difference.
“I like to be by myself and stuff. I think that’s one of the biggest cultural differences between the states and Finland. Finnish people are much more quiet, and you guys are just, you talk,” said Salmenkangas.
“I did bring him in after about three weeks because he hadn’t spoken at all unless I would approach him, and I said, ‘Roni, when you’re at home, would people characterize you as being quiet and reserved?’ And he said, ‘No. I’m just like everybody else,’ and I was shocked to hear that,” said Daniels.
Daniels is grateful he found that email in his inbox, and Salmenkangas is thrilled he pressed send.
“I was very thankful I was in the office and not on the golf course that day,” said Daniels.
“I’m really happy that I made this choice. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” said Salmenkangas.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association recently tabbed Salmenkangas as “Rookie of the Week” for the second time this season.
Salmenkangas earned a .985 save percentage in two games against Alaska-Anchorage.