Monday

Juha Widing

Juha Widing was born in Oulu, Finland to Swedish parents. He grew up in Grums (Värmland), where players like Thomas Steen and Willy Lindstrom came from.

He played in Grums in the late 1950's and then moved to Gothenburg and a team named GAIS. There he played until 1964. Then as a 17-year old he made a bold and brave decision that would change his life forever - packed his bags and moved to Canada.

How would a Swedish kid fare in Canada in the 1960s? He wasn't a big physical player by any stretch, but he didn't shy away from that aspect of the game either. Juha was a very fast skater who was clocked as the fastest skater in several Kings training camps. He was technically skilled and smart.

Juha joined the Brandon Wheat Kings, a New York Rangers junior club, in 1964. He had a solid rookie year with the Wheat Kings - in 45 games he recorded 23 goals, 15 assists for 38 total points. The 1965/66 season was even better for Widing. In 50 games he recorded a league leading 62 goals, 52 assists for 114 points!

Once Widing turned 20, the New York Rangers assigned him to their minor pro farm club, the Omaha Knights of the Central Hockey League. He led the Knights in scoring with 27 goals and 60 points and tied for the lead in assists, with Bill Fairbairn, with 33 assists.

The 1968/69 season was another good year for Widing. He again led the entire CHL with 41 goals, and added 39 assists for 80 points, which placed him 2nd among all point getters. He was a CHL second team all star. Yet despite his two fine years of professional hockey, Juha still hadn't had a shot at the NHL.

Perhaps it was because he was labelled as the stereotypical European of the day because of his name, but Juha was determined to make it to the NHL. He had an impressive 1969 training camp with the Rangers and the Rangers had little choice but to keep the youngster at the NHL level. By playing for the Rangers in game one of the 1969-70 season. However they didn't give the rookie a lot of opportunity to do some real damage, appearing in 44 games of limited ice time, scoring 7 goals and 7 assists. He just didn't check enough to suit the defensive minded Rangers. - I've been concentrating on checking ever since and it's made me a more complete player, he said later on in his career.

By late in the season the Rangers traded Juha and Real Lemieux to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Teddy Irvine. It turned out be a great move for Widing, who would go on to be a top player in Los Angeles for years to come. Years later Widing chuckled when he thought about the trade.

"I was traded from New York at the airport. I didn't even have time to pack my things because Los Angeles had a game the following night."

He broke his wrist after only four games in LA, but Widing then went on to lead the Los Angeles Kings in scoring for the next three seasons. Teaming up with Mike Byers and Bob Berry to form the "Bee Line". Later on with Mike Corrigan and Bob Berry he formed the "Hot Line." He also played with other lines featuring Butch Goring and Bob Nevin, the Kings were pretty respectable leading up to the days when Marcel Dionne reigned as King of Kings. Juha played 7 full seasons in Los Angeles, the first five of which were very productive years.

In 1976 Juha was invited to represent Sweden in the 1976 Canada Cup. An invitation that he proudly accepted. When Juha landed in Sweden to prepare for the tournament he got a question from a Swedish reporter if he thought it would be difficult with the transition to European hockey after so many years in North America.

"It's going to be North American hockey over there and that's the kind of hockey that I can play" Juha said. He then added: "I gladly admit that I've dreamed about playing for the national team since I was a kid."

Juha also felt that it was a perfect opportunity to redeem himself after a weak 75-76 season in which he only scored 7 goals.

"I had a lot of bad luck in 75-76.I got hit by a "heat-stroke" during the training camp. When I returned I was in bad shape and was hurt on and off."

Juha made his international debut against the Soviet Union and Finland prior to the Canada Cup. Fittingly enough Juha scored in both of the games against Finland. He then had a decent Canada Cup tournament for Sweden.

From there it went downhill with Juha's hockey career. As the 1976-77 season started Juha failed to score in the 10 pre season games as well as the first 20 games of the regular season. The writing was on the wall. Juha and his $100,000 contract became expendable. He was traded to the Cleveland Barons on January 22, 1977, it was his last season in the NHL.

In 1977-78, Widing jumped to the W.H.A. Edmonton Oilers and played one last season of professional hockey before retiring. In Widing's 8 year N.H.L. career he appeared in 575 games, scoring 144 goals, along with 226 assists.

After his hockey career was over he worked as a consultant for the Vancouver Canucks. Sadly enough his heart gave up on December 30, 1984. Only 38-years old Widing died of a heart attack at a hospital in Vancouver. The likeable Scandinavian who was tagged "Whitey" for his blond hair eventually lost the battle, but he also won one when he became the first European born and trained player to have a pretty successful career in the NHL.

4 comments:

Captain Cold March 17, 2012 at 1:13 AM  

Rest in Peace Whitey.You are still sorely missed by Kings fans even after all these years! God Bless!

cadvan3 May 1, 2012 at 11:57 PM  

Loved watching you as a kid, you were my favorite. Wish you were still here. Guess God needed a great center who could really skate.

garagehero June 6, 2012 at 5:51 AM  

Juha, I still can see you in my mind's eye, racing down the ice at the Forum, hair flowing like a Viking.....He shoots, he scores!!!!! Whitey, I have been wearing your Kings jersey for all the playoffs in 2012, but I guess you know that, watching us from the big press box in the sky. This one's for you, buddy. God bless you and your family.

Unknown August 2, 2014 at 7:30 PM  

Remember seeing you at Detroit's Olympia Stadium as a member of the New York Rangers.

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