Simo Saarinen may have only played 8 NHL games in his career, but he is an interesting story nonetheless.
Saarinen was a late round 1982 draft pick of the New York Rangers. Their scouting staff thought they had a steel as the undersized defenseman from Helsinki flew under the radar of most NHL scouts. The Rangers brought Saarinen overseas at the age of 20 after the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
Saarinen, who's name apparently translates to "islander" in English, a bad omen for a Rangers prospect, started off strong, earning a roster spot on Broadway right out of training camp. He would play in eight games before disaster struck.
While retrieving a loose puck in a game against Los Angeles, Saarinen lost his footing and crashed into the net. These were the days before the break-away nets with the Marsh Pegs that made the game safe for players. The nets were very much unmovable, a scary thought for any wayward player.
Saarinen's worst nightmare became reality at this moment. He terribly damaged his left knee, missing the rest of the season after surgery. He attempted a comeback the following year, but he was able to play in just 13 minor league games. His knee swelled up so badly he was forced off the ice for a second consecutive season.
Saarinen's hockey career appeared to be over before it began. He received a $175,000 disability pay-out and returned home to Finland. But he was still determined to play. After undergoing another surgery in Finland and persevering through many more weeks of rehab, he found he was able to return to the ice, rejoining his old team HIFK Helsinki.
By doing so Saarinen made the tough decision to return the $175,000 disability payment, but he would not regret it. He would play with his home club until 1996, earning legendary status and the retirement of his number 7. He was also able to take part in two more Olympics (1988 and 1992) and in two world championships.
Saarinen began a new career as a referee, although he disappeared from the public limelight after being arrested for driving under the influence.
Special thanks to Risto Pakarinen