Hannu Virta

Hockey fans in Buffalo were ecstatic in 1979 when it was announced they somehow had hired the legendary coach of the Montreal Canadiens dynasty. He left Montreal as he wanted to include the general manager's responsibilities to his job description.

One of the most important contributions a general manager can make is at the draft table. Over the following few years Scotty's selections at the annual prospect stocking event were greeted with mixed reviews. He was able to land some real stars like Phil Housley, Dave Andreychuk and Tom Barrasso. He also picked up some players who never achieved what they had hoped - players like Steve Patrick and Normand Lacombe. He also showed he was a gambler by going after highly touted Europeans in an era where Europeans were still adjusting to North American play. High selections like Jiri Dudacek and Jens Johanson never left Europe, while others came but made little impact.

One of the gems that Bowman found in Europe was Hannu Virta. Bowman drafted him in the second round, 38th overall in the 1981 amateur draft. It was a surprise selection to be sure, although people were still shaking their heads at the first round selection of Dudacek - a star player who would have to defect from communist Czechoslovakia if he were ever to play in the NHL.

Virta was from Turku Finland, and would not have such political obstructions in his way from joining the Sabres, thus making him a less risky selection. Hannu impressed Bowman during a scouting trip to Finland. Virta's puckhandling skills impressed Bowman but he was still concerned if the smallish (5'11" 180 pound) defenseman could play in the physically demanding NHL. Bowman continued to dig for further information on Virta, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Virta had been suspended that season for his violent play. That eased any concerns Bowman had about Hannu's ability to play a physical game. Bowman would opt to draft Hannu with his second round pick fearing that the Edmonton Oilers were also eyeing him.

Hannu stayed in Finland the first season after being drafted. He had a strong debut season in the Finnish Elite League and also starred in the World Junior Championships before finishing the season with 3 regular season games and 4 playoff games with the Sabres.

Hannu made a favourable impression in his first full NHL season in 1982-83. He scored 13 goals (including a hat trick against Montreal) and 37 points and found himself at home on the NHL ice, even if he was lonely off of it as he struggled to learn English. He impressed everyone with his puck movement. He was outstanding at placing passes to streaking forwards. He was also a great skater

Hannu would never score at the same pace again despite being a regular on the Sabres power play unit, although he did post 36 points in the 1983-84 season. Injuries would limit him to just 51 and 47 games in 1984-85 and 1985-86 respectively.

Hannu opted to return to Finland once his contract with the Sabres expired in 1986. He would play star in Finland upon his return, earning all star rights 5 times. He represented his country in 7 world championships, 2 Canada/World Cups and the 1994 Olympics. He played with TPS Turku until 1994 and again in 1996-97, but played much of the late 1990s in Switzerland. He retired in 1998 and returned to TPS Turku as a coach.


General Manager Job Description 10:18 PM  

I love this game! I will be a part of this next year!

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