Jussi Markkanen signed to play in Finland (Jokerit, Rita’s team and they do have cheerleaders God love ‘em) next season, and his NHL career “may” be over. Markkanen was drafted by the Oilers in 2001 summer with the idea of being Tommy (“Gun”) Salo’s backup for 01-02. It took him some time to establish himself, but according to Sports Forecaster “While Markkanen struggled in training camp last season, he became entrenched as the Oilers second stringer by mid-season. He’s a sound positional goaltender, always ready for the first shot. He’s also capable of taking over the lead role for small stretches. Markkanen must now work on handling the puck and controlling his rebounds. While the Finnish netminder won’t steal minutes from Salo anytime soon, he’ll continue to provide stability whenever the No. 1 man has the night off.” (2002)
Markkanen was traded to the Rangers for D Brian Leetch in the summer of 2003 (it was one of those trade for a UFA and get a higher draft pick deals) and then traded back to Edmonton in March 2004 for F Dwight Helminen, G Steve Valiquette and a 2nd round pick in the 2004 draft.
He was a good goalie for the Oilers and will be remembered most for quality play in relief of Dwayne Roloson in the 2006 SCF. He is/was the latest in a pretty long line (Siltanen, Hagman, Kurri, Tikkanen, there have been a few) of Finns that played some important roles on the Oilers. I love watching the Finns and am pleased that Joni Pitkanen will continue the tradition beginning this fall.
The player in the photo is Juha Widing. Although a Swede he was born in Finland and to my generation he was one of the first European players we’d heard of in junior, the minors or the NHL. Widing was interesting because of his name (it was pronounced “Yoo-Haa Veeeding”) and because he was skilled, skilled enough to be the best player on the LA Kings for several seasons. We’d usually see LA maybe once a year and since Widing was the best player he was noticed (plus the uniforms drew attention to anyone who had the puck and Widing had it some).
In the summer of 1974, LA General Manager Larry Regan said “If ever we have a superstar in LA, it’ll be Whitey because of his size, skating ability and the fact that he does score goals.”
Widing and his family came over to Western Canada in the mid-1960s in order for him to play against the best competition and he landed with the Brandon Wheat Kings. By all accounts he had a pretty difficult time (he definitely would have been a target in that era) but put up good numbers and was regarded as a good prospect by the parent New York Rangers (this was before the draft during the sponsorship era). Among his career accomplishments:
- MJHL Second All-Star Team (1967).
- Central Hockey League Second All-Star Team (1969).
- NHL debut October 12, 1969 for NYR versus the Bruins in Boston.
- Loaned to Port Arthur (TBJHL) by Brandon (MJHL) for Memorial Cup playoffs, March, 1964.
- Traded to LA Kings by NY Rangers with Real Lemieux for Ted Irvine, Feb. 28, 1970
- Signed as a free agent by Edmonton (WHA), June, 1978.
- Traded to Indianapolis (WHA) by Edmonton (WHA) for Bill Goldsworthy, June, 1978.
Widing had health problems after his NHL (575gp, 144-226-370) and WHA career (71gp, 18-24-42 with the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA in 1977-78), the cause of which is well known in the hockey industry but has never been made public. He suffered a heart attack on his farm near Winfield, British Columbia and died in Kelowna in 1984 at the age of 37. Some sources have him dying in Vancouver, but I believe the above information to be correct.
Ulf Sterner is often mentioned, Borje Salming was certainly the first great European NHL player, but in the middle of that was a Swede from Finland named Juha Widing who was a player.