Friday, October 3, 2014
On this date in 1997, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Vancouver Canucks played the first ever regular season game outside North America when they faced off at the Yoyogi Arena in Tokyo, Japan.
It was also the NHL debut for Espen Knutsen, only the third, and still the highest scoring player ever born and trained in Norway.
He began his rise to the NHL back in 1988-89 while playing junior hockey in his native Norway. It was during that season that he made his international debut for Norway with appearances in both the European Junior Championships (scoring 8 goals and 12 points in only 5 games) and the World Junior Championships.
The following season of 1989-90 Knutsen moved up to the Oslo based Vålerenga IF senior team of the Norwegian Eliteserien. His debut season was a spectacular one, scoring 53 points in 40 games from 25 goals and 28 assists. During that season another pair of international appearances were added to his growing resume, scoring 17 points in 6 games at the European Juniors and 9 points in 7 games at the World Junior Championships.
1990-91 saw Knutsen top himself with 54 regular season points, coming in just 31 games, during which he scored 30 goals. He also made his third appearance at the World Juniors that season. During the postseason, he added 7 more points in 5 games as Vålerenga captured the championship.
The 1991-92 season was Knutsen equal his 54 points from the previous campaign, only this time in one less game at 30. He followed that with an outstanding playoff, with 7 goals and 15 points in 8 games as Vålerenga captured back-to-back titles.
Injuries limited him to just 13 games in 1992-93, but he rebounded in 1993-94 with a vengeance, setting a career highs with 32 goals and 58 points, this coming in 38 contests. His international career continued to reach new levels as he was chosen to represent Norway at the 1994 Olympics on home soil in Lillehammer. Later that spring, he made his debut at the World Championships and was eventually named 1994 Norwegian Player of the Year.
Seeking a higher level of competition, Knutsen moved to Djurgardens IF in Sweden's Elitserien for the next three seasons, increasing his point totals from 20 to 33 and then 49. He would also compete for Norway at the World Championships in each of those three years as well.
Despite having been drafted by the Hartford Whalers as far back as 1990, he had remained in Europe the entire time, but with his rights now being held by the Mighty Ducks, he made the jump to North America, where he made his NHL debut at the season opener in Japan. He played 19 games with the Mighty Ducks, scoring 3 goals, but spent the majority of his season with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League after the physical play of the NHL took it's toll on the 168 pound European.
He returned to Djurgardens for the next two seasons, including 1999-00 when he led the club in scoring, finished second in the league scoring race and was the highest paid player in the country.
He was recruited by the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL and returned to North America for a second go. This time things went much better for Knutsen, as he scored 53 points in 66 games, finishing just 3 back of team leader Geoff Sanderson.
While his point totals dropped to 42 in 2001-02, he became the first Norwegian to appear in the NHL All-Star Game when he was added to the World Team as an injury replacement.
After the 2002-03 season, during which he was limited to just 31 games by injuries, he scored 9 points for Norway at the World Championships Division I level in what would be his final international appearance.
Injuries again derailed his 2003-04 season, which was one of turmoil for Knutsen. Early in the season, after just 14 games with Columbus, he was assigned to their top minor league affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. After just two games he left North America and returned to Vålerenga in Norway for one game followed by six games back with Djurgardens in Stockholm.
His final NHL totals were 207 games played, 30 goals and 81 assists for 111 points.
He wrapped up his career in 2004-05 with 15 games in Djurgardens before calling it a career as a player before beginning anew in the world of coaching, where he is now the head coach for his original club, Vålerenga.
Today's featured jersey is a 1997-98 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim Espen Knutsen jersey as worn on the occasion of his NHL debut for the Mighty Ducks season opening game held in Japan, commemorated by the Game ONe '97 patch worn on the upper right chest of this jersey.
This jersey style certainly raised eyebrows on it's debut in 1993, as only fellow Californians the San Jose Sharks with their teal jerseys debuted two years earlier had ever dared wear such unconventional colors as jade and eggplant in a league filled with blues, reds and blacks with only the occasional appearances of such outlandish colors as green, orange and yellow.
Also quite unusual at the time was the decision to actually use something so bold as a diagonal stripe across the body, but what really had people up in arms was owners Disney naming the team after their recent film "The Mighty Ducks" and choosing by far the most cartoonish, juvenile logo in league history.
All together, the complete package had purists up in arms, many of which never embraced the look even after 11 seasons of use.
Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2000-01 Columbus Blue Jackets Espen Knutsen jersey as worn during Knutsen's return to North America for the Blue Jackets inaugural season, which is also commemorated by a patch on the upper right chest.
The Blue Jackets original jerseys were a generally classy style, aside from the head of their cartoon mascot "Stinger" as a secondary shoulder patch, which remained on the shoulders until the Blue Jackets debuted a new alternate jersey in 2003 which saw a brand new logo design for the main crest. In a move to make their brand consistent across all three of their jerseys, the new alternate jersey logo was then used on one shoulder of the home and road jerseys, with a new secondary logo of a Civil War solider's cap on the opposite side, completing the retirement of "Stinger" and upgrading the jerseys look considerably.
Today's video segment begins with Knutsen royally embarrassing himself by participating in the making of a music video, which is coming back to haunt him years later.
This next video is from Knutsen returning to Columbus following his playing career on the Blue Jackets Alumni Night as part of their 10th anniversary.