What makes a good shadow?
•Resilience, says Marty McSorley, a former Oiler roommate of Tikkanen's who is now employed as one of Gretzky's bodyguards: "You can belt Tikky, can knock him down, make him dizzy, but he never stays down." McSorley attributes this to Tikkanen's stubbornness and to his ideal hockey frame, which Kings coach Tom Webster has likened to "a bowling ball with ears."
•Chatter, suggests Oiler forward Craig MacTavish. Tikkanen subjects his victims to a relentless stream of polyglot nonsense. "We call it Tikspeak," says MacTavish. "Since he makes no sense, there's no possible response. That bugs guys." Indeed, despite his ample English vocabulary, Tikkanen's knowledge of verb tenses and syntax remains sketchy. Thus the second halves of his spoken sentences become a kind of lost-and-found for loose articles and free-floating pronouns, as in: "Shadowing these guys doing my part job win Stanley Cup was best for team, and I do to try exactly my thing."
•The Jerk Factor, offers Kings forward Tony Granato: "He's excellent at getting under guys' skins. When you're thinking about how badly you want to hurt him, you're not thinking about what you've got to do to win."
•Talent, says Gretzky: "To shadow me, he's got to have some ability. Also, to be an effective shadow, he's got to play for a good team. Otherwise, I'd just stay on the ice, and his team would never score."
Tikkanen's offensive skills have come into the spotlight since Gretzky was traded in 1988. With Mark Messier missing 27 games as a result of various injuries last season, Tikkanen led the Oilers in scoring, with 27 goals and 42 assists. During the off-season, team owner Peter Pocklington and general manager Glen Sather busied themselves auctioning off most of the usable parts remaining from Edmonton's dynasty teams: Messier was dealt to the New York Rangers; Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson were traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs; Steve Smith was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks. Tikkanen, however, signed a six-year deal with the Oilers for a million per. He has become the cornerstone of the Oilers.
Tikkanen's journey from curiosity to cornerstone has been a long, strange trip marked by inadvertent hilarity. From the earliest hours of his Oiler career, the self-styled "crazy Finn" has drawn attention to himself. During the 1985 Campbell Conference finals against Chicago, Tikkanen was contacted in Helsinki by Oiler chief scout Barry Fraser, on whose recommendation Edmonton had selected Tikkanen in the fourth round of the '83 entry draft. Be on a plane to the U.S. the following morning, Tikkanen was told.
Tikkanen's flight connected through Zurich. When he got to Zurich, however, "bad thing happening to me." Swiss customs agents wouldn't let Tikkanen board because he had no U.S. visa. The 20-year-old calmly checked into a five-star hotel in Zurich, ate a sumptuous room-service meal, picked up his visa the following morning at the American embassy, arrived in Chicago a day late and, with an apologetic grin, presented the Oilers with a $1,000 hotel bill.
The Oilers, who had beaten Chicago in the conference championship, lost the first game of the Stanley Cup finals to the Philadelphia Flyers. Tikkanen, who had yet to play in an NHL game, was approached by Sather at the morning skate before the second game. Their conversation, Tikkanen recalls, went like this:
Sather: "Are you ready to play?"