July 4th – an LA Kings birthday story

Widing LA Kings MayorsManor

Check out the skates Widing was wearing (photo courtesy of Splatched.com)

We begin today with a special thank you to all the men and women who have bravely volunteered for military service. You’re a big reason why friends and families all across the country can safely gather tonight and enjoy spending time together. We truly appreciate all that you’ve done for us!

Now, we’d like to share a 4th of July tale with an LA Kings twist. While the primary figure may not be a household name in LA, he has ties to several prominent figures you’ve probably heard of…

Long before Teemu Selanne was The Finnish Flash, the Kings had a center known as The Flying Finn…Juha Markku Widing, born July 4th, 1947.

He led the Kings in scoring three straight seasons in the early 70s, playing on teams that included the more popular Cowboy Bill Flett, Eddie Joyal and Butch Goring. However, we’ll get to that in a minute, let’s start at the beginning…

Like Tomas Sandstrom, Widing was born in Finland but actually raised in Sweden. He came to North America as a teenager to play for the Brandon Wheat Kings – a club where several top NHL prospects have honed their skills, including former LA prospect Brayden Schenn.

Furthering his parallel with Sandstrom, Widing started his pro career with the New York Rangers – back in 1969, when Tomas was only 5 years old.

After just one season in the Big Apple, Widing was traded to Jack Kent Cooke’s three-year old Los Angeles Kings franchise in February 1970. Who went back the other way in the deal? Ted Irvine – better known today as the father of Chris Jericho, a six-time WWE world champion and lead singer of the rock band Fozzy.

The Flying Finn went on to play six full seasons with the Kings, leading the team in scoring from 1970-73. According to various reports, Widing was very quick on his skates too and was even clocked as the fastest skater in several Kings training camps. He averaged 24 goals in his first five years in LA, yet netted only seven goals in the ’75-76 season and promptly was traded to the Cleveland Barons.

On a side note, Widing often played on a line with Bob Berry during his time in LA (known as the ‘Bee Line’ with Mike Byers as the third member). Berry went on to coach the Kings from 1979-81 and many years later served as an assistant coach under Darryl Sutter in San Jose. Although Kings GM Dean Lombardi was running the show up north at the time, perhaps the recommendation to hire Widing came from Bob Pulford (Lombardi’s father-in-law). Pulford had played with Widing for two years before stepping behind the bench to coach him and the Kings for the next five seasons.

After leaving the NHL, Widing played one year in Edmonton (a WHA club at the time) and then called it a career in the summer of ’78. The following season, that Oilers team featured the debut of a 17-year old kid named Wayne Gretzky. As is the custom in hockey, young Wayne was assigned a veteran player as his roommate on the road. Who did Wayne get? Garnet ‘Ace’ Bailey. Yes, the same Ace Bailey who would go on to be a scout for the LA Kings. Along with Mark Bavis (a fellow scout), the two were among the nearly 3,000 lives that were taken from us on September 11, 2001.

Today would have been Widing’s 65th birthday. Unfortunately he passed away back in 1984, suffering a heat attack at the young age of 37.

When gathered to celebrate our freedom and share in the tradition of fireworks this evening, if you happen to see a little purple and yellow among the bursts of light, it’s probably just Juha, Ace and Mark smiling down on you from up above.

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