It’s fitting that when Jyrki Lumme’s cell rang for me to interview him for this story, he was packing to come to Vancouver.
That’s just what Lumme was doing in early March of 1990 when the Montreal Canadiens traded the then 24-year-old; he put his life into a few suitcases, grabbed his hockey bag and headed for the west coast.
Being traded to the Vancouver Canucks, looking back, was just what Lumme needed to jumpstart his NHL career and re-ignite his passion for the game he grew up adoring in Tampere, Finland.
“Even though it was interesting to be in Montreal and all that, I don’t think my career was going anywhere there,” said Lumme, who will be showcased when the Canucks host the Anaheim Ducks on February 9th.
“I guess I wasn’t playing the type of game they wanted from me, so I was a little bit in and out of the lineup. The trade was expected, there were so rumours so it was expected.”
What wasn’t expected was being dealt to Vancouver, a city Lumme had only visited twice as a member of the Canadiens. What caught his attention was the same thing that grabs most tourists, the beautiful scenery and robust mountains. Lumme didn’t need to know much more than that; like his high school sweetheart, sometimes you just know the fit is right.
The good thing about his debut in Vancouver, as opposed to getting to know his eventual wife in high school, was that there was no awkwardness - the transition defined smooth. Lumme was paired with Paul Reinhart for the final 11 games of the 1989–90 season and like the offensive defenceman Canucks fans remember, he had 10 points (3-7-10) to close out the year.
As the Canucks transformed from Smythe Division chumps to Western Conference champs the next few seasons, Lumme developed into one of the most dynamic blueliners in team history. And Lumme wasn’t alone in making the most of the opportunity and confidence Vancouver showed in him; although not to the same extent of a typical Disney sports team movie, the Canucks were indeed a group of guys looking for their identity that came together when it mattered most.
“There were a lot of other guys pretty much in the same situation that I was, kind of not playing much with their previous team and then Vancouver gave everybody new life and we all tried to make the best out of it.
“We ended up with just an unbelievable group of guys, all the guys played hard and everybody was pulling for each other. Our success was just a combination of having great guys around you that wanted to work hard and play for the team.”
Like so many others celebrated during Vancouver’s 40th anniversary season, the crowning jewel of Lumme’s time in Vancouver (from 1990 to 1998) was the run to the Stanley Cup Final, but unlike so many others celebrated, there’s no iconic Lumme moment from the quest to the Cup.
The best parts for Lumme were stunning the Calgary Flames and disposing of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with both Game 7s still fresh in his mind. Other than that, the entire 1993-94 playoffs is a blur of games, busses, planes, fans and more; the hysteria that surrounded Vancouver’s run was so exhausting that as much as any goal, save or win, Lumme vividly remembers that once the playoffs were over, every time he sat down, he fell asleep.
His 83 goals, 238 assists and 321 points collected in 579 games played with the Canucks (which had Lumme tied with Dennis Kearns for first all-time in scoring by a defenceman until Mattias Ohlund surpassed them on March 15, 2009) feels the same way, it’s all pretty hazy for the 44-year-old.
It’s all numbers to Lumme anyways, and it’s not the numbers that last a lifetime, it’s the friendships and memories made – gushy, but true.
“I have so many great memories that I can’t even list them all. With anything and everywhere, you have some tough times and tough days and all that, but that only makes it better, and as a whole, that was just an unbelievable time with some unbelievable people.
“I try to make it out to Vancouver as much as I can and see as many people as I can, especially Dana Murzyn, I’ll head out to Calgary to see him on this trip too. Dana and I go hunting every November and we have for about the last six years now.
“There’s lots of guys to see, especially the guys who live in and are in Vancouver lots like Kirk McLean and Dave Babych, I don’t want to list them all because I’ll forget somebody, but I definitely try to see as many guys as I can. It’s always fun to see those guys.”