Jari Kurri—Finland's Champion
Jari Kurri is not only
the greatest Finnish player to ever play in the National Hockey
League, he is also one of the greatest Europeans to ever play in the
He spent many of
those years, from 1980 to 1990, patrolling the wing for the
Edmonton Oilers, where he won five Stanley Cups.
The Oilers selected Kurri in the
fourth round of the 1980 draft, the 69th pick overall.
Kurri was establishing himself as a solid right-winger
with the famed Jokerit club out of Helsinki, but he was
an unknown quantity in North America. Likewise, Kurri
had no illusions about coming to North America for
"Did I think I would play here as
long as I did? No, not really," said Kurri. "As I was
growing up, I never really thought I had a chance to
come over here. I don’t think it was until I was 18 or
19 that I realized that I might even have a chance to
play in the NHL. And even when I got here, I thought if
I made it that I would play for just one year and go
back to Finland."
decided against going back to Finland,
at least not right away. Oilers’ coach and general
manager Glen Sather followed a gut instinct and put
Kurri on the right wing of
Gretzky. At the time,
Sather did not know he had created a dynamic chemistry
that would produce so many goals. Kurri scored 429 regular season
and playoff goals that were assisted by Gretzky.
As an Oiler, Kurri enjoyed four
50-goal seasons, two 60-goal-plus campaigns and became a
member of the exclusive 70-goals-in-a-season club in 1983-84, when he lit the lamp 71 times.
is not fair to think that Kurri
needed Gretzky to be a great player in his own right. In
the first season after the Oilers traded Gretzky to the Los
Angeles Kings in 1988, Kurri was named the Oilers’ team
MVP. In the 154 Oilers regular-season games Kurri played
without Gretzky as his centre, he registered 195 points,
well more than a point-per-game average.
Kurri was a pioneer—his success in
the NHL paved the way for a new, modern NHL that
features players from around the world. Kurri was the
inspiration for Finns and other Europeans who dreamed
that they could take their talents to the National
Hockey League. It is that legacy that is as important as all of Kurri’s on-ice achievements.
Kurri was named to the Hockey Hall of
Fame in 2001—but, despite all his accomplishments, his
greatest memory comes from 1984, when he held the
Stanley Cup aloft for the first time.
"There were so many good memories,"
said Kurri, who is now a hockey broadcaster in his home
and native Finland. "Ten years with the Oilers. Five
Stanley Cups. But if there was one memory that would
stick out, it would definitely be that first Cup. I
didn’t really know how big the Cup was until I saw the
reaction of the city—the fans and the other players. It
wasn’t until I saw the effect the Cup had on everyone in
Edmonton that I realized how important it was. It really
woke me up to what an achievement it was."