Matti Väisa, who turns 75 on Thursday, can rightly be called a legend of Finnish hockey.
Väisänen, who played as a defender, won the Finnish Championship at the Helsinki IFK in 1969 and 1970 and a bronze medal in 1971 and 1972, but Väisänen has been honored as the Hockey Lion number 205 above all for his merits after his playing career.
For thirty years, Väisänen worked as a talent scout for NHL clubs and as a case manager for numerous top Finnish players.
Väisänen, who arrived from Pieksämäki in Helsinki to the Santahamina Sports Forces, already played in HIFK in the Finnish Series in the period 1966–67.
The sports forces played their part in making Väisänen the first person to skate on the ice of the ice rink on Nordenskiöldinkatu in Helsinki, which was completed in 1966.
Matti Väisänen struggled with the Jokers' Pertti Nurmi in 1969. Photo: Hannu Lindroos
- Ten men from the sports team were invited to help with the photography of the Finnish Championship series teams.
I suddenly pulled the skates to my feet and quickly went on the ice because I wanted to be the first.
I heard when the ice rink boss Boris Bogomoloff told the press that he was going to be the first to skate in the hall.
I shouted that I went already!
"Bogo" was so angry that he didn't talk to me for five years, Väisänen says in the spring 1969 book about Finnish champions HIFK - Stadin Kingit.
In the 1968–69 season, Väisänen was the Fifth Defender on the team coached and starred by Carl Brewer, which meant little playing time at the time.
However, “Väisä” played a key role in creating the team's team spirit: his apartment on Sörnäinen Rantatie became the team's second living room.
- Probably half of the group had a key there, Väisänen says in the book.
Matti Väisänen (left) and his good friend Hexi Riihiranta in HIFK rehearsals in 1971. Photo: Hannu Lindroos
Väisänen's own playing career was interrupted by a collision with Heikki “Hexi” Riihiranta during the rehearsals.
Many bones broke from Väisänen's hand, and the games had been played.
Väisä was immediately asked to be the coach of HIFK for the next season, but this one refused the honor.
- I said how I could be a coach when half of those casuals live in my cabin!
It was a play, but my own career was still too close and the IFK players were too close to me, Väisänen says.
He coached SaiPa for two seasons before returning to IFK, behind the bench for the periods 1975-78.
Seasons 1976–78 Väisänen also served as the head coach of the Finnish national team under the age of 20.
This washed threw Väisänen into a new career.
In 1978, he started the NHL as a talent scout for the Washington Capitals in Finland.
Fiery coach Väisänen and HIFK star player Esa Peltonen in 1977. Photo: Erkki Raskinen / IS
- I knew young Finnish players and ended up helping them in North America.
I was the first NHL scout in Europe.
It was quite wonderful, Väisänen recalls.
In 1980, Väisänen joined Edmonton Oilers.
He arranged for the transfer of the young Jari Kurr to Edmonton.
- It wasn't an easy task.
Jar’s father and mother would not have wanted to let Jar leave.
They must have been afraid that the boy would not succeed in the world alone, Väisänen remembers.
- Jarika didn't want to go anywhere alone.
Then “Hakki” (Matti Hagman) joined the figure.
Hakki left for Edmonton at the same time, at which point Jarikin dared to leave.
That's where it started, Väisänen says.
Jari Kurr (left) became a good friend of Matti Väisänen.
Kuris and Hjallis Harkimo flowered Väisänen on his 70th birthday exactly five years ago before the Jokerie KHL match. Photo: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva
Hagman had already played two seasons in the Boston Bruins and knew where he was going.
- Hakki and Haki's wife helped Jari a lot.
Hagman spent two seasons in Edmonton, but the center striker was playfully overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky, the world’s best hockey player.
Kurri, on the other hand, cleared his place alongside Gretzky and won five Stanley Cups in his ten-year Oilers career.
Väisänen also has the same five rings (from 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990).
- They are in the closet at home, Väisänen says.
Matti Väisänen and the three players he helped who won the Stanley Cup.
From left Reijo Ruotsalainen, Jari Kurri and Jere Lehtinen.
