Columbus makes Kekalainen first European to be GM in NHL
Share with others:
The Penguins' Ray Shero is an outgoing type, who, by nature, tends to be friendly with his fellow NHL general managers.
Shero doesn't have to cultivate a relationship with the latest addition to that 30-man fraternity. He already is close to Jarmo Kekalainen, who Wednesday was named the new general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Every day, Shero climbs into the car he bought from Kekalainen's wife, Tina. He has fond memories of visiting the Kekalainens in Finland. And he can claim to have helped launch Kekalainen's career in hockey management.
Both men got a lot of experience working for Ottawa, the Penguins' opponent Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.
"He's a real close friend," Shero said. "I'm happy for him."
The two go back to 1988 when Kekalainen was playing at Clarkson University. Shero, then a player agent, struck up a working relationship with Kekalainen to help place players with Finnish teams. When Kekalainen turned pro, Shero represented him. And when Shero stopped being an agent and joined Ottawa as an assistant general manager, the Senators signed Kekalainen.
"When he got done playing with the Senators and our [American Hockey League] team, he went back to Europe," Shero said.
That was in the mid-1990s. Shero and Randy Sexton, then the Senators general manager, "hired Jarmo part time in Europe as a scout. So we gave him a start back then," Shero said.
Kekalainen is the first European general manager in the NHL, but Shero doesn't think that makes much difference.
"He's got a lot of NHL experience and front-office experience," Shero said. "He's European-born, but he's really trained in the U.S. and North America. I don't think it's an advantage or disadvantage. It's just where he's from. But he really was kind of a trailblazer for a lot of the European guys over there when he got into scouting."
At the world championships last spring in Sweden and Finland, Shero and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma hung out some with Kekalainen.
"Dan and I spent a lot of time with him," Shero said. "He took us to the Finnish Sauna Society."
That wasn't the first time Shero had visited with Kekalainen in Europe.
"I've spent time over in Finland with him in the summertime, him and his family," Shero said.
Kekalainen's brother, Janne, is a scout for Nashville, where Shero worked as an assistant general manager when Janne was hired. Janne Kekalainen helped steer the Predators to star Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne, an eighth-round draft pick in 2004. Another brother, Jari, is a scout for Florida.
Kekalainen moved up the ranks in Ottawa to director of player personnel after Shero left. He later worked as assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting for St. Louis under John Davidson, now president of hockey operations with Columbus. Most recently, Kekalainen spent a couple of seasons as GM with Jokerit, one of the most prominent pro teams in Finland.
When Kekalainen was moving to Helsinki to join Jokerit, he and Shero spoke. Shero happened to mention that he was in the market for a car. Kekalainen said his wife needed to sell her car for the move.
A deal was born. It remains to be seen whether there might be a different sort of deal at some point between the two men now that they are both NHL general managers.
First Published February 14, 2013 9:56 am