Friday, November 23, 2012

Teppo Numminen


Despite 20-plus seasons in the NHL and a storied international career somehow Teppo Numminen always remained one of the NHL's best kept secrets.

The underrated defenseman - best known for playing with Winnipeg/Phoenix - was a low-maintenance, high-efficiency defenceman who provided steady hockey night in and night out.

But he never wanted the spotlight.

“I'm just who I am and I just play. That's about it,” said the unassuming Numminen. “It’s tough to evaluate yourself. I just do my job and hopefully do a good job. What keeps me going? Maybe the way I play. I work hard and I keep in shape in the off-season. Not much more than that.”

Teppo Numminen always had hockey in his blood.

His father coached Finland’s Olympic team in 1980 in Lake Placid. Numminen, who as a kid grew up skating with the national team, always said the game when the Americans defeated Finland to clinch the Olympic gold medal as the game that had the biggest impact on his life.

Eight years later, Numminen was playing on the national team for real and was participating in his own Olympics. He was a key part of a team that won a silver medal for Finland’s first Olympic hockey medal in 1988 in Calgary - arguably the greatest moment in Finnish hockey at that point in history.

A member of the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame, Numminen would go on to play in four Olympics (winning three medals), four IIHF World Championships, and another four Canada Cup/World Cup events.

Numminen was drafted 29th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1986.  By the time he retired, in 2009, he had played 1,372 regular-season games in the NHL, more than any other European player.

The square-jawed reliable positional defender who always played against the team's top forwards. He had the skating skills, the strength and the hockey sense to excel as a defensive stalwart. His offensive game was very much underrated. He never put up spectacular numbers but for much of his career he was a fixture on the power play. He was a minute munching stalwart who every coach in the league wished they had on their team.

Numminen seemingly was forced off the ice in 2007 thanks to emergency heart surgery to repair a faulty valve. He finally got doctor's clearance to play hockey in time for the final game of the 2007-08 season. He called that game "the most important game of my life, and I'll never forget it.

In 2013 Teppo Numminen joined his father Kalevi as the first father-son inductee in IIHF Hall of Fame history.

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