I’m an Edmonton Oiler fan since Bill Hunter stood in front of the sign on the Yellowhead 40 years ago, and a Bruin fan before it. However, a fan gets attached to certain players along the way and for me Juha Widing was someone who stayed with me over the years.
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.
I’m cheering for LA to win the Stanley. Call it one for Juha.