Ilkka Sinisalo

Dave Poulin remembers his Flyers teammate and friend Ilkka Sinisalo

Dave Poulin remembers his Flyers teammate and friend Ilkka Sinisalo

Dave Poulin served as the Flyers' captain during five seasons when Ilkka Sinisalo played in Philadelphia.

The 58-year-old Poulin had a special relationship with the Fin because he himself had played in Sweden one season before coming to the Flyers.

Sinisalo died on Wednesday in Finland from prostate cancer.

"I always had a different outlook and understanding for how challenging it was for Europeans playing in a different country," Poulin said.

"I might have had a better rapport with Europeans early on than other guys had because I had sat in a locker room when everyone laughed, and I didn't know what that meant."

Poulin was able to transcend the language barrier.

In Poulin's mind, Sinisalo should never have willingly taken a back seat to some of his more offensive-minded teammates, such as Tim Kerr, Brian Propp, Mark Howe, etc.

Sinisalo was a quiet, unassuming player, who was perfectly content to play in the shadow of others, which Poulin felt was simply wrong.

"He was a much better player than he was ever given credit for and I think he could have been an even greater player," Poulin said. "He had a certain reservation about himself.

"He could have scored 50 goals in this league. He looked at me one day when I told him that and he said, 'And then they will want 60 from me.'”

The NHL was still very Canadian back then. When Europeans came over to North America, they were simply "slotted" into positions on their respective teams. The argument can be made that many of them accepted their roles.

That same argument could have been made for Sinisalo, who suffered a number of injuries during his career and never played a full season.

Poulin disagrees with that assessment.

"He was fine with how he played," he said. "He was the ultimate secondary scorer on a team. He didn’t have to want-to or need-to be in the spotlight. I always felt with players it was more up to the individual. Was it partly their nationality?

"Well, was there any more of a flamboyant scorer in the league than Teemu Selanne? I don’t think there was ever a player in the NHL who liked to score goals more than Selanne."

Indeed, Selanne, the legendary Fin, scored 76 goals his rookie year in Winnipeg (1992-93) and would go to produce 10 seasons of 31 or more goals and seven of 40 or more during his amazing 23 seasons in the NHL.

Because he played in Europe, Poulin had a different relationship with players such as Sinisalo, Thomas Eriksson, Miroslav Dvorak,  Pelle Eklund and Pelle Lindbergh.

"Maybe I went out of my way more with a lot of Europeans, I played with," Poulin said.

It extended off the ice, as well. The Poulin family and Sinisalo family vacationed together in Captiva Island, Florida, for many years.

"When you plan a vacation with a hockey teammate you ask yourself, 'Is this gonna work?'" Poulin said. "It worked because we both had our own vacations, as well."

It also worked because Poulin and Sinisalo were close friends, not just teammates.

Popular former Flyer Ilkka Sinisalo dies at 58

Popular former Flyer Ilkka Sinisalo dies at 58

Ilkka Sinisalo, a somewhat underrated member of one of the most prolific scoring clubs in Flyers history, died Wednesday in Finland at age 58.
 
He had battled prostate cancer for more than three years.
 
Sinisalo had been a European scout with the Flyers since 2004. Sinisalo, who once served as Flyers defenseman Janne Niinimaa's landlord in Finland, was well-respected within the scouting ranks and was also asked to voice opinions on North American prospects. He even gave his advice on European pros who were hoping to play in the NHL. 

He was the first Finnish player in Flyers history and was immortalized by Sign Man's "Ilkka Score-a-goal-a."
 
"Ilkka was a true friend and loyal member of the Flyers," Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. "He gave a great deal of his time, effort and talents to the organization in several capacities as a player and longtime scout to bring this franchise success on and off the ice.
 
"Most important to all that knew him, he was a great person, a loving husband, father and grandfather. His presence and friendship will be deeply missed by all that knew him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of over 35 years, Carina, his sons Niklas and Tomas, as well as Tomas' wife, Maija and their children Peter and Matilda."
 
Sinisalo was one of the quickest, smoothest skaters in the entire NHL during that era when goals were scored by the bushel. He played up and down the lineup on Mike Keenan's teams.
 
"Ilkka was awesome to play with," recalled teammate Brian Propp. "He always knew how to score. He picked the corners, he never missed the net and he was a two-way player. He made a difference for us on the second and third line because we needed scoring and he filled that role."
 
Sinisalo's best season was 1985-86 when he had career-highs in goals (39) and points (76). That particular team, led by Propp's 97 points, had four players with 76 or more points and five players with 27 or more goals, led by Tim Kerr's 58.
 
Pelle Eklund's 51 assists that year remains a Flyers rookie record. Just an amazing offensive team.
 
"He played with [Peter] Zezel and [Rick] Tocchet a little bit [on the off-wing]," Propp said. "And with Derek Smith and Lindsay Carson. He was pretty good at hanging in there with guys.
 
"He was one of the best guys around. We had a balanced scoring team and with Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon at the point, we had chances to score."
 
Sinisalo was here parts of nine seasons from 1981-82 to 1989-90. His 199 goals as a Flyer are fourth-best in franchise history among right wings while his 408 points are sixth-best in the same category.
 
"Just a terrific guy," teammate Rick Tocchet said. "A skilled player. I am shocked right now."
 
Sinisalo made two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final with the Flyers -- 1985 and 1987 against Edmonton.
 
"Ilkka was a very good player, a great teammate, but most importantly an outstanding person and a terrific friend to us all," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "We've all had the pleasure to work with him for many years and he will be missed." 
 
He joined the Flyers as a 23-year-old rookie in 1981, signing as a free agent after playing four seasons for HIFK Helsinki in Finland.
 
"His first goal was a penalty shot, I remember that," Propp said.
 
Indeed, that came during an 8-2 rout over Pittsburgh at the Spectrum. Sinisalo had 15 goals and 37 points during his rookie year.
 
A defensively-responsible player, he was a plus player his entire career as a Flyer and retired plus-135.
 
His 11 shorthanded goals as a Flyer remains tied for 10th-most with Simon Gagne and Don Saleski.
 
Tocchet said he was one of the most versatile players he'd ever seen.
 
"Honestly, he played with everyone," Tocchet said. "Could play left or right wing."