By my guess, the first Finnish born player to skate in a pro game for the Edmonton Oilers was Juha Widing, who was actually a Swede born in Finland. Widing’s career had a special connection to the Canadian west (he left Europe to come over to Brandon at 17 to play junior for the Wheat Kings) and I remember fondly the moment when he arrived as an Oiler (although he did not play long for them). Widing played during the 1977-78 season, tacking on a WHA season after playing 575 NHL games for the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Cleveland Barons.
The second Finn to arrive was the wonderful defenseman Risto Siltanen, also during the WHA era. He arrived for 20 games in the league at the end of 1978-79, and was ready to roll the following year with the NHL Oilers. He would play 206 games from 1979-82 before being dealt to the Hartford Whalers for Ken Linseman.
One of the pivotal Finns from the early years was Matti Hagman. A former Boston Bruin, Edmonton brought him over for two seasons and the pivot served as mentor to young players on the emerging Oilers, including fellow Finn Jari Kurri.
FINNS WHO WON STANLEY WITH THE OILERS
It’s impossible to talk about Edmonton’s five Stanley Cups without giving enormous and deserved credit to Finland.
- Jari Kurri played from 1980 to 1990 with Edmonton, a major part of all five Stanley Cups. While an Oiler, he was one of the best players in the league and ranks inner circle among the best Finns in the history of the game.
- Raimo Summanen hung around long enough to be a small part of the 1984 Stanley Cup, although his name does not appear. He did get a Stanley Cup ring, and was in the photo.
- Esa Tikkanen played in three playoff games during the 1985 Stanley run, and was a regular in 1987, 1988 and 1990. The English language cannot adequately describe Tikkanen as player or person, but then again the Finns don’t have the words either.
- Reijo Ruotsalainen, one of the truly unique players in the history of the game, was part of the 1987 and 1990 Cup wins. A cool bit of trivia: Ruotsalainen played just 26 regular-season games as an Oiler, but his playoff total for two Cup drives counted 43 games.
Since then, many Finns have enjoyed prominent roles with Edmonton. I’ll list Janne Niinimaa, Jussi Markkanen and Joni Pitkanen as major players, although there have been many more.
In a coincidence that serves as a book end to the Juha Widing entry above, Jesse Puljujarvi is a Finn who was born in Sweden. Don’t worry, Finns and Swedes walk freely amongst each other even though there are distinct differences (as I understand it) between the two countries.
Today, the Oilers signed another Finn, Jussi Jokinen, to universal applause from Oilers fans. We love the Finns, not just because they produce delightful hockey players. As much as Canadians love to have fun and party, we’ve met our enjoyable match with the folks from Finland.
Jokinen has a possible doppelganger from Oilers history. As Matti Hagman made the transition to NHL hockey easier for Jari Kurri, perhaps Jokinen can do the same for Jesse Puljujarvi. Oilers fans would once again benefit from a nation that is populated by about one million more (5 million) residents than that of our province of Alberta. Incredible to think about the total population and then apply Finland’s hockey footprint across the world. Finns clearly do more than party.