Experience is something that doesn't come freely in any sport. Careers aplenty have been cut short due to injuries that we resent. Some are able to fight through it and end their playing days on their own terms.
A select few have been able to accomplish this feat. Teppo Numminen definitely appears to be one of them. For starters, he is the only NHLer from the 1986 Entry Draft that's still competing today.
In November 2006, Numminen set a record for most games played by a European-trained player. The previous mark had been the great Jari Kurri's. Since he had debuted in the league, the Finn had spent all of his time with the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes organizations.
The veteran gave the Sabres what they expected in his first two seasons: sound defense, and a fair amount of offense.
Side note: Numminen totalled two goals, 38 assists for 40 points in his first year with the Sabres and added two goals, 27 assists for 29 points in his second season. Only Brian Campbell registered more points in those two years on the Sabres defense.
Prior to the 2007/2008 campaign, the organization and hockey world received a scare when it was announced that Numminen required open heart surgery. The season wore on, and the team desperately needed that cool head on the blue line, which was missing.
Not only was the operation a success, but he returned to play the final game of the season with his teammates. It was a 3-0 win in Boston, but Buffalo had already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Words can't even describe Numminen's courage to return to the game at 40-years-of age. When he was hit in the face by a puck during a Jan. 17 matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes this year, Sabres fans held their breath yet again.
Numminen had a small break in his jaw, but only missed six games. Although he was gone for a short period of time, the Sabres sorely missed his presence. The native of Tampere is continuing his consistent play with two goals and 13 assists through 48 games.
Stats aren't what Buffalo value Numminen for. It's his experience that allows him to stay calm in his own end, send out tape-to-tape passes through the neutral zone, and help the young rookies on the blue line.
Trophies aren't everything, and this is a great example of that. Having the aid of a veteran like Numminen during the season and playoffs pays huge dividends.
Who knows how much longer he will remain with the Buffalo Sabres organization. At his age, you need plenty of heart.
I don't think there's any shortage of that in Teppo Numminen.
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