Saturday

Jari Kurri

Anyone could play along side Wayne Gretzky and score the odd goal here and there if you just kept your stick on the ice.

But it takes an extraordinary athlete to be able to excel with Gretzky that way Jari Kurri has.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not easy to play on the wing of a superstar like Wayne Gretzky. You have to be thinking on the same level as he is, or at least close to that level. Very few players can achieve this level of hockey sense and anticipation. Only a true superstar can. A true superstar like Jari Kurri.

Jari Kurri has teamed with Wayne Gretzky to form one of sports' most dynamic duos. Montana-Rice, Kareem-Magic and Canseco-Maguire have nothing on these guys.

For most of the 1980s, hockey fans in Edmonton enjoyed the Gretzky-Kurri magic on a nightly basis - the Great One's feathery passes complementing the flying Finn's finishing touch. In fact the duo teamed up for 429 goals while in Edmonton. Not bad for what coach Glen Sather described as "a hunch" as to why he teamed the two together in the first place.

With 601 career goals and 1398 career points, Kurri retired the highest scoring European in National Hockey League history. (he has since been surpassed by Jaromir Jagr.) On four occasions he scored at least 50 goals, and tallied at least 40 three other times. The five time all star also had six 100 point seasons.

In 1984-85 Kurri established a record for goals in a single season by a right winger with 71 (since surpassed by Brett Hull, Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne) on way to a career-high 135 points. He added a NHL record-tying 19 goals (tying Reggie Leach in 1976) in 18 playoff games. He recorded four hat tricks in that playoffs, including one four goal game, to help Edmonton capture the second of five Stanley Cup titles during his playing days in the City of Champions.

Jari Kurri played his best hockey in the playoffs. He almost singlehandedly destroy the myth that European players are soft and disappear in the heat of NHL playoff competition. Jari has 5 Stanley Cup rings. He led all playoff performers in goal scoring in 4 different post seasons. The Oilers won the Cup each year Jari led the way in goals.

Overshadowed by superstar teammates Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri was described by Edmonton chief scout Barry Fraser as "by far our most complete player." An excellent skater blessed with speed and agility, Kurri always knew how to dart into openings for Gretzky's deft passes. He rarely had the puck long if he was in scoring position. His release was quick but deadly accurate.

"Jari had a great shot and he had a great ability to find holes and to find openings out on the ice," said Mike Gartner. "Playing with a guy like Gretzky for a good part of his career where Wayne could get him the puck and there weren't too many guys who were ever better at finding those holes on the ice than Jari was."

Kurri was also a strong defensive presence which allowed Gretzky to concentrate on offense. He was never considered a physical player, but was unafraid of the corners and sacrificed his body to make a play.

When #99 departed for Hollywood, some people though that Kurri's production would plummet. That was definitely not the case. In the first Gretzky-less season in Edmonton Kurri was named the Oilers’ team MVP. In the 154 Oilers regular-season games Kurri played following Gretzky's departure, he registered 195 points, well more than a point-per-game average. His 25 playoff points were third highest on the team when the Oilers captured the Stanley Cup just two season's after Gretzky's goodbye.

A contract dispute saw the seven-time all-star spend a year in Italy before rejoining Gretzky in Los Angeles in 1991. The magic was somehow never rediscovered during the regular season, but the dynamic duo almost celebrated another Cup victory together, getting the Kings to the 1993 final before falling to Montreal.

Kurri remained in Los Angeles through 1996, though his ice time and role were reduced to that of a defensive specialist. Kurri would also spend time with the New York Rangers, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Colorado Avalanche before retiring in 1998.

One of the game's classiest men was a shoo-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame when he first became eligible in 2001. In addition to his impressive regular season totals (601 goals, 1398 points) his 106 career playoff goals in 200 career playoff games rank third all time, behind fellow Oiler legends Gretzky (122) and Messier (109). Likewise his 233 career points are third best behind Gretzky (382) and Messier (295).

"It is a great honor (to be inducted) since so few players are able to make it to this level," said Kurri. "To be the first Finnish player elected is especially gratifying.

"I had the chance to play with a great team and great players like Wayne (Gretzky), Mark (Messier), and on and on. A lot of good memories."

4 comments:

Anonymous,  2:10 AM  

Jari Kurri was a great player to watch play ice hockey. I am so glad that I was able to see him play on the line with Gretzky. I think that they are the best duo of all time in Ice Hockey, and I don't think that another duo will match what they have achieved.

Anonymous,  4:39 AM  

Jari Kurri is also a first class man who was always modest and a gentleman. He has many hockey fans respect.

Anonymous,  11:35 PM  

Onko parempaa pelaajaa kuin JARI KURRI? Vaikka nykyään onkin ottanut "pari ylimääräistä kiloa" =) Kauan eläköön JARI!

Is there a better player than JARI KURRI? Eventough he has "few extra pounds" nowdays =) Long live JARI!

Anonymous,  4:45 PM  

I was 13 years old when I watched Jari Kurri score 5 goals against the NJ Devils. I'm 41 now and i still wear #17 On all my adult hockey and softball teams. The Edmonton Oilers of the 80's were an incredible team to watch in the hey day of the NHL.

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