Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Markus Mattsson

Trivia Time - Who surrendered Wayne Gretzky's first goal as an Edmonton Oiler? Here's a hint - it happened in the WHA. Here's another hint, his name is in big bold lettering at the top of this page.

Winnipeg's Finnish goalie Markus Mattsson yielded the first goal to Wayne as a Oiler. Gretzky scored 14 seconds into the 2nd period on November 2, 1978, his first game as an Oiler. Gretzky had just been acquired from the Indianapolis Racers who had to sell the junior phenom due to financial problems occured by owner Nelson Skalbania.

Mattsson got his revenge on Wayne in the NHL more then five years later when he was a goalie for the Los Angeles Kings. Mattson was in the nets for the game on January 28, 1984. That was the night that Gretzky's incredible record 51 point scoring streak came to an end.

Other than those two moments involving The Great One, Mattsson is all but forgotten about other than being the answer to a couple of good trivia questions.

Mattsson was a solid goalie in his native Finland. He represented his country between the pipes at such glorious events as the European Junior Championships, World Junior Championships and even the 1976 Canada Cup.

A draft pick of the New York Islander in 1977, he was also drafted by Houston of the WHA though his WHA rights were traded to Quebec days later. Mattsson took the unconventional route to join the North American pro circuit with the Nordiques in 1977. European goalies struggled for years to establish themselves in the North American game. The stereotypical European goalie wasn't used to being peppered with so many hard and frequent shots and struggled as a result of this. Mattsson fell into this stereotype.

After just 6 games with the Nords (1-3 record, 6.77 GAA) he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets. The 1978-79 season would prove to be his best statistically as he backstopped the Jets in their final WHA season. In 52 games he won 25, lost 21 and tied 3 with a GAA of 3.63.

Upon the merger of the remaining WHA teams into the NHL, the Jets managed to select Mattsson's NHL rights away from the Islanders. Mattsson was then named as a priority selection, thus protecting him from being dispersed to another team upon the Jets merger.

Mattsson struggled in his first NHL season, and spent as much time in the minors as he did in Winnipege. He won only 5 of the 21 games he appeared in, but had a respectable 3.25 GAA with an awful Jets team. Two of his five wins were shutouts.

Unfortunately for Mattsson, the Jets only got worse the next year. Mattsson was a lame duck goalie on perhaps the worst team in NHL history. He finished the year with just 3 wins in 31 games. One of his wins was by a shutout.

The Minnesota North Stars signed Mattsson for the 1982-83 season. After representing Finland in his second Canada Cup tournament, Mattsson spent all but two games in the minors. He was 1-1 as a North Star, including a shutout. Mattsson then was moved to Los Angeles where he finished the year with a 5-5-4 record in 19 games.

Mattsson would play another 19 games in what proved to be his final season in North American hockey in 1983-84. However he spent most his final season in the minors.

Mattsson returned to Finland in the summer of 1984 and continued to play pro hockey over there until 1986.


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