Forward Jari Kurri acknowledges the fans as he skates into the rink to take on the Montreal Canadiens during the Molson Canadien Heritage Classic on November 22, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The Oilers defeated the Canadiens 2-0. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
“Gretzky to Kurri, he shoots he scores!”
That was a phrase that Oiler fans, in the 1980’s, heard over and over again.
Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri formed what is arguably the greatest duo in NHL history. Gretzky went on to become the highest scoring player of all time. Kurri retired as the most prolific European-born player in the NHL, with 1,386 points in 1,251 regular season games.
While Kurri and Gretzky are no longer a duo, their post-Oiler lives have followed similar paths: They have both been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, they both are married to professional models, and they each have five children.
Moreover, both have taken a turn as the General Manager of their native national hockey teams. Gretzky was Team Canada’s chief for the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games. Kurri is currently General Manager of Finland’s national men’s hockey team – a position he inherited in 2004.
“My main job is scouting (Finnish) players in the NHL, KHL, and other leagues," says Kurri.
The Finnish national team plays in four European tournaments a year against the national teams from Sweden, Czech, and Russia. They also invariably participate in the major international events like the IIHF World Championships and the Olympics. Since officially taking on the GM’s role, Kurri has guided Finland to two World Championship bronze medals, an Olympic silver, and an Olympic bronze.
In 2011, he intends to put his on-ice hockey experience to greater use and spend more time assisting his coaching staff. Specifically, Kurri will work with the nation’s young forwards.
“We’re a small country, so to have success we have to work really hard in developing our young players,” explains Kurri. “I will now be more active in helping them.”
Kurri is contracted with the national program until the end of 2012 World Championships.
On top of his hockey commitments, Kurri, aged 50, is an active father to his five children. His wife Vanessa is a former Ms. Finland (1999) and well-known television personality. She appeared on the Finnish version of Dancing with the Stars, and later went on to host the popular series. (And no, Jari never did appear on the show.)
Kurri remains in close contact with former Oiler teammate and fellow countryman Esa Tikkanen. Tikkanen recently landed a job as head-coach of Jokipojat of the Mestis league – the second tier league in Finland.
“He’s always talked about wanting to coach so this is a good step for him.”
Kurri says that he and “Tiki” often reminisce about old times.
“I spent 10 years there, won five Stanley Cups, and got to play with the greatest players in the world like Wayne Gretzky” says Kurri of his time in Edmonton.
“I think about it a lot. It was the best time of my life.”