Who is the best Finnish hockey player of all time? North American fans will quickly suggest Jari Kurri or Teemu Selanne. However a case could be made for blue line legend Pekka Rautakallio.
Nicknamed Rocky during his North American tour of duty, Rautakallio is the Bobby Orr of Finnish hockey. He put up some very impressive stats in the National Hockey League as well as in his native Finland. He wasn't a puck rushing defenseman like Orr, as his skating ability wasn't overly tremendous, though it was certainly not bad. Instead he relied on his great understanding of the game to position himself perfectly be it in the offensive or defensive zone. He was a great passer, quarterbacking the point on the power play and making long breakout passes from his own zone. He also possessed a wicked snapshot from the point. It was hard and accurate, and he got it away in an uncanny hurry. Defensively he was solid, due largely to his positioning. Though normally mild-mannered he could be tough if necessary, though he usually left the overly physical duties to his defense partner. A good comparison for Rautakallio would be Larry Murphy.
Born on July 23, 1953 in Pori, Finland, Pekka played for Ässät Pori from 1968 - 1975 before signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the WHA, where he played for two seasons. In 151 games he made a nice adjustment to the North American game, scoring 15 goals and adding 70 assists with just 16 penalty minutes.
Pekka returned to Finland to play for Ässät Pori in 1977 for two seasons before returning to North America, this time signing as a free agent with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames for 3 years. His NHL career turned out to be a big success. By his second year he was one of the top defensemen in the league. He scored 11 goals and 45 assists in 76 games. In 1981-82 he upped his totals to an impressive 17 goals and 68 points, and contributing to the Flames 16 game playoff run. He was also chosen to play in the NHL All Star Game in 1982. That made Rautakallio the first Finn ever to play in mid-season classic.
A funny story came out of Rautakallio's experience at the All Star game. The game was played in Washington that year and the players ended up at a post-game dinner hosted by American President Ronald Reagan. The master of ceremonies at the dinner was introducing the players individually over a microphone as the players walked up to shake the President's hand. The announcer tried to say his last name three times before throwing the towel in and joking "You say it yourself!"
Rautakallio shocked the hockey world when he announced at the end of the 1982 season that he would be returning to Finland in the summer of 1982. It was a shock as Rautakallio looked like one of the outstanding players for years to come in the NHL. However Pekka cited family reasons as his children were at school age, and returned to Finland where he would play for HIFK Helsinki until 1987. He played a couple additional years in Switzerland before hanging up the blades in 1989.
In his NHL career Rocky played for Atlanta / Calgary in 235 games scoring 154 points ( 33 goals, 121 assists ) drawing 122 penalty minutes. In playoffs he played in 23 games with 2 goals and 5 assists and 8 penalty minutes.
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