COLOGNE – Petteri Nummelin in the World Championships is like the barn sparrows in April, or the green leaves on trees: a sure sign of spring. When you see Petteri Nummelin quarterback the Finnish powerplay at the World Championships, you know it’s May. At least you could every year between 1995 and 2007 when he played at every World Championship.
He missed 2008 due to an injury, but was back last year, and this year.
In a way, missing 2008 seems a little unfortunate because it would have been perfect for Nummelin to become the world record man - the player with most top division World Championships - last year in Switzerland where he’s played ten seasons, first with HC Davos and then HC Lugano.
Nummelin was something of a late bloomer - if being on the World Championship winning team at 23 is late - trying to find a place on the roster of his alma mater, TPS Turku. But things happen fast when you’re young and work hard. In 1992-93, Nummelin split his time between TPS Turku and their local farm team Kiekko-67 in Division I - where he average a point a game - and even got in a game with TPS junior team before signing with then-last place team Reipas Lahti in the SM-liiga for the remaining 20 games of the season.
That season, and his improved work ethic, made him the player that next season not only cracked TPS’s roster, but scored 14 goals and 38 points in 44 games. Nummelin went from being a talented kid to being a pro player, losing some weight, and gaining confidence. He made his Team Finland debut the next season, in an exhibition game against Sweden.
In 1994, he was the last player to be cut from both the Olympic and the World Championship team. In 1995, he was told that he’d be on the Team Finland B roster, but when TPS Turku beat Jokerit Helsinki in the final, head coach Curt Lindström named him on the roster to the World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden.
He wasn’t in the lineup until the fifth game of the tournament, against Team USA.
"I felt good, and was really a part of the team even if I hadn’t played, but I was so nervous, I couldn’t even take my usual nap. When I got to the locker room and all the same guys were around me, I realized it wasn’t anything to be nervous about,” he says.
Finland tied the game, 4-4, having rallied back from a three-goal deficit.
A week later, Nummelin and those guys around him found themselves in a very elite group in Finland. He was a world champion in hockey. Only the 22 players on the 1995 team can call themselves that.
Since then, Nummelin has been named to World Championship All-Star team four times (2000, 2001, 2006, and 2007). He’s broken the defencemen goal scoring record in Sweden, and he’s won the Swiss National League scoring title in both the regular season (2003) and in the playoffs (2004 and 2006). He’s got four World Championship silver medals, two bronze medals, in addition to that one gold.
And tonight, before the game against the host team, Germany, Nummelin will receive an official plaque commemorating his record. He will also wear a new sweater in each period. The first period sweater goes to Nummelin, the second to the Finnish hockey federation, and the third to the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame. The one he wore in his record-breaking game against Denmark will be donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Yes, it is a big deal, even if the happy-go-lucky Finn doesn’t want to dwell on the record, in the middle of the tournament, or career.
"It’s really hard for me think about myself as a record man. I really just think that I have to get in and do what I have to do, history won’t get you very far. Of course, it’s nice to know I’ve done something right, otherwise I wouldn't be here,” he says.
Petteri’s father, Timo, was a Team Finland regular in the 1970s and early 1980s. He’s alone in another club: to be named Finland’s player of the year in both football (1968) and hockey (1981). Timo also played in eight World Championships with Team Finland.
"I remember thinking that eight was a lot and hoping that I’d be able to stay at the top level as long as he did. And here I am in my 15th tournament,” Petteri says, and shakes his head.
"I guess it’ll hit me later.”