Matias Sointu was the eighth Finnish player to sign for Cardiff Devils and he made a major impact during a short stay.
Head coach Andrew Lord was keen for Sointu to stick around in Cardiff Bay a little longer, but the playmaker popped into the office on Monday to say: “I’m heading home.”
The former Tampa Bay Lightning NHL draft pick was sharing an apartment with club captain Joey Martin and told me: “The club and the city are awesome.”
Sointu made his final Devils appearance during the 4-2 win against Dundee Stars in Scotland, lining up with Mike McNamee and Joey Haddad.
While his decision to go home came out of the blue, Sointu could scarcely have chosen a better time to make his move.
He was signed to cover Martin’s absence when he was ruled out with a niggling injury. Martin is now fit, but Matt Pope has been hampered by a muscle problem.
Pope was rested as the extra import when Devils played Fife Flyers and Stars in their Scottish double header and the rest means he is now back to full fitness.
That means Pope will return to action when Sheffield Steelers face Devils at the Viola Arena on Saturday – refreshed, fired up and dangerous.
Sointu insists he loved his Welsh experience and said: “I really enjoyed being a part of the Cardiff Devils.
“The supporters are great and the organisation treat the players extremely well.
“Our Champions League experience was excellent and Devils fans were fantastic. It felt like a home game in Graz because so many fans had travelled to Austria.”
Sointu, a former team-mate of fellow Cardiff forward Masi Marjamaki in the Finnish Elite League from 2010 to 2013, signed for Devils and said: “I did not have a contract and was looking for the right chance.
“It was a quick decision. Everything was agreed in 24 hours and I was a Devils player. This is a good organisation and there are really good players in our team. Loads of skill.”
Sointu has played the majority of his professional hockey in the top league in Finland with Ilves and TPS. In 2018, he played a major part in the surprising run to the Austrian title for Bolzano, who beat Red Bull Salzburg in the play-offs final.
The 29-year-old Sointu played a total of 21 games for the Devils scoring five goals with 11 assists for 16 points. He was Devils leading scorer in this year’s Champions Hockey League competition with one goal and five assists in five games.
“We always knew this was a temporary situation and that Matias would be looking at other leagues throughout Europe,” said Lord.
“We have really benefitted having Matias with the club. He has been great for us, coming in when we needed someone for injury cover and ended up being an impact player for us.
“The door is never closed with players like him Matias. You never know when you could see him back in Cardiff in years to come.”
Devils are unlikely to bring in another import with Pope now fully fit, while Evan Mosey is making good strides towards fitness.
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Devils connections to Finland:
The Tampere-born forward, a strong skater with great hands and top quality offensive skills. Played Champions League, Elite League and Challenge Cup hockey for Devils. Signed for Cardiff on a short-term contract – and extended that until now.
Opted for a return to mainland Europe in search of a contract closer to his home in Finland.
Won the EBEL title with Bolzano in 2017-18.
Scored 16 points, including five goals, for Devils.
Big-hitting forward Saku, now aged 41, is from Hattula in Southern Finland. He played 82 matches for Devils between 1998 and 2000.
Retired in 2003.
Playmaking centre who, like Marjamaki, is from Pori in Western Finland. Tahtinen its now aged 41 and retired from playing two years ago.
He made 15 appearances for Devils in 2014-15, scoring six points (2+4).
Tahtinen arrived in Cardiff after a 3,000-plus miles journey from Kazakhstan where he had been playing for Arystan Temirtau.
Centre from Helsinki. Now aged 48, retired from ice hockey in 2006. Scored 16 points (9+7) in 17 appearances for Devils.
Big D-man, 6ft 3ins tall, from Tampere, where Sointu was born. Three appearances for Devils.
Now aged, 28, last played in 2017-18.
Joined the under-18 set-up at Tampere-based Tappara in 2007 aged 16. Played 36 times in Finland’s top professional league.
Right-winger from Helsinki, now aged 48. Played 44 matches for Devils in 2000-01, scoring 33 points (16+17).
One of the current Devils
Spent a short time with Devils in 2013-14
American D-man who played 12 matches for Devils last season before leaving to sign for Finnish club Tappara. Made 37 appearances for his new club and will play for them again next season.