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July 4 A story about the birthday of LA Kings

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The following article originally appeared on MayorsManor.com in July 20212.

We begin today with a special word of thanks to all the men and women who bravely volunteered for military service. You are an important reason why friends and families across the country can safely gather and enjoy time together tonight. We really appreciate everything you’ve done for us!

Now we want to share a July 4th story with an LA Kings twist. While the main character may not be a household name in LA, he has ties to several prominent figures you probably know.

Long ago Teemu Selanne was The Finnish Flash, the Kings had a center known as The Flying Finn…Juha Markku Widingborn on July 4, 1947.

He led the Kings by scoring three consecutive seasons in the early 1970s, playing on such teams as the more popular Cowboy Bill Flett, Eddie Joyal and Butch Goring. But we’ll get to that in a moment, let’s start at the beginning…

Like Tomas Sandstrom, Widing was born in Finland but grew up in Sweden. He came to North America as a teenager to play junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL – a club where a bevy of future NHL players honed their skills, including former LA prospect Brayden Schennas well as Ray Ferraro, Ron Hextall and many others.

Widing continued his parallel with Sandstrom and started his professional career with the New York Rangers – in 1969, when Tomas was only 5 years old.

After just one season in the Big Apple, Widing was sold to Jack Kent Cooke’s three-year-old Los Angeles Kings franchise in February 1970. Who went the other way in the deal? Ted Irvine – better known today as the father of Chris Jericho, six-time WWE World Champion and lead singer of the rock band Fozzy

Broad LA Kings MayorsManor
Check out the skates Widing wore (photo courtesy of Splatched.com)

The Flying Finn played six full seasons with the Kings, leading the team in scoring from 1970-73. According to various reports, Widing was also very fast on his skates and was even clocked as the fastest skater in several Kings training camps. He averaged 24 goals in his first five years in LA, but only scored seven in the ’75-76 season and was promptly traded to the Cleveland Barons

As an aside, Widing often played on par with Bob Berry during his time in LA (known as the ‘Bee Line’ with Mike Byers as the third member). Berry continued to coach the Kings from 1979-81 and many years later served as an assistant coach under Darryl Sutter in San Jose. Although Kings GM Dean Lombardy was doing the show up north at the time, maybe the recommendation to hire Widing came from Bob Pulford (Lombardi’s father-in-law). Pulford had played with Widing for two years before stepping behind the bench to coach him and the Kings for the next five seasons.

After leaving the NHL, Widing played in Edmonton (then a WHA club) for a year and then called it a career in the summer of ’78. The following season, that Oilers team played the debut of a 17-year-old boy named Wayne Gretzky. As is the custom in hockey, young Wayne was assigned an experienced player as his roommate on the road. Who got Wayne? Grenade ‘Ace’ Bailey. Yes, the same Ace Bailey who would become scout for the LA Kings. Along with Mark Bavis (a fellow scout), the two were among the nearly 3,000 lives taken from us on September 11, 2001.

Today Widing would turn 65. Sadly, he died of a heat attack in 1984, at the age of 37.

If you’re coming together tonight to celebrate and share our freedom in the tradition of fireworks, if you happen to see a little bit of purple and yellow between the flashes of light, it’s probably Juha, Ace and Mark smiling down on you from above.

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