September 14, 2015

Tony Virta

There was a time when Finnish hockey star Tony Virta was an intriguing project for the goal-starved Minnesota Wild. They similarly looked for help from European league veterans like Pavel Patera and Kai Nurminen, but did not find much success.

Virta came to North America as a 29 year old "rookie." The Wild drafted him 103rd overall in the 2001 draft. The previous season he had been named as the Most Valuable Player in the Finnish SM-Liiga. He had spent most of the 1990s steadily improving as a reliable player with HPK Hameenlinna and TPS Turku.

He came to North America billed as an undersized playmaker who skated and competed well. He had an excellent shot even though he seemed too often reluctant to use it.

The Wild assigned Virta to their minor league affiliate in Houston to acclimate him to the North American game. He responded well, finishing the year strong and emerging as a top player with the Aeros with 25 goals and 58 points. He also showed well in his late season recall to the Wild, scoring two goals and five points in eight NHL contests, though he did not seem to win over defensive coach Jacques Lemaire.

Virta reported back to Houston for the 2002-03 season but it was a disastrous season. By mid-season the Wild accommodated his wish to go back home to Europe.

Virta continued to play through the end of the decade in Finland. 

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