NATION PROFILE: ESA TIKKANEN

Lowetide
December 28 2012 07:07AM

"He speaks better English than he lets you know," Bill LaForge (Esa's juniors coach) said. "When he needed new skates, he let me know. But when I asked him why he was late for curfew, he'd start talking to me in Finnish."

Esa Tikkanen brought the world a hybrid of Finnish and English – dubbed ‘Tikkanese’ – that could befuddle players, coaches, and interviewers alike. Most of all he was 'the Grate One'--an exceptional shadow, a skilled hockey player and a good man to have on your team. Mostly.

BEFORE THE DRAFT

Last Team: Helsinki IFK (Finland)                       
Birthplace: Helsinki, Finland
Hometown: Helsinki, FInland
   
PRE-DRAFT STATISTICS
Year Team League GP G A TP PIM
1981-82 Regina SJHL 59 38 37 75 216
  Regina WHL 2 0 0 0 0
1982-83 Helsinki IFK Finland Jr. 30 34 31 65 104
  Helsinki IFK Finland -- -- -- -- --

PRE-DRAFT AWARDS AND HONORS
Finland Championship:
1983 (Helsinki IFK)
World Junior Championships: 1983 (sixth place)
European Junior Championships: 1983 (silver medal)
Finland Junior-A Penalty-Minutes Leader: 1982-83 (104 PIM)
Miscellaneous: Spent entire 1982-83 regular season with Helsinki IFK Junior-A team, but joined senior (men's) team during 1983 playoffs. ... Worked as stick boy for Team Canada in 1982 World Championships, which were played in his native Helsinki, Finland.

Chosen in the 4th round, 80th overall in the 1983 Entry draft

-courtesy hockeydraftcentral

EARLY CAREER

 

After his first practice with the Edmonton Oilers in 1985, Esa Tikkanen called his agent Don Baizley. "They put me with Gretzky and Kurri," he told Baizley.  "Really?" said Baizley. "And what do you think now?" "Oh," Tikkanen replied, "they're pretty good players."

Tikkanen dreamed of playing in the NHL, but he and his father felt he needed to become familiar with the physical part of the North American game and the long bus rides and schedules that are commonplace in Canada. So, Esa Tikkanen--like Juha Widing a generation before him--left his home and pursued his dream on the Canadian prairies. 

Once in Regina and with the Pats, Tikkanen (5.08 and 150 when he arrived) stood up to all of the toughs in the league but also found his edge: stick work.

  • Junior Coach Bill LaForge: "He was like Zorro with that damn thing. I remember nights in Prince Albert and Swift Current, where every guy on the other team and everybody in the stands wanted to kill him."

Tikkanen was also a yappy player, and seemed to find a way to get under the skin of everyone, including teammates. Perhaps the talk and the stick work obscured the obvious: Esa Tikkanen could also play the game.

  • Marty McSorley: "You can belt Tikky, can knock him down, make him dizzy, but he never stays down." McSorley attributes this to Tikkanen's stubbornness and to his ideal hockey frame, which former coach Tom Webster once likened to "a bowling ball with ears."
  • Craig MacTavish: "Since he makes no sense, there's no possible response. That bugs guys."
  • Tony Granato: "When you're thinking about how badly you want to hurt him, you're not thinking about what you've got to do to win."
  • Wayne Gretzky: "To shadow me, he's got to have some ability. Also, to be an effective shadow, he's got to play for a good team. Otherwise, I'd just stay on the ice, and his team would never score."

I've been watching NHL hockey since the 1960s, and Esa Tikkanen remains one of the truly unique players during that time. He really was one of a kind.  

HELLO CALGARY!

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

  • Five Stanley Cups: 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1994
  • Holds NHL record for fastest two shorthanded goals by one player in one game (12 seconds for Edmonton at Toronto on Nov. 12, 1988; goals at 10:44 and 10:56 of first period)
  • Was runner-up to Guy Carbonneau for 1988-89 Selke Trophy
  • Was runner-up to Dirk Graham for 1990-91 Selke Trophy
  • Was probably the best LW to player with Gretzky-Kurri during their time (1980-88) together in Edmonton
  • Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame: Inducted 2004.

TRADE

Tikkanen's unique qualities contributed to his value, and his trade to the Rangers might be the best trade in the team's history. On March 17, 1993 Glen Sather sent Tikkanen to the Rangers for Doug Weight.

Paid in full.

LEGACY

During his career, Tikkanen has played all three forward positions, but he was predominantly a winger before his role-switching also made him a center. Tikkanen has amassed 630 points in his NHL career, many of them earned on the offense, where he wasn't supposed to be playing. This total places him third among the all-time best Finns in the league. In Edmonton, where he played in four Stanley Cup wins, he's been the most valuable Finn after Jari Kurri. The Oilers drafted Tikkanen in 1983 in the fourth round and he joined the team for the 1985 playoffs straight from the World Championship tournament in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Two years later, when the Oilers were looking for a third man to round out the team's first line, he got the opportunity to play alongside Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. The three seasons between 1986 and 1989, when he occupied left wing on the line with his famous teammates, were his most productive in the NHL, earning him 78, 74 and 78 points respectively.

With the departure of Gretzky from the Oilers, Tikkanen's role became even more important. In 1990, when the Alberta team captured the Cup a fourth time, their first without the illustrious number 99, Tikkanen had a truly great series with 24 points in 22 playoff games.

