Esa Isaksson, a forward who played in three World Championships (1966, 1969, 1971) passed away just last Saturday, 21 May, and Lalli Partinen died on 4 May. He had played at the 1968 Olympics as well as five World Championships (1965, ’66, ’69, ’70, and ’73).
Isaksson died at Tampere University Hospital at age 75 after suffering a heart attack a week earlier on his way to a dialysis treatment. He was considered one of the finest centremen in Finland during the 1960s and early ‘70s. He played for HIFK alongside good friends Juha Rantasila and Juhani Jylha, forming an explosive offence under Canadian coach Carl Brewer.
Isaksson made history of a sort by becoming the first Finn to earn an NHL contract offer. Cliff Fletcher, then of the expansion St. Louis Blues, made Isaksson an offer to play in the NHL in 1969, but the Finn declined the offer, thinking it was too risky and too much pressure to succeed for the huge money they were offering. But most important, he had two young children and he didn’t want to leave them behind, and that was the proof of the kind of man Isaksson was – family first and foremost.
In all, he played in the top Finnish league for eleven years, first and last with Lukko, and then four years in the middle with HIFK, including the memorable championship season of 1969/70. In IIHF play, Isaksson didn’t win a medal with Suomi at the World Championship, but he played in 23 games at the top level and was part of a core of players for the national team at a time when it was still in the development stages.
He retired in 1974 when he was just 27 to pursue a career in the printing business. Several years later he moved to Hameenlinna and spent most of the rest of his life there. But in 2013, everything changed when he was diagnosed with life-threatening sepsis, as well as kidney failure and prostate cancer. As a result, he required dialysis for the rest of his life.
Lalli Partinen died in Lappeenranta of Covid-19 at age 80. He had been in ill health for some time, but the Covid virus spread very quickly through his body, and he succumbed just two days after learning he had contracted it.
He was inducted into the Finnish Hall of Fame in 1987 (Lion #52) and was a teammate of Iskasson with HIFK in 1969/70 as well as at the 1966 World Championship in Ljubljana. Partinen earned a reputation as a tough defenceman and played for Finland on 120 occasions. In Finnish league play he was known for his years with SaiPa, where the team retired his number 3 sweater.
In all, he played 18 years of pro hockey, the first ten with SaiPa and then eight with HIFK, before retiring in 1977. In addition to the league championship in 1970 with Isaksson, Partinen won the title again with HIFK in 1974.
One of the highlights of his career was playing at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble. Finland finished a respectable fifth and beat Canada, 5-2, during the round robin, the first ever win against the Canadians in the nation’s history.