Kasimir Kaskisuo has worn four different jerseys in the past six months, but with any luck, he'll wear the purple of Orlando long into Kelly Cup playoffs. He arrived in Orlando on Thursday, just two days before getting the nod for the season opener. "I'm already 23 and kind of been around hockey a lot," Kaskisuo said after the game, "So you kind of have to be ready for that. It's not as bad as same day travel and getting here and playing. Of course you're used to that and you're trying to be a professional about it."
Despite losing 3-2 to in-state rivals the Florida Everblades, Kaskisuo saved 34 of 37 shots, one from an Everblades powerplay. It was the Blades' fourth game of the season (now they're 4-0-0), and the Solar Bears' first. Kaskisuo could feel the difference. "I could tell that their team has played a couple of games already and it was our first one. They had their systems down I feel like a little better and we're still looking for what we want to do in the offensive zone and defensive zone for sure."
Was there a difference between players shooting on him in the NCAA, and players in professional leagues? "Of course it's a big step from college. All the guys are older and stronger I feel like."
Six months ago Kaskisuo was a Bulldog, a goaltender at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he decided to play after the Jokerit development system in Finland seemed to have him slated firmly into a backup position. After the Bulldogs got defeated by Boston College on their way to the Frozen Four, Kaskisuo signed an NHL contract with the Maple Leafs. He immediately donned the Marlies crown and joined the AHL team on their Calder Cup run.
At the end of the summer, Kaskisuo wore the blue and white of the Maple Leafs for training camp, then went back to Marlies training camp, and finally ended his time in Toronto with a conversation with Marlies goaltending coach Piero Greco. "He just told me to go down there (to Orlando) with a good attitude," Kaskisuo said, "And work your hardest and prove to people that you deserve to be up [in Toronto]."
He is not the first Toronto goaltender to make the trip. Two seasons ago (2014-15), in front of a much different Solar Bears team (with Vince Williams and not Anthony Noreen as coach, and Jason Siegel instead of Joe Haleski running operations), Garret Sparks carried the team into the playoffs. Sparks, who was in goal for both the Marlies and Maple Leafs last season, is remaining as a stable tandem with Anton Bibeau.
Kaskisuo knows he's in Orlando for the playing time, to get more starts than he would as the third goaltender behind Sparks and Bibeau. His move to Orlando bumped Jay Williams, who was signed to the Solar Bears on an SPC and remained through training camp. Ryan Massa, another NCAA goaltender from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, will play with Kaskisuo this season. It is Massa's second season with the Bears. "I feel like [I'm] just getting more playing time and seeing more of how teams play in the ECHL and just getting used to the tendencies that teams have," Kaskisuo said. "It's still just hockey and it looks the same to me pretty much. The more minutes I get I feel like the better I'll play."
Like Sparks before him, Kaskisuo will keep in close contact with Greco during the season. When he was in Toronto for the Marlies' post-season, he learned a lot from Greco's instruction. "He's taught me little things that I didn't even notice that I was doing wrong or maybe something I can focus on and little things I need to be better at playing professionally," Kaskisuo said. "For sure that's helped me a ton already during last season when I joined the Marlies for a little bit."
Of his first game as a Solar Bear, Kaskisuo was overwhelmingly positive. "It was fun," he said. "The atmosphere was great down here in Orlando."
With thanks to Don Money for assisting with the interview.