Raimo Helminen started out playing hockey with the Ilves junior team in his home town of Tampere, Finland, and for the first time in four years, he is back with his first club. In 1999-2000, at the ripe old age of 36, he was still going strong, participating in his ninth World Championship in St. Petersburg and has also performed in five Winter Olympics, including the only three tournaments in which Finland captured a medal-one silver and two bronze. He has twice taken part in the Canada/World Cup event. All in all, with 15 tournaments under his belt, he has done his fair share in representing his native country.
Going into the St. Petersburg event, he has to his credit a total of 186 points, with the lion's share coming in the form of 138 assists. In both these categories he is the all-time leader. For a while, he was neck-and-neck with Mika Nieminen, another Ilves junior playing on the road with IFK Helsinki. In eight exhibition games leading up to the World Championship, Helminen had a nine-point margin over his greatest rival, whose career on the national team was in decline. He needs ten more games to tie another Ilves player, Lasse Oksanen, for yet another title. In Oksanen's forte, scoring goals, Helminen is ranked only 10th.
In 1984 Helminen hit the limelight for the first time in his career during the World Junior Championship. He won the scoring race and established a new tournament record by a margin of four points. He was subsequently chosen to participate in the All-Star game and, more importantly, he caught the eye of the NHL scouts, who ranked him as the top forward in Europe in that summer's draft. It was eventually the New York Rangers who got him as their second pick, and the following autumn he joined the club. He had an outstanding rookie season, with 40 points in 66 games.
Toward the end of the next season, he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars with whom he played six games before spending the rest of the year in the minors. He returned to Finland for a short time then was back the next year in the New York area, but with the Islanders this time. However, he started to have back problems that at times caused him such pain that he could not walk. If it had not been for his determination, his career would likely have been at an end. It took him six years, but eventually, in the town of Kokkola in Finland, he found a physiotherapist, Leo Saario, who was able to fix his back.
His troubles almost finished his career with the national team in 1995. But Finland's coach, the Swede Curt Lindstrom, recalled how well he had performed for Malmo in the Swedish league and made him a late addition to the World Championship squad. It was an excellent choice for both coach and player as the team went on to win its first-ever gold medal for Finland. The other milestone in Finnish hockey, and another moment of pride for Helminen, was achieved in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. In the final game, the Finns managed to defeat the mighty Soviets, who had by that time already clinched the gold, but Helminen was sidelined in the final game with a knee problem.