Photo from 1998.Photo: PETER JANSSON
In 1984, Väisänen assisted the transfer of young Esa Tikkanen to Edmonton.
- It was easy to be “Tik” with Jari again, Väisänen says.
It is this Oilers trio - Hagman, Kurri, Tikkanen - that is Väisänen's answer when he is asked to identify a few of his hundreds of player customers who remembered the best.
- But there are many others.
Lehtinen's Jere, Peltonen's Ville, Hagman's Niklas ...
Yes, something about Väisänen's career says that he managed to help both his father and son, Matti and Niklas Hagman, move to the NHL.
Matti Väisänen at work in 2005.Photo: ARI-VEIKKO PELTONEN / IS
In addition to the work of NHL club talent scouts, Väisänen helped numerous players handle these issues.
- The players talked to each other, and then my phone started ringing.
Sometimes there were a little too many customers, he says.
Helping others has always been a matter of the heart for Väisänen.
- “Väisä” is one of the few people in the world who has no enemy.
He is always ready to help everyone.
He was similar, already confirmed by Göran Stubb, who had been the director of the NHL’s European Talent Search Organization for decades.
In 1985–87, Väisänen also coached the Jokers.
That washed, and Väisänen's coaching career ended in relegation from the SM League.
At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Matti Väisänen was joined by the better halves of Finnish players: From left Katri Oikarinen (Juha Lind's girlfriend), Minna Skog (Juha Ylönen's girlfriend) and Nina Pirt (Janne Niinimaa's girlfriend) .Photo: Christian Westerback
After the Edmonton years (1980–91), Väisänen worked as a talent scout for the Minnesota North Stars 1991–93, the Florida Panthers 1993–99, and the Minnesota Wild 1999–2009.
Väisänen's career in hockey officially ended, but he has not left the sport.
- I go to the Ice Rink a lot.
There I see Hex and other old playmates.
And Jari (Kurri), I am often on the stand Jokerit game.
Every time someone picks me up at the hall and someone brings me home.
Doctors no longer let me drive the car myself, Väisänen, who lives in Vantaa, says.
This is the result of a stroke that Väisänen experienced at the turn of the year 1991.
So now is the time for others to help Väisa.
- And if I'm not in the hall, I'll watch the games at home upstairs.
I like to watch hockey, and other sports all the time.
You need to know where my own former players are spinning, Väisänen says.
Matti Väisänen at the door of a familiar locker room with former playmate Danny Malonen in 2017. Photo: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva
It’s hard for everyone to “spin” though, it’s hard to keep up with the carts.
- I can not say no, how many with the player I have worked for.
Quite a few have come to the rescue.
In a normal world, Väisänen and his wife would spend the winters in Spain.
Due to the corona pandemic, he has not been to Spain since last spring.
- Quite a lot of playing with former playmates.
And with Hex, Marttinen Jaska (Jaakko) and Heino Kife (Kimmo) you are always seen at Töölöntor.
Matti Väisänen was involved when HIFK won the Jokers in 1967 in a decisive rematch from the promotion to the Finnish Championship series.
The members of this team gathered at the Helsinki Ice Rink in 2017. From left Göran Stubb, Christian Bergenheim, Christer Thun, Pertti Kotkas, Henrik Wahl, Jorma Thusberg, Heikki Järn, Matti Väisänen, Danny Malone and Hannu Leiponen.Photo: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva
Photo: ARI-VEIKKO PELTONEN / IS
Born on December 1, 1945 in Iisalmi
Player career: 1967–73 SM series at HIFK.
113 matches, 0 + 5 = 5, 16 ice minutes.
Finnish championship 1969 and 1970. Finnish Championship bronze in 1971 and 1972.
Head coach: SaiPa 1973–75.
Jokers 1978–80 and 1985–87.
Finnish national team under 20 1976–78.
As an NHL talent scout: 1978–80 Washington Capitals, 1980–91 Edmonton Oilers, 1991–93 Minnesota North Stars, 1993–99 Florida Panthers, 1999–2009 Minnesota Wild.
In 2010 he was ennobled as the Hockey Lion number 205.