Esa Tikkanen is an unusual guy with an unusual sense of humour, and the inventor of the Tikkanese language. But just how unusual is he?
Esa was Jokerit's team mascot at 3 in 1969 with the No. 5 on the sweater his grandmother knitted for him. "I would skate up and down and there were 8,000 people screaming and laughing," Tikkanen said. "It was fun."
When Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull played in Helsinki in 1972, Tikkanen was a stick boy. When Gretzky came through in 1981, Tikkanen was taping his stick.
Esa was a figure skater for 10 years, and once placed 2nd at a national competition.
There is a legend he once ordered pizzas for his team while it was being chewed out by the coach.
Esa apprently tried to fix a Zamboni before a preseason game in Sacramento one year and destroyed the ice by putting the blade down too far.
"I don't know if he's brave or a little 'not-there.'" - teammate Wayne Gretzky
Once during the playoffs, Gretzky got so irritated by Esa's effective shadowing, he whacked the Finn over the head with his stick.
In 2005, Tikkanen was a player-coach for the South Korean team Halla.
"I like to ask Mario how his mum is doing,'' Tikkanen, when asked what he says to rile Mario Lemieux.
On the Oilers bench, Esa once gave a long speech. Teammates turned to fellow Finn Jari Kurri to ask for a translation. Kurri replied "I have no idea what he said."
On Esa joining the Oilers for the first time:
"He was to join us in Chicago during the 1985 semifinal and I went out to the airport to meet him, thinking he might get lost,"Barry Fraser, the Oilers' personnel director recalls. "I found him in a taxi, waiting for me. He asked me if I knew my way around or what." [Jim Proudfoot, Toronto Star]
Esa the trickster:
"He speaks better English than he lets you know," Bill LaForge (Esa's juniors coach) said. "When he needed new skates, he let me know. But when I asked him why he was late for curfew, he'd start talking to me in Finnish." [Jim Proudfoot, Toronto Star]
After Esas's first Oilers practise, he called agent, Don Baizley:
"They put me with Gretzky and Kurri," he told Baizley.
"Really?" said Baizley. "And what do you think now?"
"Oh," Tikkanen replied, "they're pretty good players." [Jim Proudfoot, Toronto Star]
From A Caps press conference:
What's inside Tikkanen's head?
[Joe] Reekie pauses. "A hamster?" [Frank Ahrends, Washington Post]
After recuperating from a knee injury:
"If Ricky doesn't play me, I'll kill him," declared Tikkanen. "I won't listen to him. I've been waiting for this day too long. I want to play."
[Canucks coach Rick] Ley burst out laughing.
"Well, I can't take a chance on getting killed," he said. "Maybe his sense of humor is what we need. Everybody is too serious around here." [The Washington Post]
After eliminating the Pathers from the playoffs the year before, then signing with the team the next season:
Remembering how he beat Vanbiesbrouck for two overtime goals in last year's playoffs, Tikkanen greeted the goalie at training camp by asking, "How's your glove?" [Dave Joseph. South Florida Sun - Sentinel]
On Esa's "word soup" style of speech:
Scott Mellanby, who played with Tikkanen in Edmonton from 1993-95, said somebody once mentioned to fellow Finn Jari Kurri that Tikkanen didn't speak very fluent English for a guy who had been in North America for more than 10 years.
"That's OK," Kurri is said to have replied. "He doesn't speak very good Finnish either." [Brian Biggane Palm Beach Pos]
Poor Craig Janney:
"Hey, Janney," comes a voice from the back seat, followed by a menacing, violent shove that presses Janney hard against the steering wheel. "Ready to go to work . . . college boy?"
The car horn is blaring. Janney's head is mounted atop the steering wheel. He tries to roll out of the hit. Maybe it's Donald Dufresne, the Montreal Canadien who smashed his shoulder in March, drilling him again from the the back seat.
"Hey, back off, who is it?" says Janney. "Whaddya want?"
"Look in the rearview mirror, Craigie," comes the voice. "Even without the helmet, even without the American Express card, you'll know me. We're going places, you and me. Together."
Janney lifts his right hand and tilts the mirror, though it really isn't necessary. He can tell already from his passenger's Finnish accent. It is Esa Tikkanen, the Edmonton Oilers' prince of nastiness, his smile wide and his eyebrows dancing almost in a twitch.
It has begun.
Slowly, Tikkanen eases the pressure on the back of the seat. Janney's head is dislodged from the wheel. Not to be too kind, Tikkanen gives the seat a couple more jabs forward before he lets it back all the way. Each push whiplashes Janney and shakes the very Pop-Tarts and morning Milky Ways within him.
Tikkanen has not heard. These are the kinder, gentler Bruins. Janney sits back and stares straight ahead, the doo-dah, doo-dah bell wired to his ignition reminding him to fasten his seat belt.
"Good morning, Esa," says Janney, with the politeness of an Enfield, Conn., schoolboy. "So very nice to see you again. You're looking well. Would you suggest we take the highway, or shall we go the back roads?"
On the first, Janney dashes by a Volkswagen -- farfawhatten? -- and puts on the brakes in the middle lane. Tikkanencomes flying between the front bucket seats and drills his head on FM 100.7. It's almost too easy.
Janney is swaying as he sits comfortably in the front seat now. It's as though he has that music playing inside his helmet, that music that only he hears as he skates so sweetly, balletically down the ice. The finishing move is a fanciful dash through the S-curves near Mass. General. When it's over, Tikkanen is dingy and nauseated, hanging his head out the window like some long-lost tourist from Kansas about to ask once more for directions to Faneuil Hall. [Kevin Paul Dupont. Boston Globe]
Esa doesn't like physical conditioning drills:
Team physiologist Howie Wenger asked Tikkanenhow he could have finished a 20-minute stationary bicycle conditioning program in 11 minutes.
Tikkanen's answer? "I pedalled faster." [Laura Price, Newsday]