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April 24, 2016

Mikko Makela

Mikko Makela was a creative skill player who, though not terribly effective, didn't shy away from the physical game.

Mikko was a strong skater, blessed with good speed and excellent balance. He, like the stereotypical Finnish players of his era, also possessed soft hands. He was as good a playmaker as he was a shooter. He always took his share of hits to make plays, but many of his hardest hits may of come from his coach after the games. Mikko wasn't known as a very reliable defensive player, but that is largely due to the fact he was playing an unnatural position much of his time in the National Hockey League. He had played center ice throughout his hockey career in his native Finland, but found himself playing more wing at the NHL level.

Mikko was a mid-round draft pick of the New York Islanders back in 1983. Before long he was making the Islanders' scouts look brilliant. In 1984-85 he led the top Finnish league in goals despite being a junior. He also went to the World championships and World Junior championships where he earned rave reviews from NHL scouts. At the World Juniors he scored a mind boggling 11 goals in just 7 games.

Mikko made the jump to the NHL in 1985-86 and used his rookie season to adjust to the new style of game and the new culture and country. By his second year he was emerging as a scoring threat, scoring 24 goals and 57 points. In year three, after starting the year as a member of Team Finland at the 1987 Canada Cup, Mikko exploded for easily his best season - scoring 36 goals and 76 points. Great things were expected of Mikko- with the decline of the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s it was hoped that players like Mikko and Pat Lafontaine could carry them back to greatness.

Unfortunately Mikko suffered a terrible set back in 1988-89. He slumped to just 17 goals and 45 point. The following season was even worse, and featured a trade to Los Angeles where he couldn't get things untracked even with ice time with Wayne Gretzky.

The Buffalo Sabres traded a young speedster named Mike Donnelly to Los Angeles in exchange for Mikko to begin the 1990-91 season. Mikko's struggles continued as he chipped in 15 goals and 22 points in 60 games.

Mikko opted to return to Finland in 1991. He led the Finnish Elite League in scoring and realized a dream when he participated in the Olympic games. Mikko's 3 goals and 6 points in 5 games at the Albertville games aided Finland to a strong showing in the round robin before an unlucky seeding saw them lose to the powerful Russian team, thus ending Mikko's Olympic experience. Mikko would also put in a strong showing at the World Championships later that year, and would be recognized as the best player in Finland that season.

In order to split up the winter and summer Olympic games into different years, it was decided the next Olympics would be held in 1994 rather than a full 4 years, and then would continue on with the 4 year rotation. Mikko took that opportunity to remain playing top level hockey in both Finland and Sweden in order to return to the Olympic games in 1994. This time Finland exacted some revenge on the Russians as they beat them 4-0 in the bronze medal game.

Mikko attempted a brief comeback attempt in the NHL by signing as a Boston Bruin in the lock-out shortened 1994-95 season, but otherwise wound out his career in Europe with stops in Germany and Sweden before one final season in Finland in 1998-99.

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