I remember the 2006 Winter Olympics quite well (the hockey, at least) and the one thing that sticks out in my mind, is the fact that I wasn't cheering for Team USA, but for Team Finland. Back when the Stars were a virtual lock for a playoff spot, I always took pride in the fact that we had a higher than average number of Finnish players on the ice. Don't ask me why, but I always had a soft spot for the Finns. With a solid core of hard-working, two-way playing Finns, I feel like we, as fans, were spoiled into thinking that that was the way hockey ought to be played. However, as the years went by, our multitude of Finns slowly leaked out of the system, and as such, the hard-working, tireless play of the Stars came to an end
Kari Lehtonen has rekindled my hopes in seeing a Finnish led Stars team, and has had me thinking... where are all our favorite Finns now?
#39 - C Niko Kapanen
Selected by the Dallas Stars in Round 6, #173 overall 1998 Entry Draft
Kapanen had a fairly productive rookie season with the Stars, scoring 34 points in 2002. He followed that with an invisible sophomore performance with 6 points the next year. He, like many NHLers, played in his home country the year of the lockout, gaining valuable experience and keeping in shape. He returned after the lockout for his career best year (14-21-35), before being shipped off to Atlanta for D Jaroslav Modry, C Patrik Stefan and a 7th round pick in 2006. Kapanen found himself in Atlanta for less than a year before being plucked off waivers by the Phoenix Coyotes. His stay in Phoenix was short-lived and unproductive, and after the '08 season, Kapanen signed with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL. Kapanen was a part of the Finland 2006 Turin silver medal team, as well as the 2010 Vancouver bronze team. Kapanen turns 32 this April.
#27 - D Teppo Numminen
Traded to Dallas from Phoenix, in exchange for C Mike Sillinger
Teppo's stay in Dallas was short-lived, but not as short-lived as Mike Sillinger's. In the 2003 offseason, Sillinger was dealt to the Stars, from Columbus with a second round pick, in exchange for D Darryl Sydor. Later that same day, Sillinger was flipped to the Coyotes in exchange for Numminen, arguably one of the best European defensemen to ever play the game. Teppo played 62 games for the Stars, posting a meek 17 points and -5 in the process. Numminen took a break from hockey during the lockout, but returned as a free agent with the Sabres in 2005. He has since survived heart surgery, set an NHL record for games played by a European-born player, and had his number retired by Phoenix. Numminen won two silvers and a bronze with Team Finland, the most recent being the silver in the '06 Turin games.
#20 - RW Antti Miettinen
Selected by the Dallas Stars in Round 7, #224 overall 2000 Entry Draft
Miettinen always looked like he had the hands to become something special in the NHL. His first full year in '05 with the Stars was moderately productive (11-20-31), as was his second (11-14-25), as was his third (15-19-34) but he never really gained enough momentum to become a top-six forward for the Stars. Fortunately for him, Miettinen was about the smartest guy out there on the ice and was a capable defender for it. Miettinen could be thought of as Jere Lite; a solid player, making solid decisions just not at the same level of performance as the real thing. Dallas decided their money would be spent better elsewhere in '08, and Minnesota swooped him up for a 3-year, $7 million deal. Antti began seeing top-six time and responded with a career best 44 points, his first year with the Wild. This year, he is on a similar pace. Antti has been selected twice for the Finland Olympic squad (Turin and Vancouver), but was not able to participate because of injury in 2006; he was replaced by teammate Niklas Hagman.
#15 - LW Niklas Hagman
Traded to Dallas from Florida, in exchange for a 7th round draft pick
After three years of modest production in Florida, a simple trade in 2005 brought the Stars one Nik Hagman. The remainder of that first year was notably quiet for him (6-9-15), but most fans took note of his grit and effort. Hagman's second year with the Stars found him scoring goals in the most absurd fashion possible. His line of 17-12-29 was a welcome surprise from the depths of the lineup. Hagman continued this trend into '07, when he broke out with a career best 27 goals and 41 points. Unfortunately, his newfangled scoring touch, caused a newfangled price tag and he signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Steve Ott money (4 years at $3M/year). Hagman spent a year and a half in Toronto, before the recent trade which saw him land in Calgary. He is currently on pace for a 46 point season. Hagman was on the '06 Turin silver medal Finnish team, as well as the '10 Vancouver bronze team. Also, his wife is a model.
#36 - LW Jussi Jokinen
Selected by the Dallas Stars in Round 6, #192 overall 2001 Entry Draft
A 55 point rookie season set the expectations for young Jussi in 2005. That, and the fact that he was awesome in shootouts. Jokinen went 9 for 9 before finally being stopped by Evgeni Nabokov, en route to establishing himself as one of the elite shootout specialists in the league. His 46 point season was an acceptable sophomore slump, but when he didn't rebound in '07, the Stars dealt him, along with prospect G Mike Smith and C Jeff Halpern, to the Tampa Bay Lightning for C Brad Richards and G Johan Holmqvist. At the time, there was a bit of fan shock due to Jokinen's popularity, but here in 2010 its safe to say that this trade looks like its been a pretty good
steal deal. Jussi left the Lightning via trade to the Carolina Hurricanes for D Wade Brookbank, D Josef Melichar and a 4th round pick. He further engraved his name into the hockey history books by scoring the latest goal in NHL history, with a game winning goal with just 0.2 seconds left in regulation in a Eastern Conference Quarterfinals game against the New Jersey Devils. Jokinen is the all-time leader in shootout goals in NHL history, and was also a member of the '06 Turin silver medal team. Jussi has since returned to his rookie year form and is on pace for a 32-33-65 season.
#4 - D Janne Niinimaa
Played 22 games with the Stars, in which he scored 2 goals and had 4 assists. However, that is not why he is relevant. After a quarter of a season with Dallas, he was traded to Montreal for a certain C Mike Ribeiro. Picks were also exchanged; a Dallas 5th for a Montreal 6th. Niinimaa spent a half season in Montreal acquiring 3 assists, before packing his bags for Switzerland, where he currently plays for the National League A's SCL Tigers. Janne won a bronze medal with Finland at the Nagano '98 Winter Olympics.