CHICAGO — In the final game of Kimmo Timonen’s 16-year NHL career, the 40-year-old Finnish defenseman became a champion.
Timonen raised the Stanley Cup for the first time Monday night, ending a hockey life previously defined by disappointments on hockey’s biggest stages with a spectacular triumph.
Timonen has repeatedly said he will retire this summer, but he squeezed one more magical season out of his career after coming back to hockey from health problems due to blood clots.
Traded from Philadelphia to Chicago late in the season, he never scored a point for the Blackhawks and played sparingly in the postseason [—] but his name will be etched on the Stanley Cup.
After Jonathan Toews accepted the Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman amid the celebration of Chicago’s clinching 2-0 victory over Tampa Bay, the captain swiftly handed it to Timonen, who triumphantly raised it above his head.
“I’ve been in every final there is in the hockey world, but I haven’t won anything,” Timonen said before Game 6. “I’ve always been on the losing part of this side of the story.”
Indeed, Timonen has four Olympic medals with Finland, but no golds. He reached three World Championships finals, losing every time.
He was the captain of the Nashville Predators during his first eight NHL seasons with the club, never making a lengthy playoff run. Timonen got close to a Cup in 2010 with the Philadelphia Flyers, but the Blackhawks rallied past them in the Stanley Cup Final to claim the first of their three titles in six years.
Timonen easily could have walked away from hockey last summer when he was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs and leg. After seven seasons with the Flyers and with his 40th birthday on the horizon, everything was in place for Timonen to transition into post-hockey life, and he didn’t put on skates for eight months.
But Timonen also kept talking to doctors about a way to safely play one more season. He felt unsettled and uncertain that he should walk away without taking one more shot at the Stanley Cup.
When Timonen felt confident he could play without risking his health, Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall managed to trade him to Chicago for two draft picks. He went scoreless in 16 regular-season games for the Blackhawks, and he has struggled at times during 15 scoreless postseason games, dropping in and out of Chicago’s lineup.
Timonen’s wife, Johanna, even attended Game 6 after staying away earlier in the postseason, too nervous and worried about her husband’s health and fortunes.
“She might take those blindfolds off,” Timonen said with a laugh.
He played just 3:39 in Game 6, taking only seven shifts.
He’s still a champion forever.