FALMOUTH — The phone call came a few days after Christmas, just as Ellie Toivonen was buckling 2-year-old Luca and 5-year-old Jack into their car seats in anticipation of a family sleigh ride in New Hampshire.

Her husband answered, nodded and thanked the caller, then notified his wife he wouldn’t be able to join them. Within a few hours, Hannu Toivonen was suited up in his hockey equipment and serving as a backup goaltender at Cross Insurance Arena for the ECHL Maine Mariners.

“We just kind of laughed,” Ellie said. “It was a surprise but not anything too out of the norm.”

This winter has been far from normal for the Toivonens, who have dwelled at 18 addresses in four countries since getting married a decade ago. The crazy thing about this winter is that Hannu, who played in the National Hockey League for the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, gets to live in the Falmouth home he and Ellie purchased five years ago to accommodate their growing family.

“It’s a unique situation,” the 34-year-old Toivonen said after a recent practice. “I’ve played pro for 15 years, and I’ve never lived home and played home. It’s fun. It’s easy. You don’t have to move anywhere. You don’t have to pack the whole caravan.”

The Bruins drafted Toivonen in the first round in 2002 and a year later sent him to their American Hockey League affiliate in Providence for two seasons. He faced the Portland Pirates multiple times – mostly recently in 2005 – inside what was then known as the Cumberland County Civic Center.

As a Bruins affiliate, Providence drew big crowds throughout New England. The team was stocked with veterans both of his years.

“You had tons of good players,” Toivonen said. “I remember heated games here (in Portland), good crowds. Back then I didn’t know it was going to be my home. It’s kind of funny how it’s a complete circle.”

Toivonen wound up playing 38 games over two seasons with Boston, compiling a 12-14-5 record with a 3.33 goals-against average from 2005-07. That’s where he met a Regis College student named Ellie Scribner at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She grew up in Bridgton, and had played soccer and lacrosse and run track at Gould Academy in Bethel.

The Bruins traded Toivonen to St. Louis and he played 23 more NHL games in the 2007-08 season, then bounced around the AHL, Sweden, Finland, the ECHL and last fall found work in southern Austria, where Jack enrolled in a kindergarten class in German, his third language.

Along the way, Hannu and Ellie got married, bought a home in Scarborough and welcomed two boys. Their only season apart came in 2013-14, after Jack was born, when his father shuttled between Toledo and Milwaukee with a stop in Des Moines.

“We always try to spend the least amount of time apart as possible,” Hannu said. “The kids need their father and I need them. It’s a great balance, puts everything in perspective. It doesn’t matter how good or bad my game was, I can still be the same good dad to them.”

When news broke of minor-league hockey returning to Portland, they considered the possibility of Hannu playing for the expansion ECHL team.

“That would be fantastic, hypothetically,” Ellie said, “but we’ve been around hockey a long time and things never really go easy like that. It was just nice to have hockey back in Portland. It was sad when the Pirates left because this is such a great hockey town.”

Over the summer, Hannu contacted Mariners Coach Riley Armstrong to express his interest and availability, but Armstrong knew Maine’s NHL affiliation with the New York Rangers likely would result in goalie prospects sent to Portland. Sure enough, Brandon Halverson and Chris Nell came to join Connor LaCouvee, already under contract to the Mariners.

In the fall, Toivonen found work in the Czech Republic, then Finland, but decided to return to Maine for Christmas. Armstrong called him after two of the Mariners’ goalies were sent to other teams.

The following night in Worcester, Toivonen stopped 41 of 42 shots as the Mariners beat the Railers, 3-1. He played four more games in Newfoundland and Ontario, with Maine winning one and losing three, but has yet to see action in Portland. There are now younger goalies on the roster who need playing time.

“The tricky part with Hannu in this situation,” Armstrong said, “is that I feel he’s past his developing stage.

“I played in the (ECHL). I was 31 years old and every day I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”

One thing Toivonen is doing is setting an example for his younger teammates, letting them know how a professional hockey player goes about his business, how to take care of your body if you want a long career, how to handle your free time.

“I think it always sounds good coming from a player instead of always coming from me or Danny (Briere, Maine’s general manager),” Armstrong said. “When Hannu is doing it on a friend-to-friend level instead of a boss-to-player level, I think it might sink in a little more.”

Should Toivonen, who now is on injured reserve, want to continue working in hockey as a coach, Armstrong said this season could be a good stepping stone. Toivonen agrees but isn’t ready to hang up his pads. Veterans helped him when he was young, and he feels a debt both toward them and the sport of hockey.

“I would love to stay in the game and I feel I would have a lot to give to younger players,” he said. “This game has given me everything in my life. I feel like I owe a little bit, to give back.”

Back home in Falmouth, Jack is downstairs hitting golf balls into a net and providing running commentary. He has joined the Casco Bay Hockey Association and can walk to the nearby Family Ice rink. Luca races around the living room and beneath the dining room table, a toy car in each hand and the Lightning McQueen catchphrase “Ka-chow!” spewing from his lips.

On the side of the refrigerator, beneath the preschool artwork of Jack Toivonen, and Halloween photos of him and his younger brother, Luca, hangs a Mariners schedule. Halloween, not widely celebrated in Europe, was a first for the boys, who dressed up as plump jack-o’-lanterns.

“They thought trick-or-treating was pretty much the coolest thing in the universe,” Ellie said. “We go to the door and get what?”

“They give us candy, voluntarily?” said Hannu, mimicking his son’s amazement.

The Toivonens smiled at their good fortune. After all those years on the road, all those exhilirating but exhausting adventures abroad, they finally get to spend a hockey season at home.

It’s a sweet life, all right.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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