Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tikkanen's Game Has Nice Ring(s) to It

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tikkanen's Game Has Nice Ring(s) to It

Article excerpt

Esa Tikkanen knows something about hard acts to follow. He has played understudy to Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Brian Leetch.

He has come to St. Louis, where the marquee already features Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan and Curtis Joseph.

And through it all, Tikkanen doesn't mind. He is not about recognition, he is about repetition. As in winning championships, as in etching his name on the Stanley Cup, over and over again.

"I've always played with big stars, like Messier, Gretzky and now Brett," Tikkanen said. "I just try to do my job and guys like that help me. Hullie and Shannie have been great. We have so many sources on this team."

Lest we forget, Tikkanen is as vital a source of energy and inspiration as any. In postgame news conferences, Blues coach Mike Keenan invariably is asked to name those who stood out. The mention of Tikkanen's name is a given.

Gretzky played several years with Tikkanen in Edmonton and, since, has played several years against him. Gretzky knows the impact from both angles.

"I've always said Esa is pretty much an underrated player," Gretzky said. "He's always played with people like myself or Messier and doesn't get the recognition.

"But he's a guy who plays extremely well under pressure, in big games. He does all the little things. Mike (Keenan) obviously knows that."

Tikkanen, 30, is something of an oddity, an irregular in the department store of hockey players. He grew up in Helsinki, Finland, a land where hockey is served over-easy. Beauty takes precedence over belligerence.

He began learning form at an early age. His father suffered a back injury that left him unable to work. To keep busy, he was a superintendent at an ice rink close to home. Between public sessions, he gave his son private lessons.

"He started taking me in everyday to the rink when I was 3 years old," Tikkanen said. "Every time nobody was on the ice, I would go out and skate."

Tikkanen had all the attributes - skating and puck-handling ability - synonymous with Norwegian players. pHe developed into one of the top young players in Finland.

At age 16, he went to Canada and joined Regina of the Western Hockey Association for a brief period. There, he was exposed to a different kind of hockey, a meat-and-potatoes hockey, an in-your-face form.

"That was one of the wildest leagues," Tikkanen said. "It was a different game that I had known. There was a lot of penalties and stuff. I had a good coach in Pierre LaForge.

"I learned a lot from him. He would run hard practices and was very disciplined. It was a great time for me and I liked the style. It fit my game perfectly and I adjusted to it."

It took some a little longer to accept. When a meaner, rougher Tikkanen returned to play for his Helsinki junior team, his Finnish fans didn't know what to make of him. …

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