While we relish in the fact that Antti Niemi is the first Finnish goalie to win the Stanley Cup, it just furthers the ideal that Finland is a goalie factory. With the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff, Pekka Rinne, and Niklas Backstrom coming from the Suomi; you have to wonder how this all came to be. It never was that way, but there were a few who forged the way for Finnish goalies. This week we look at the first one to have a regular spot in the NHL, even if in a small capacity and coming with a funny name. This week, we look at Kari Takko.
The problem when doing the European goalies is that the stats aren't often accurate or there at all. Thus, this made compiling any kind of stats extra difficult. In any case, Takko started out his career playing with Assat Pori in the Finnish League, where he would play limited time between 1979-80 until 1982-83. In that times, Takko would be on the Finnish World Junior team, being a part of Finland silver medal team in 1981 and bronze medal team in 1982. After the 1981 season, Takko was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, but didn't seem to have the interest in going over; which saw him get more time in Pori, where he would see increased time in 1982-83 (21 games), 1983-84 (32 games, three shutouts), and 1984-85 (35 games, three shutouts, taking home the Ylonen Trophy as best goaltender). During that time, Takko was a part of the 1984 Finnish Olympic team (6th place finish) and was re-entered into the NHL Draft and selected by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1984 Draft.
Takko would eventually come over to North America to play for the Springfield Indians for the 1985-86 season. It did take some time for Takko to adjust to the North American game, which he got plenty of time to in Springfield by playing 43 games, most of all the Indians. It was a rough go, as Takko went 18-19-3. Takko did steal the hearts of the Springfield coaches and fans; winning the team MVP, team Rookie of the Year, and Most Popular Player. He was able to get a call-up to Minnesota late in the season, where he would lose his only appearance, though stopping 31 of 34 shots.
The 1986-87 season saw Takko start out with Minnesota, getting much more time behind Don Beaupre, though a slump would see him go down to Springfield for a month (3-2-0), he would play 38 games and go 13-18-4 for the year. It was a full year in Minnesota for 1987-88, though behind Beaupre and having to deal with a late-season injury that hampered him. It didn't get much better for Takko, as the North Stars weren't that good (worst in the NHL) and it showed in the 8-19-6 record. The 1988-89 season saw another back-up season for Takko, as he would start in Minnesota, backing up former AGM Jon Casey, but saw 32 games. Takko would go 8-15-4 with Minnesota, even getting playing time in the playoffs, going 0-1 in three appearances. The bottom fell out in the 1989-90 season, as Takko would struggle and play only 21 games with a 4-12-0 record. He was sent down to Kalamazoo in the IHL to start due to missing most training camp with a broken ankle. Yet, Takko would start in Minnesota for the 1990-91 season, but lost his two appearances, which sent him to Kalamazoo for five games, where he went 4-1-0.
However, with the suspension of Grant Fuhr, it opened up a market for Takko. The North Stars traded Takko to the Edmonton Oilers for Bruce Bell in November 1990. The Takko-Bell trade has been the tastiest trade in the history of the NHL, as Neil Little was never traded for anyone named Caesar. Takko would only play 11 games for the Oilers before Fuhr returned, but went 4-4-0 while backing up Bill Ranford.
It would be the last time for Takko playing in North America for a professional team, as he would return to Finland and Assat Pori, where he was welcomed back with open arms. Though the 1991-92 season would be an adjustment for him, going 13-11-2 in 28 games; Takko would return to form in the 1992-93 season with 21-16-8 record with three shutouts. Though, Takko's real homecoming would be the 1993-94 season, where he would go 25-16-7 in 48 games, with three shutouts. Those stats were enough for him to take home the Ylonen Trophy for best goaltender honors once again. The 1994-95 season was a bizarre one, with Takko going 20-18-11, but also going 4-3 in the playoffs with three shutouts, though it wasn't enough for Assat to take the SM-liiga title. The next two seasons wouldn't be kind to Takko and Assat, as Takko would have an 18-21-4 record in the 1995-96 season, while he bounced back a bit in 1996-97 with a 16-16-9 record.
Takko would migrate to the Swedish Elite League by going to HV71 for the start of the 1997-98 season, where he would play 39 games and have five shutouts in that duration. Another solid year for Takko as he would play 40 games for HV71 with another five shutouts to his record in the 1998-99 season. Takko would round out his term with HV71 playing 39 games, recording four shutouts, and had a 2.51 GAA for 1999-2000. Takko would hang up the pads for good after the 1999-2000 season.
After his playing career, Takko was named an amateur European scout for the Dallas Stars starting in the 2001-02 season. Takko now is the Director of European Scouting for the Stars.
There's a lot to be said about Takko, who seemed to have a great international career; despite the so-so NHL career he had. He seemed to be a fan favorite, as it showed from his first year with the Springfield Indians. Though he has the unfortunate luck of being with the North Stars when they were horrific, he couldn't say he didn't have the chance to make a name for himself and it seemed like he made the most of every chance he could get. When he knew his time was up in the NHL, he went back home where he excelled even more. It was just happenstance that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time for him to make Finland known as a goalie factory prior to this new renaissance.