Legends of Hockey -- NHL Player Search -- Player -- Veli-Pekka Ketola
Veli Pekka Ketola was one of the pioneering players from Finland to cross the Atlantic. As a 20 year old, he was invited to the Detroit Red Wings' training camp together with legendary Swedish defenseman Lennart Svedberg.

Ten years later, the situation had changed dramatically. A Finn had played at the side of Wayne Gretzky in winning the Stanley Cup and Finns had participated in All-Star games. The scouts had begun to expand their recruitment drive to take in Europeans.

In the 1974 World Championship, Ketola showed that he was a leader on the international level and offers of a professional career started to come in. The only surprise came when he signed a contract not with the Detroit Red Wings, who held his NHL rights, but with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA.

In Finland, Ketola's number 13 was already legendary, but in North America he wasn't allowed to use it. In Winnipeg, he became number 12. Playing for Winnipeg, he had the good fortune to be part of a winning franchise led by hockey's first $1 million man, Bobby Hull. At the time, Hull was being ably assisted by a pair of Swedes, center Ulf Nilsson and right wing Anders Hedberg. Nilsson's predominant role with the team left centerman Ketola without much ice time. Nevertheless, he managed to end his WHA career with a respectable 183 points in 235 games. The highlight of his years in the World Hockey Association was his second season, when the Jets won the Avco Cup. He'd signed a three-year pact with Winnipeg, but during his final year, 1976-77, he was traded to the Calgary Cowboys.

Ketola then returned to Finland to play, but in 1981 he returned for a second stint in North America, this time with the Colorado Rockies of the NHL. He lasted one season and 44 games. Ketola had the size necessary for an NHL player, but the powers that be felt that he didn't use his gifts to full advantage. Ketola, who was brought up in the European mold and taught that technique came before physique, didn't like that attitude.

On the international level, Finland didn't have much success during his era. Making matters worse was the doping scandal in 1974 involving the unfortunate goalie Stig Wetzell. Finland was on the brink of winning its first medal, only to have a key 5-0 victory over Czechoslovakia reversed when Wetzell tested positive. Wetzell has never admitted to any wrongdoing and there is even reason to believe that members of his own national team unfairly targeted him. The net result was that first Wetzell and then Ketola refused to play on the national team again.

The goalie never went back on his promise, but Ketola rescinded his boycott to participate in three more World Championship tournaments. Even though he lost some key years in his international career, he still makes the all-time top 10 list with the national team with 105 points in 186 games. The latter mark ranks sixth in team history, as do his 60 goals.

In Finland, Ketola helped his hometown of Pori win three national titles. The first one came in 1965 with the club nicknamed Karhut (the Bears). Two years later, the two hockey clubs in Pori joined forces and became known as Assat (the Aces). In the 1970s, Assat won two national championships, both times with Ketola as the team's top scorer.

After hanging up his skates, he turned to coaching. Then came a promotion to general manager of Assat, which ended in the spring of 2000 as the club, full of ambition at the start of the season, failed to make the playoffs. In Pori, however, he will still be known as "Mr. Hockey" for years to come.


REGULAR SEASON PLAYOFFS
Season Club League GP G A TP PIM +/- GP G A TP PIM
1963-64 Karhut Pori Finland 2 0 0 0 0
1964-65 Karhut Pori Finland 18 4 1 5 2
1965-66 Karhut Pori Finland 19 8 3 11 12
1966-67 Karhut Pori Finland 22 15 10 25 30
1967-68 Assat Pori Finland 20 12 13 25 16
1967-68 Finland Nat-Tm 13 10 7 17 13
1967-68 Finland Olympics 8 3 3 6 10
1968-69 Assat Pori Finland 20 15 9 24 22
1968-69 Finland Nat-Tm 11 1 4 5 10
1968-69 Finland WEC-A 8 0 2 2 2
1969-70 Jokerit Helsinki Finland 22 25 12 37 26
1969-70 Finland WEC-A 10 4 3 7 32
1970-71 Assat Pori Finland 31 25 17 42 31
1970-71 Finland Nat-Tm 17 6 7 13 16
1970-71 Finland WEC-A 6 5 1 6 4
1971-72 Assat Pori Finland 32 16 14 30 25
1971-72 Finland Nat-Tm 9 1 1 2 2
1971-72 Finland Olympics 6 1 3 4 7
1971-72 Finland WEC-A 9 4 3 7 4
1972-73 Assat Pori Finland 36 25 16 41 74
1972-73 Finland Nat-Tm 8 1 0 1 11
1972-73 Finland WEC-A 10 2 2 4 12
1973-74 Assat Pori Finland 35 23 21 44 44
1973-74 Finland Nat-Tm 18 4 1 5 6
1973-74 Finland WEC-A 10 7 3 10 4
1974-75 Winnipeg Jets WHA 74 23 28 51 25
1975-76 Winnipeg Jets WHA 80 32 36 68 32 13 7 5 12 2
1976-77 Finland Can-Cup 5 0 0 0 2
1976-77 Winnipeg Jets WHA 64 25 29 54 59
1976-77 Calgary Cowboys WHA 17 4 6 10 2
1976-77 Finland Nat-Tm 5 0 0 0 6
1977-78 Assat Pori Finland 36 27 29 56 59 9 10 10 20 22
1977-78 Finland Nat-Tm 6 1 1 2 20
1978-79 Assat Pori Finland 36 23 49 72 66 8 1 6 7 30
1979-80 Assat Pori Finland 36 22 38 60 61 7 3 7 10 40
1980-81 Assat Pori Finland 36 23 39 62 61 2 0 0 0 2
1981-82 Finland Can-Cup 5 0 0 0 6
1981-82 Colorado Rockies NHL 44 9 5 14 4 -17
1981-82 Finland Nat-Tm 5 1 2 3 2
1982-83 KalPa Kuopio Finland-2 6 4 8 12 6
NHL Totals 44 9 5 14 4


Finnish First All-Star Team (1968, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1978, 1979) Selected by Calgary-Cleveland (WHA) in 1972 WHA General Player Draft, February 12, 1972. WHA rights traded to Winnipeg (WHA) by Cleveland (WHA) for future considerations, August, 1974. Traded to Winnipeg (WHA) by Calgary (WHA) with Ron Ward and Heikki Riihiranta for Mike Ford, Danny Lawson and future considerations, March, 1977. Signed as a free agent by Colorado, July 8, 1981.