NMU Hall of Famer Tarkki surprised many, going from unknown backup to CCHA’s best goaltender

Editor’s Note:The following is the fourth of four profiles on the NMU Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2014 provided by the NMU Athletic Department.

MARQUETTE – Former Northern Michigan University goaltender Tuomas Tarkki of Finland will be inducted into the NMU Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday in the Great Lakes Room of the University Center in conjuction with the NMU Student-Athlete Awards Banquet that begins at 6 p.m.

Tickets for the evening are $20 for adults and can be purchased at the NMU Superior Dome Ticket Office or by calling 906-227-1032.

Tarkki played for the NMU hockey team from 2001-05 and turned in one of the best single-season performances by a Wildcat goalie in program history.

During the 2003-04 season, Tarkki was the backup when starter Craig Kowalski went down with an injury in the first five minutes of the final regular-season game. Tarkki came in and recorded 28 saves in a 2-1 win over Ferris State.

Tarkki took over as the regular starter through five games of the playoffs and recorded 169 saves during the Wildcats’ playoff run to the CCHA semifinals.

Tarkki went on to become the regular starter the following season and set NMU single-season records with a .930 save percentage and a 2.07 goals against average. That year, Tarkki was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given to the best NCAA Division I hockey player in the nation. He was a second team All-American, was named the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Player of the Year, CCHA Goalie of the Year and was a first team All-CCHA selection. He led the league in both goals against average and save percentage, and had 20-8-5 overall record, including three shutouts.

When asked to describe Tarkki, NMU head coach Walt Kyle said his former player’s patience and dedication paid off.

“Tuomas Tarkki is the ultimate story of the perseverance by an athlete at Northern Michigan,” Kyle said. “He spent his first three years as a backup with little chance to make an impact. The end of the season in the first round of the playoffs, he was forced to play both games due to an injury to Craig Kowalski and he was phenomenal, leading us to an upset of Alaska-Fairbanks and to Joe Louis Arena.

“The next season he took the starting job and never looked back, having possibly the greatest season ever by an NMU goaltender. It was remarkable to see him emerge from nowhere to the elite level player he became.”

Tarkki concluded the 2005 campaign ranked nationally in save percentage (fourth) and goals against average (10th). He finished his career at the top of the NMU record books in save percentage (.924) and goals against average (2.24).

After graduating from NMU, Tarkki played professionally for the Gwinnett Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League and the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. He played in seven games for the Gladiators where he had one shutout, 201 saves and a .910 save percentage before departing for Chicago.

“Tuomas was a consummate worker in all aspects of his life, a great student, a great goaltender and an excellent teammate,” Kyle said. “We are so proud and happy for him to be selected into the Hall of Fame, a very deserving award.”

Tarkki finished the 2005-06 season with Chicago and appeared in 31 games, recording 719 saves with a save percentage of .888.

Since 2006, Tarkki has played professionally in Europe, including for MODO Ornskoldsvik of the Swedish Hockey League in 2010-11, HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League in 2011-12 and currently with JYP Jyvaskyla Oy of the Finnish SM-liiga League in his native Finland.

Tarkki graduated from NMU in 2005 with a degree in health education. He and his wife, Saija, have a son, Marius.