Arguably the best Finnish player never to win a Cup, Teppo Numminen will receive recognition for his remarkable career when the Phoenix Coyotes induct him into the “Ring of Honor” on January 30, 2010. Numminen, drafted in 1986, played fifteen seasons for the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes franchise, and continued to play an additional five years for Dallas and Buffalo.
At the time of his retirement on August 4, 2009, the stay-at-home defenseman was the last player from the 1986 draft still playing in the NHL. He was a three-time all-star, a two-time silver medalist at the Olympics (along with one bronze medal), and as of January 2010, he holds the record for most NHL games (1372 games) played without winning a Cup. The longevity of his career was largely due to his vision, his positioning, and his passing.
He never won the Norris Trophy —for the league’s best defenseman — though, Jeremy Roenick once said Numminen should be up for the award every year, but the media and market of Phoenix was not conducive to winning an award. Numminen was a great captain for the Coyotes, but not many outside of Winnipeg and Phoenix gave him the recognition he deserved. His contributions to the Coyotes were outstanding; the Coyotes have not made the playoffs since trading Numminen to the Dallas Stars in July of 2003. He was never a flashy or physical player, but he gave hope to defenseman that positioning can makeup for size and strength.
His career was not an easy one — on September of 2007, he had a faulty heart valve repaired. Hampered by a nagging heart issue, Numminen missed all but one game in the 2007-2008 season; however, his return in the last game that season was an inspiring feat.
During Numminen’s twenty-year career, he inspired many people through his hockey and his fight against a troubling heart problem. Numminen’s demeanor, dedication, and desire towards hockey inspired me to take up hockey again after a brief break, and since then I have tried to model my own playing style after his as much I can.
It is unfortunate he never won the Stanley Cup, and that he was an underappreciated and unsung hero, but in retirement he has started to gain some of the acknowledgment he deserves.