Eyebrows were raised when the St. Louis Blues took Tommi Salmelainen of Helsinki, Finland on the 6th round of the NHL’s Amateur Draft yesterday. League President Clarence Campbell warned Blues they would have to get permission from his club and the hockey association of that country before approaching the player.
Cliff Fletcher, assistant to St. Louis General Manager Scotty Bowman doesn’t believe he’ll have any difficulty securing that release. “Salmelainen is in Toronto learning English,” Fletcher revealed. “Carl Brewer (Detroit defenseman who is sporting a large moustache) brought him over from Finland.”
“He played for Carl’s team and for the Finnish National Team,” said Fletcher. “He’s big (6-0, 196 pounds) and plays hockey very much like a Canadian hockey player. I was in Finland last January and was in negotiations to get a couple of Finnish players. I’m going back next week in an effort to land a left winger named Esa Isaksson.”
A few items. Salmelainen did play in North America in 69-70, for the Kansas City Blues of the CHL. He scored 22 points in 69 games and then headed back to Helsinki where he scored over 80 goals for the town team in the SM-LIIGA during the 70s.
Isaksson scored 20 goals in 22 games for Helsinki in 68-69, no damn wonder they wanted to sign him. He led the SM-LIIGA in assists in 1971 and I can’t find anything else on him.
Tommi Salmelainen was the first ever European taken in an NHL Amateur Draft, but the amount of actual talent skating around Europe in 1969 was spectacular. It would fall to Swedes like Borje Salming, Czechs like Vaclav Nedomansky and Finns like Heikki Riihiranta to establish that the level of European talent was worth the trip. Riihiranta was on that Helsinki team that contained Brewer, Salmelainen and Isaksson, so one imagines he might have been another of the players Fletcher was negotiating with in the summer of 1969.
One final thing: if you read enough hockey history you become somewhat in awe of the career of Cliff Fletcher. He’s never been associated with a team I’ve actively cheered for, and may be a jerk or something, but just based on the incredible number of people and places he is associated with I’d say he has been doing something right since Christ was a kid.