NATION PROFILE: JARI KURRI

Lowetide
November 16 2012 07:27AM

Jari Kurri's story is one Oiler fans are told from childhood: the entire NHL figured he was not headed to the NHL, save for one man (Barry Fraser). If not for that decision--to play instead of stay--Kurri would have been drafted much earlier and would not have been part of the glory days.

BEFORE THE DRAFT

Last Team: Helsinki Jokerit (Finland)                  
Birthplace: Helsinki, Finland
Hometown: Helsinki, Finland
   
PRE-DRAFT STATISTICS
Year Team League GP G A TP PIM
1976-77 Helsinki Jokerit Fin. Jr. 18 4 6 10 4
1977-78 Helsinki Jokerit Fin. Jr. 5 5 4 9 2
  Helsinki Jokerit Finland 29 2 9 11 12
1978-79 Helsinki Jokerit Fin. Jr. 2 1 1 2 2
  Helsinki Jokerit Finland 33 16 14 30 12
1979-80 Helsinki Jokerit Fin. Jr. 6 7 2 9 13
  Helsinki Jokerit Finland 33 23 16 39 22
  Team Finland Int'l 8 3 1 4 0

PRE-DRAFT AWARDS AND HONORS
Olympics:
1980 (fourth place)
World Junior Championships: 1979 (fourth), 1980 (silver)
European Junior Championships: 1978 (gold medal)
European Junior Championships Best Forward: 1978
World Junior Championships Points Leader: 1980 (11 points, tie)
Miscellaneous: Scored in second overtime vs. Soviet Union to give Finland the 1978 European Junior Championships gold medal. Kurri was expected to sign two-year commitment to Finnish national team and military in 1980, thereby hurting his status in draft. Edmonton was the only team that knew Kurri would not sign such a commitment and would rather play in the NHL, because chief scout Barry Fraser looked into situation and knew Kurri was available. Ironically, Kurri originally planned to play only one or two seasons in the NHL before return to Finland.

courtesy hockeydraftcentral

EARLY CAREER

Jari Kurri spoke no English the day he arrived in Edmonton. In his rookie season was most often seen with countrymen Risto Siltanen and Matti Hagman. Kurri was shy, and took some time to adjust  that first season--he was a healthy scratch due to defensive weaknesses (real or imagined). At that time--this was 1980--European players still lived with the reputation that they lacked toughness and attention to the finer points of the game. I say this because Jari Kurri was one of the men who ended the bias with exceptional play away from the puck as his NHL career wore on.

It was not certain that Jari Kurri would play with Gretzky. Glen Sather, 1980 fall: "I've got to get Gretzky someone to play with" and that was at a time when Kurri was on 99's wing! It would all work out though, and by the end of Kurri's rookie season "Gretzky to Kurri" had been written in the record book many times (and vice versa). Whatever chemistry Gretzky enjoyed with MacDonald and Callighen in year one, the Gretzky-Kurri duo quickly rose to elite status and remains the most sublime marriage of skills in the game's history. 

 

 

THE GOAL

For me, the most memorable goal in Oilers history is not the shot over Vernon, not the McClelland goal, not the Anderson goal. It is a Wayne Gretzky goal, spring 1984 in G5 against the Islanders at Northlands. Here's the play:

  • Dave Semenko has the puck deep in Islanders territory and the big man is doing well against two Islanders but eventually loses the battle. Its time for a shift change, and when Ken Morrow gets the puck up to Pat Flatley, the NYI winger gets to center, dumps it in and ignites a line change (save for a forechecking Islander who does not impact the play).
  • That's a change teams made then and they make it now. One guy shoots it in, peels off, the other forward pursues the puck to delay possession (or hinder progress) and the rest of the team changes on the fly.
  • Charlie Huddy and the Islander forechecker make contact and skate by the puck. It lays in the far corner for an instant, until Jari Kurri gains control, sets himself, and feathers a perfect pass to Wayne Gretzky.
  • Gretzky--a gentleman often described as too slow by NHL greybeards only a few years before--takes the pass, gears up and wins the blueline with no one between himself and Billy Smith. 99 wasn't brilliant on the breakaway, but the hockey Gods smiled on him that night and he went wide and slid the puck past Smith for the lead Edmonton would not surrender until Stanley belonged to the Oilers for the first time.

Simple play. Hard work, intelligence, awareness, sublime passing skill. Jari Kurri described perfectly in the biggest game in franchise history.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

  • Hockey Hall of Fame, 2001
  • 5 Stanley Cups: 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990
  • Lady Byng, 1985
  • 1st All-Star Team, 1985 and 1987
  • 2nd All-Star Team, 1984, 1986 and 1989
  • 6-100 point seasons
  • 4-50 goal seasons
  • lead NHL in goals, 85-86 (68 goals)

 

TRADE

Jari Kurri left us in phases. Shortly after the 1990 SC run, Kurri announced that he had signed in Italy (!!!) so that he could be available for the 1991 World Hockey Championships (which were being held in Finland that year). In what might be termed a "reverse Ryan Smyth", Kurri passed on the opportunity to add a 6th SC ring in order to secure his availability for the WHC's. In 1991 spring, he announced that he would return to the NHL, especially if he had the opportunity to play with Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles.

