Scandinavia supplies stars
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Like Forsberg, Lidstrom also took home some hardware from the 2003 Awards Show, namely his third straight Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman. He's the first defenseman to win the Norris in three consecutive seasons since Boston's Bobby Orr captured the award a record eight times from 1968 through 1975.
"I really don't compare myself to Bobby Orr," Lidstrom said. "He's someone one I would like to someday take a picture with. I don't think it's really sunk in yet that I've won three in a row."
Don't let him kid you, Lidstrom is one of the key reasons the Wings are in the thick of things every season, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The three-time Cup-winner and seven-time NHL All-Star won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoff MVP after guiding the Red Wings to the 2002 Stanley Cup. The Vasteras native came into the 2003-04 season with 109 points in 156 playoff games and 688 points in 935 regular-season games.
"Nick is a great all-around player," Detroit captain Steve Yzerman said. "He plays in every situation and does everything well. Nick can do it all. He's the one guy we can't afford to be without."
The Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s knew exactly what Yzerman was talking about, as Edmonton couldn't have built a dynasty without the efforts of Finland's Jari Kurri. The mere mention of Kurri's name still gives former opponents and goalies nightmares, as Kurri racked up 1,398 points in 1,251 regular-season games. The high-scoring winger also posted 233 points in 200 playoff games on his way to winning five Stanley Cup championships.
On Nov. 12, 2001 Kurri was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as the highest-scoring European-born player in NHL history. The Helsinki native broke into the NHL at a special time when a young corps of talented players that included Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr turned the Oilers into a dynasty. Before you knew it, the run-and-gun Oilers were on their way to winning Cups and shattering League scoring records thanks to the offensive wizardry of Kurri and Co.
"It is a great honor since so few players are able to make it to this level," said Kurri. "To be the first Finnish player elected (to the Hall of Fame) is especially gratifying. Now it's different. There are so many great Finnish players."
And Teemu Selanne is one of them. The "Finnish Flash" was Winnipeg's first choice (10th overall) in the 1988 Entry Draft. In his first NHL season (1992-93) with the Jets, he was tied for the League-lead in goals with 76, earning him the Calder Memorial Trophy and both NHL First All-Star Team and NHL All-Rookie Team status. The high-scoring winger has been named to the NHL First All-Star Team twice (1993, 1997), NHL Second All-Star Team twice (1998, 1999), and played in the NHL All-Star Game on nine occasions. Selanne has also led the NHL in goal-scoring on three occasions.
Coming into the current campaign, Selanne had 436 goals and 483 assists in 801 games. Since the start of the 1992-93 season, only two players (Jaromir Jagr and Joe Sakic) have recorded more points than Selanne's 919, and only Jagr has notched more goals than Selanne during that span. Selanne has eclipsed the 70-goal barrier once, reached the 50-goal plateau twice, and eclipsed the 30-goal mark on four other occasions during his career. His career playoffs totals include 18 goals and 12 assists in 39 contests. The 33-year-old forward has participated in the Olympics for Team Finland three times -- 1992, 1998, and 2002 -- earning a bronze medal in Nagano in 1998.
The future of Finland in the NHL looks bright, as the country made a big splash at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft with three Finns selected among the top 15 picks. In all, five Finnish pLayers were selected in the first round.
Kari Lehtonen became the highest-drafted Finnish native in Entry Draft history when the Atlanta Thrashers selected the goaltender with the second overall pick at 2002 Entry Draft. Previously, no Finn had been selected higher than third overall (Olli Jokinen in 1997, Aki Berg in 1995).
"Kari is an exceptional athlete and highly skilled goaltender who is ready to take the next step in his career," Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. "He has a great deal of potential."
Lehtonen, the highest-drafted European goaltender in NHL history, posted a 39-19-9 record, nine shutouts and a 1.91 goals-against average in 72 career games with Jokerit-Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League from 2000-03. The 20-year-old netminder has won the Urpo-Ylonen Trophy as the Finnish Elite League's best goaltender for the last two seasons (2001-02 and 2002-03). He was also named to the 2002-03 Finnish Elite League All-Star Team and Most Valuable Player of the 2002 playoffs.
The native of Helsinki, Lehtonen has represented his county in international competitions on nine occasions, including the 2003 World Championships in which he backed up Pasi Nurminen and Jani Hurme, but did not play. Lehtonen led Finland to the bronze medal at both the 2003 and 2002 World Championships, being named among Finland's Three Stars in 2003 and Best Goaltender in 2002 after leading all goalies with a 1.17 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
Quality players, quality people and quality performances all have come to sum up Scandinavia's contributions to the NHL since those humble beginnings in 1969 when Tommi Salmelainen got things started.