pentti lund, 1925–2013

Low Poke: Chicago's Doug Bentley reaches for Pentti Lund's puck in a game at New York's Madison Square Garden in December of 1949.

Low Poke: Chicago’s Doug Bentley reaches for Pentti Lund’s puck in a game at New York’s Madison Square Garden in December of 1949. “The game was a spotty one,” opined The New York Times next day, “with long sessions of aimless puck chasing interrupted by brilliant individual sallies. Still, the outcome proved satisfactory to most of the 9,174 spectators.” New York won, 2-1.

The New York Rangers eventually lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup semi-finals in 1971, but they had some big wins along the way. One of them included a hattrick by centre Vic Hadfield, the first to be notched in the playoffs by a Ranger since Pentti Lund managed it. “I remember Lund,” Jean Ratelle said after the game, Hadfield’s linemate. “From the bubblegum cards I had as a kid.” Hadfield: not so much. “I never heard of Lund,” he said. “How long ago did he do it?”

It was the spring of 1950, in fact, which is worth recalling, with word today from Thunder Bay today that Lund has died at the age of 87. The second Finnish-born player to make a mark in the NHL, those who do remember him in New York know that he not only won the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie in 1949, but Lund’s hattrick the following year almost — it was close — helped the Rangers win a Stanley Cup, too.

He was born Pentti Rönnlund in Karijoki in Finland’s west in 1925, but his family emigrated to what was then Port Arthur, Ontario, when he was six years old. (Albert Pudas, the NHL’s first Finn grew up in Port Arthur, too.) The story’s told that a young Lund was in awe of all the local children on their skates. “He wanted to skate, too,” narrates a 1949 profile, “but he had no skates.”

An older girl in the neighborhood, learning of his difficulty, gave him a pair she had outgrown.

The skates were not designed for hockey and they were too big, but little Pentti Lund was too happy to care.

He went on to play for his hometown’s junior Bruins before a stint in the navy during the Second World War. His first NHL team was Boston’s Bruins, for whom his made his debut on the left wing in the 1947 playoffs. Boston sent him to New York in a trade involving Grant Warwick. The first player Finnish-born to score an NHL goal, he finished with 14 the following season, along with 16 assists, which was good enough to edge out a teammate, defenceman Allan Stanley, as rookie of the year.

While Lund scored 18 goals the next season, his finest hour on the ice may have come in the playoffs. The Rangers met Montreal in the semi-finals that year. New York coach Lynn Patrick assigned Lund to shadow Maurice Richard, who was off a league-leading 43-goal season for the Habs. “Don’t worry about whether you score or not,” Patrick told him. “Just keep Richard from scoring.” Which he duly did, more or less: the Rocket scored just once in five games under Lund’s supervision. In the third game, he got to witness Lund score his famous hattrick in a 4-1 Ranger win.

New York lost to Detroit in the finals that year. The next one after that was a disappointment for Lund: he scored just four goals. He was traded back to Boston in 1951 where, in November, Chicago defenceman Clare Martin caught him in the right eye with a high swipe of his stick. “There is a hemorrhage of the anterior chamber and a tear in the iris,” Dr. Tom Cavanaugh reported from the Boston Eye and Ear Infirmary, but Lund was back on the ice for the second half of the season. He played another year for the Bruins, too, scored eight goals, but by the age of 26 he was out of the league. “I’d go out on the ice with one eye and it wasn’t a pleasant experience at the end,” he told Brian McFalone for his 1997 book Over The Glass And Into The Crowd!

He played as a re-instated amateur after that, in Sault Ste. Marie where, as McFalone tells it, he was involved in the early development of a visor with a Toronto businessman. “He tried to make it work,” Lund told McFalone, “but it fogged up all the time.”

He went home, after hockey, and worked at restaurants, real estate, and selling cars until 1962, when he joined the Fort William Times-Journal as a sports reporter and photographer. “I didn’t know how to change the ribbon in a typewriter, he said later. “But they were willing to let me stumble about for the first year or two.” He became sports editor in 1965, where he stayed until he retired in 1990.

Pentti Lund was inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. He went into the Finnish Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.