On May 30, 1991, Edmonton traded Kurri, Dave Brown and Corey Foster to Philadelphia in exchange for Craig Fisher, Scott Mellanby and Craig Berube. Philadelphia then traded Kurri and Jeff Chychrun to Los Angeles in exchange for Steve Duchesne, Steve Kasper and 1991 fourth-round pick (Aris Brimanis) on May 30, 1991.

LEGACY

Playing the majority of his career both with Wayne Gretzky and in Gretzky's shadow as his so called, "Right-hand Man," Jari Pekka Kurri was considered by many to be perhaps the best defensive forward in the NHL. His two-way abilities were the perfect complement for his hard, accurate shooting and scoring proficiency. Jari Kurri finished his career as the highest scoring European-born player in NHL history with totals of 601 goals, 797 assists, and 1,398 points. He also finished with 106 career PLAYOFF goals and 233 PLAYOFF points, third all-time behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. While he wasn't the flashiest player, Kurri was consistent and this ability alone enabled him to become an icon for thousands of fans and young players, both in Finland and throughout North America.

Courtesy HHOF

GZOWSKI

Number 17, Jari Kurri. The youngest Finn has had a spectacular season. On the ice, he has clearly staked out for himself the coveted place on Gretzky's right wing--and he had done so even before B. J. MacDonald's departure. He has accumulated 75 scoring points, which, while still 89 short of Gretzky's incredible total, still ranks 2nd on the team. He is so much at home in NHL play that in Hartford, when he scored his 28th goal of the year, he actually did a little dance, raising one knee and punching the air with his fist. Even more amazingly, after that game he gave his first interview in English.

Much of the credit for his new extroversion belongs to his roommate, Paul Coffey, who night after night plays card with him and painstakingly works on vocabulary skills. The Oilers publicity department would have people believe that Kurri has been learning his English from Happy Days, but both he and Coffey prefer game shows.

 

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Lowetide has been one of the Oilogosphere's shining lights for over a century. You can check him out here at OilersNation and at lowetide.ca. He is also the host of Lowdown with Lowetide weekday mornings 10-noon on Team 1260.
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#1 Czar
November 16 2012, 08:07AM
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The one timer from Gretzky was a thing of beauty. You can tell the goal against the Canadiens was early in his career, he didn't always celebrate with that much emotion later on. I still can't believe he didn't win the Selke or another Lady Bing.

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#2 NewAgeSys
November 17 2012, 03:28AM
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Czar wrote:

The one timer from Gretzky was a thing of beauty. You can tell the goal against the Canadiens was early in his career, he didn't always celebrate with that much emotion later on. I still can't believe he didn't win the Selke or another Lady Bing.

Back then the NHL had to find a way to give a few other players awards,it just wasnt acceptable to give them all to the Oilers,the offensive and defensive awards were rightfully ours,but it is what it is,Kurri got jobbed repeatedly and we all knew it,the entire league did,but thats called playing in the shadow of the Greatest ever.

Jarri Kurri was a big strong fast defensive minded player who was smart enough to go for it when Wayne told him to without hesitation,this made him into a deadly weapon.I can seriously see MPS learning when to shoot the one-timer in the NHL as he and Jarri are evolving in an almost identical manner in spooky looking ways,whos to say he doesnt end up having chemistry with Sam{shooting at the right times} and Yakupov and finding his own one-timer----both he and Kurri catalyse it EXACTLY the same way decades apart,its identical and natural.

Remember we DONT want to keep MPS on our bottom six,he is elite and his defensiveness is like Jarris--APPLICABLE AT A HIGH LEVEL---to be at its best.

There is a difference between an offensively gifted player like MPS or Kurri who sees the game defensively and can bring that to the top 6 and being a defensive /defensive minded player,or support playerha ha ha.MPS can not play out of our top 6 or we will be losing value,it is what it is.

Nobody mentioned how coachable Jarri was and how much and how quickly he learned.One of the reason he and Wayne set so many records was because jarri was able to adjust to changes so fast,he was always learning and adjusting small details to make his game better.

Personally,I LOVED the games where Kurri got pissed off,he didnt do it often but it was epic to watch especially once the entire Oilers team developed the wolf-pack mentality because they ALL supported that mindset even the elite skill players.But no matter what the dynamic, just seeing jarri red-faced and mad was classic--because it so rarely happened.

Thank you for yet another very well done piece.

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#3 Time Travelling Sean
November 16 2012, 07:42AM
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Fist!

I wish I was alive back then.

