HELSINKI – Former Finnish national team forward Matti Murto lost his battle against esophageal cancer. He died in hospital on Monday at 64 years of age.
Murto was one of the best Finnish centres in the ‘70s and played for HIFK Helsinki during 18 seasons from 1965 until 1983 with only one season at a different club in between, for Austria’s VEU Feldkirch in 1974/1975. He is one of eight players whose number, 17, has been retired by HIFK.
Murto was among the up-and-coming prospects when former Stanley Cup winner Carl Brewer took over the team as player-coach in 1968 and introduced the club’s trademark Canadian-style of play. It was the start of the most successful era for the team. The same season it won its first Finnish ice hockey championship and Murto was part of the first five championship teams in club history in 1969, 1970, 1974, 1980 and 1983.
During the ‘70s Murto was a household name on the Finnish national team. He represented the country in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Winter Games and in six IIHF World Championships (1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976).
One of his most memorable games, however, was at the 1971 Izvestia Tournament when Finland defeated the Soviet Union in the opening game in Moscow for the first time in history and Murto contributed a goal and two assists in the 4-2 victory.
Murto played 158 national team games and had 36 goals and 21 assists. In the top Finnish league he played 490 games (185 goals, 168 assists) and was well respected as a gentleman player. In 450 regular-season games he had only 98 penalty minutes.
Murto was inducted into the Finnish Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.