Unlike Mike Modano’s future, Jere Lehtinen’s was a little more predictable in the off-season. Not that anyone knew for sure, but you could make a good guess. His body just wasn’t holding up anymore and you could tell that the 37 year old was about ready to call it a career.
But what a career.
His work ethic, his attention to detail, and his stamina were second to none. He was known as a fitness freak and the work he put in off the ice definitely paid off on the ice. Unfortunately though, some things are just out of anybody’s control. Injuries hampered Lehtinen for pretty much his entire career. Only seven times in his fourteen year career did he manage to play at least seventy games, and in the 1999-2000 season he only appeared in seventeen.
Despite his injury problems, he still managed to win three Selke Trophies for being the league’s top defensive forward and he was named to the All-Star game twice, only being able to play in one. He also scored 243 goals over his 875 games, included were two seasons of scoring 30+ goals and another four times of scoring 20+. He finished his career at an amazing +176. To put that into perspective, Steve Yzerman finished his career at a +202, Joe Sakic a +30, and Mike Modano currently sits at a +115.
Internationally, he represented his native country of Finland an amazing five times in the Olympics, winning 3 bronze and a silver. To add to that, his four World Championships gave Finland three silvers and one gold. He also played in two World Cups, being runner-up once. Pretty decorated.
Like Gretzky was at reading a play offensively, Lehtinen was at reading it defensively. He was a master at anticipating what was transpiring and he could cut off a lane, pick off a pass, or use his body position to angle an opponent off the puck. Then just as brilliantly, be in position to bury it in the back of the net.
He and Modano were able to form the perfect duo for the Hitchcock-Gainey led Stars of the late 90′s-early 2000′s. The two could dominate anybody in the league in any area of the rink. They put just as much, if not more emphasis on the defensive side of things, as they did the offenseive side. They likely could have combined for more goals had they played in a different system, but they played a winning formula and it paid off as the duo helped the Stars to two Presidents Trophies in a row in ’98 and ’99, as well as back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in ’99 and 2000. Of course, winning it in 1999.
Lehtinen was a guy who went about his game quietly and was more often than not the Stars’ unsung hero. He didn’t garner much attention league-wide, and when anyone would think of top wingers in the game, he was often overlooked and greatly underrated. But that didn’t bother Jere at all. He was happy just to know he did his job and his team appreciated him. And boy did they ever. Ken Hitchock once claimed he was the most important player on the team.
On a personal note, I remember my first real glimpse of Lehtinen and Modano’s chemistry together. In a home game vs Edmonton back in Lehtinen’s rookie season of ’95-’96, the duo torched the Oilers for a combined eight points in a 6-1 beatdown. Modano fired four goals past Curtis Joseph while Lehtinen had four assists.
I also sat down with Jere for a few minutes one day at West Edmonton Mall when the Stars were in town for a game during the 2002-03 season. I just happened to be in the mall when I started noticing players walk past me. I spotted Jere sitting by himself on a bench so I went over and grabbed a seat and began chatting with him. In all honesty I don’t remember the conversation but I do remember that he was fairly quiet and a really nice guy.
Jere Lehtinen will always have a special place in the hearts of Stars fans as he sacrificed his all for the team and asked for no special favors in return. When we think back on his career, we’ll think of his great chemistry with Mike Modano, his tremendous 2-way abilities, and his vital importance to the team in an era where the Stars were pretty darn successful.
He was one of the last two remnants of the North Stars still in the league as he was drafted by the team 88th overall back in 1992 when they were still in Minnesota, though he never began playing until the team was in Dallas. The last remaining North Star of course now is Mike Modano.
Thanks for everything Jere !
About the Author
Written by Travis Currie
Im your typical sports fan. Just a little more crazy about it. I live and die for my teams and I drive my girlfriend nuts. I consider myself the world's biggest Stars fan. Ive been a fan since I was a young kid going back to the mid 80's. Favourite Stars player of all-time is of course Mike Modano. Favourite non-Stars player of all-time is Peter Stastny. I love talking sports so please leave a reply to anything you agree or disagree with. If youd like to contact me my email is firstname.lastname@example.org