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#5 Aitch
November 16 2012, 08:37AM
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Kurri - my favourite player of all time. When I started playing hockey, I tried to model my game after his. Too bad I had no hands and a horrible skating stride.

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#6 Spydyr
November 16 2012, 08:43AM
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Gretzky to Kurri......does it get better than that?

Not that I have ever witnessed.

The McClelland goal was the goal for me.Proving they could beat the Islander 1-0 in a defensive game.

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#7 Caveat Emptor
November 16 2012, 12:35PM
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Kurri is my favorite Oiler of all time and it is not even close. What a joy it was to watch him as I grew up. He was much stronger than people gave him credit for and had such a wonderful hockey brain. It was rare that Kurri would be on the wrong side of the puck. He also had a laser shot on the one-timer and quick and accurate wrist shot.

I remember at around 10 years old my mother wanted to buy my a Steven Csorba lithograph, assuming I wanted Wayne Gretzky she acquired it and put it under the Christmas tree (I am thinking around 1986 maybe). To her surprise I asked if I could get one of Jarri Kurri instead. I still have it.

It broke my heart when he left after the 1990 cup to play in Italy. He seemed one step slower upon his return to the NHL. I do not know why that happened, just did not seem to have that quick first step anymore. He was still a wonderful player, just did not have that burst.

I remember trying to copy his slightly slouched skating style as a youngster. Man, what a player he was.

I miss #17.

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#8 Bigfan
November 16 2012, 08:31PM
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Kurri was brilliant, seemed to do it all so effortlessly.

I have two Kurri stories:

1: I was living and working in Milano in 1990 when Kurri signed with the Milan Red Devils. He was living in the same development as me - called 'Milano 3' - owned by one Silvio Berlusconi, yes the erstwhile Italian Prime Minister surrounded in controversy - who also owned the Milan Red Devils. I saw him wandering around in front of the development one day and introducted myself. He was very gracious, and we had a good chat about hockey in Edmonton and the Oilers. He even arranged for tickets for me and my wife to go to a Red Devils game. It was in an arena with less seats than the U of A rink where the Golden Bears play. There might have been 100 people in attendance. On the ice, Kurri was on a different level, a man against boys. I think he didn't even break a sweat. It was surreal.

2: Before our time in Italy, we lived in Edmonton. My nephew was at our house with one of his playmates, who was East Indian. I made a comment to the playmate along the lines of 'hey, I bet you love curry as much as I do ...' to which he responded, without hesitation: 'yah, but I love Gretzky more.' Pure Edmonton culture ... people used to say that we Canadians didn't have any cultural identity - we do, and its strong, and in Edmonton, the major league hockey team is part of it.

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#9 Manfly
November 16 2012, 10:55PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

Fist!

I wish I was alive back then.

i was...and i was in the stands throughout the 80's...it was magic!

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#10 BaconWrapped
November 16 2012, 09:03AM
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About 8 years ago, sometime that fall, my wife asked me who my favorite Oiler was. I took a moment and replied "Jari Kurri". That Christmas I received a signed and framed pic of him amidst teammates holding the cup. It was true then and it is true now. Thanks for reminding me why.

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#11 stevezie
November 16 2012, 12:55PM
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For years I have been wondering why Kurri chose Italy. I get him leaving, but Italy? Why not Jokerit?

So it was all for the world's? Bizarre.

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#12 sizedoesmatter
November 16 2012, 04:24PM
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And one more thing that I wondered was why they could not find a regular left winger.

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#13 stevezie
November 17 2012, 02:44AM
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@Bigfan

Great stories. Kurri is the only jersey I own, and I'm happy about that. I love this series.

The world championships helps explain why he went to Europe, but does anyone know why he chose Italy? I remain baffled.

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#14 Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate
November 17 2012, 11:42AM
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I grew up across the hallway from Jari in 1981 in an apartment building in Riverbend. Kurri is and always will be my favorite all-time Oiler, hence my avatar picture. The stories I could tell you about what I saw in that building would "blow" your mind.

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#15 Czar
November 17 2012, 01:24PM
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@NewAgeSys

Oilers got the shaft a few times at awards night, still searching for that Calder trophy as well.

I think your giving MPS a little more credit than he deserves, way too early to right the kid off like some have though.

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#16 watkinator
November 17 2012, 02:00PM
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Kurri has always been my favorite Oiler. We share our birthday (I'm sure that was the catalyst for my fandom) and I always tried to wear #17 for all of the sports I played. 17 is still my favorite number. Since then I have always prized players of Kurri's ilk more than the Gretzky's. I know other people here see a comparison between Kurri and MPS but I see a lot of him in Jordan Eberle (my current favorite player even though Hall is the best player on the team). Kurri = #17, born May 18. Eberle = #14, born May 15 (both 3 less than Kurri). Both right handed shots, both dead eye accurate. All y'all Eberle haters can stuff it. The second coming of Jari Kurri to Edmonton portends the return of Stanley. Book it.

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