Editor's Note: Community Member Downright Fierce took us up on our offer to write a FanPost about his favorite post-dynasty Oiler, and what a FanPost it is. Downright Fierce normally plies his trade at Slow Fresh Oil, check it out.
That picture hurts, I know, but it encapsulates what a lot of people think of when they hear the name Jussi Markkanen. The Finn got the tap on the shoulder on June 7, 2006, and despite early jitters in Game 2, Jussi did what then seemed impossible: he stepped up and backed the Human Rake & Co. all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. That last, sad night in Raleigh might as well be the only game Markkanen played in the series, but the truth is he put on a clinic in Game 3, enabled the Game 5 turnaround (with a little help from Irene), and posted a shutout in Game 6. You could have hardly asked for more from a guy who spent the latter half of the regular season watching from the press box.
For me, the 2006 Finals were the culmination of a long, intense relationship with Jussi Markkanen: My Favourite Post-Dynasty Oiler.
I was always into goalies as a kid. A consummate doodler, the lumpy shapes of the masked men lent themselves to my sausage-fingered scrawlings. So I traded for as many goalie cards as I could and spent much of my youth idolizing guys like Ron Hextall, Patrick Roy, Bill Ranford, Curtis Joseph, and others. I was in my teens (and still a goalie guy) in 2001 when Jussi Markkanen was selected 133rd overall by the Edmonton Oilers. While Tommy Salo had done an admirable job for the organization, I was not a fan. There was a CuJo-shaped hole in my life and the Swede, despite all his effort and success, just never lived up to my expectations. Markkanen was the only tender selected by the Oilers that year and represented, for me, a changing of the guard.
I took to the Finn immediately and watched with glee as he stepped confidently into the back-up role. Markkanen's cool demeanour was a refreshing change from Salo's-- ahem -- less composed netminding tactics. Great on the first shot and capable of outright robbing folks when his sound positioning let him down, Markkanen was my kind of goalie.
Awesome Save by Jussi Markkanen (via mabpirateking)
After a solid showing in his rookie year, Markkanen blossomed into a reliable #2 with very encouraging statistics. Jussi played 22 games in his sophomore season (versus 14 GP in '01-02), maintained a team best GAA and SV%, and bumped his career NHL shutouts to 5 (nearly 15% of his starts). Once the Oilers were bounced out of the '03 Playoffs (featuring the increasingly shaky play of one Mr. Salo), I was certain that Markkanen would continue his ascent towards to what seemed to be his destiny: a starting NHL goaltender. I even began brainstorming the sign I would bring to opening night once the Swede was sent out on an ice floe ("Turn Up the Juss" and "Juss It Up" were early favourites).
It didn't take long for management to dash my hopes and dreams. Jussi got shipped to the Rags as a part of the package that delivered Brian Leetch's UFA rights. Just like that, the goalie I was sure would lead us triumphantly into the future was gone and all the Oilers got in return was the possibility of signing a player that I loathed even more than Salo. To make matters worse, Leetch chose to not sign with the club and promptly turned into something even less substantial: a compensatory 2nd round pick.
I was devastated. Hurt. Crushed, even.
What was even worse? Watching yet another goalie whose style and composure left a lot to the imagination (Ty Conklin) eat up all of what should have been Jussi's minutes. It was not long before I began to resent the American. I watched bitterly as the Oilers limped into mid-season when there was a sudden return to sanity.
March 7, 2004: Jussi Markkanen is traded back to the Edmonton Oilers. (Funnily enough, the package that brought Jussi back included the compensation pick from the Leetch jilt.)
March 9, 2004: Tommy Salo is traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
Finally, sweet justice. I got to see Markkanen back in Oilers' silks, and with no Salo around, it would only be a matter of time before Jussi's superior play would make him the starter. He made five starts after coming back to the Oilers that season, and posted a sparkling .929 Sv%. Yes, it seemed like it was only a matter of time. Then, the lockout sent Jussi to darkest Russia to play for HC Lada Togliatti. The only thing funny about that hockey-less and Markkanen-less season was that my dad drove a Lada in those days.
Fall 2005 brought Markkanen back to Canada, and back to the Oilers. That's Edmonton-New York City-Edmonton-Togliatti-Edmonton in just over two years, all while raising a young family and maintaining solid numbers as a professional hockey player. As the season got underway, Conklin and Markkanen fought it out as 1A and 1B with neither goalie emerging as a clear winner. Consistency had not been part of Jussi's life for the majority of his pro career and I hardly expected an irregular starting pattern to reflect well on the Finn's game. And it didn't.
While earning a scattershot 37 starts, ultimately Jussi did not make them count (3.12 GAA, .880 S%). The Oilers finally traded for Dwayne Roloson at the deadline, and the run began. Oh, that wondrous run. I loved Roloson, and still do. It was a damn shame how much charging the refs let go that spring, but I don't think all of the penalties in the world would have stopped Roli from being gooned into submission. Might have given us a few more PPG, but I digress...
Dwayne went down, Conklin blew his chance (I was not surprised), and Markkanen, of all people, got a shot to bring Stanley back to Edmonton. Like an old soldier, Jussi went once more into the breach. The Finn did his damndest:
Markkanen Saves (via mabpirateking)
But it was not enough, as we all know all too well. Jussi played out his Oilers' career behind Roloson in 2006-07 and ended up returning to form in Finland as one of the league's top goaltenders for Jokerit. Markkanen then signed with CSKA Moscow, and shortly thereafter, the Markkanens lost their four-year-old son Oli-Matias in a tragic accident. Sympathy poured in from around the world from teammates and fans alike, showing that Markkanen was and is a great person and a caring father that deserved none of the hard luck he had been dealt, least of all the unthinkable death of one of his sons.
When I think of Jussi Markkanen, I think of a resilient, levelheaded netminder with talent to spare. I think of a young man playing against the odds and carving out a special spot on a scrappy team. I think of a man whose career was void of any kind of consistency, yet who remained a good-natured competitor. I think of a hockey player that gave his best years to my favourite NHL club.
When I think of Jussi Markkanen, I think of my favourite post-dynasty Oiler.
Cheers to everyone at Copper & Blue for their work on this series and the opportunity to contribute.