The next stage of his NHL career was with the New York Rangers. It started out in a rather dramatic fashion, with Tikkanen playing against the Edmonton Oilers. His old club had traded him only four hours earlier on March 17, 1993, in a swap for American center Doug Weight. In the Big Apple, Tikkanen was again in the right place at the right time, helping the Rangers end their 54-year Stanley Cup drought.

Courtesy HHOF

For me, Tikkanen's skill, rugged style and passion for the game are the things I value. No one can argue any North American player cared more about playing the game than Esa Tikkanen. Whatever his shortcomings, real or imagined, Esa Tikkanen was a credit to the game every time he pulled on a uniform.

 

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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 Klima's Mullet
December 28 2012, 09:37AM
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The thing I like most about Tikkanen is how much flames fans hate him. Has to be a feather in his cap.

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#2 Larry
December 28 2012, 07:50AM
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Fist

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#3 Oil Dude
December 28 2012, 08:53AM
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The Oilers could use a player like this now. They really don't have anyone that can get under the skin of other players. Far too easy to play against.

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#4 EL PRESIDENTE
December 28 2012, 09:20AM
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Oil Dude wrote:

The Oilers could use a player like this now. They really don't have anyone that can get under the skin of other players. Far too easy to play against.

Yakkity Yakupov might be the one.

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#5 stevezie
December 28 2012, 03:58PM
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And Claude Lemieux like playoff numbers.

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#6 Evilas
December 28 2012, 04:43PM
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Thanks for this series Lowetide, I stopped watching hockey for the most part in the mid-late 90's and only recently started watching again. Thanks to PVR haven't missed an Oiler game in two years, actually, but I digress. Looking at the careers of all the great Oilers that you have posted about, I did not realize how their career-paths were so radically changed when they left the Oil. I did not realize how many teams Esa played for, I thought it was just the Rangers....same with Anderson, Fuhr, Kurri and Coffey, I did not realize how many teams they ended up having played with.

My favourite Esa moment was when I was in my first (and only) year at the U of A, enrolled in the Phys Ed Program and I was looking for a place to eat my lunch (this was Sept 1986). So I wandered into the Rink and noticed some guys were playing and right away I noticed the helmet-less Doug Wilson. I noticed Coffey, Gretzky, Kurri, Tikkanen and many others. I had never been to an NHL game and had lived out in the boonies, so this was a real treat.

At the end of the scrimmage Tikkanen challenged Gretzky to a competition in the corner of the rink where I was seated (there might have been 10-15 people watching) they both stood by the boards with the puck on the redline and were trying to get it in the net. Tikkanen came closer and was more consistent than Gretzky and they only had about 10 attempts each.

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#7 tikktalk
December 29 2012, 01:25AM
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Obviously one of my favourite players ever. You said it better than most: "For me, Tikkanen's skill, rugged style and passion for the game are the things I value. No one can argue any North American player cared more about playing the game than Esa Tikkanen." Growing up in Northern Alberta, I had many misdirected family members from the same area who cheered for Calgary and they all had nothing but venom and hatred toward Esa - could be the real reason I value his tenure with the Oil... I don't think Yakupov is going to be this player on the Oilers roster, but that's not a bad thing. Yak (admittedly mostly from what I've read, not seen) is going to be a more skilled player with better hands. I like the edge and the mouth though - please Oilers don't edit this, it's part of the deal. Love what the old boys did, more excited about the potential of the new crew.

On another note, lets go Canada, Nuge and Yakupov - in that order. Here's to a New Year where Oilers players/prospects rule whatever hockey is available. Oh wait, that's already happening... Thanks Nuge, Eberle, Schultz and Hall for entertaining us in OKC during this ridiculous lockout, and here's to Smyth and Dubnyk ripping it up at the Spengler Cup!

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#8 tikktalk
December 29 2012, 01:25AM
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Obviously one of my favourite players ever. You said it better than most: "For me, Tikkanen's skill, rugged style and passion for the game are the things I value. No one can argue any North American player cared more about playing the game than Esa Tikkanen." Growing up in Northern Alberta, I had many misdirected family members from the same area who cheered for Calgary and they all had nothing but venom and hatred toward Esa - could be the real reason I value his tenure with the Oil... I don't think Yakupov is going to be this player on the Oilers roster, but that's not a bad thing. Yak (admittedly mostly from what I've read, not seen) is going to be a more skilled player with better hands. I like the edge and the mouth though - please Oilers don't edit this, it's part of the deal. Love what the old boys did, more excited about the potential of the new crew.

On another note, lets go Canada, Nuge and Yakupov - in that order. Here's to a New Year where Oilers players/prospects rule whatever hockey is available. Oh wait, that's already happening... Thanks Nuge, Eberle, Schultz and Hall for entertaining us in OKC during this ridiculous lockout, and here's to Smyth and Dubnyk ripping it up at the Spengler Cup!

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#9 spOILer
December 29 2012, 10:08AM
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Tikkanen was incredible. Absolutely money in the playoffs. He would go up against the other teams' stars in a checking role and at the end of the game have more points than the superstars. The ultimate shadow. Relentless in his role. A player that used every bit of skill, smarts and gamesmanship to exact wins. I loved him. Esa Tikkanen was a Hockey Player.

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#10 RexLibris
December 29 2012, 12:00PM
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After spending the last few weeks buried neck deep in Flames rebuild details, watching Tikkanen score that goal, and the Flames faces afterwards, was like sunshine for my soul.

Thanks LT. Great article.

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#11 Kenneth Brown
December 30 2012, 03:28PM
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The '90 cup was Oilers fifth, not four, if I'm not mistaken.

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