Pekka and Juhani: Their Migrant Story

In late August 1975, Pekka Rautakallio, his wife Arja, and their two-year-old son, stepped off a plane into Phoenix’s sweltering heat. During those weeks, temperature highs floated between 105F/40.5C to 107F/41.6C. Back in Pori, Finland, summer started turning into fall with highs around 57.5F/14.2C. The Rautakallios retrieved their luggage ready to start the upcoming Phoenix Roadrunners’ hockey season. When he stepped off the plane, Rautakallio became a migrant worker as a Roadrunner defenseman.

Excluding advances in transportation, Rautakallio’s story shared many aspects with European migrants of the early-1900s. At the turn of the twentieth century, steamship agents recruited peasants trumpeting America’s wealth. The agents often acted as auctioneers, creditors, and even loaned clothes. Furthermore, agents knew about jobs and wages of destinations. After recruiting a peasant, the agents tagged him, usually with a button, to ensure smooth flow through the pipeline to America (Wyman 1993, 15-31). Sports agents share many commonalities with their steamship counterparts.

In July 1975, Finnish star Juhani Wahlsten convinced Rautakallio and Lauri Mononen to travel to Phoenix. Herb Rudory, a Chicago-based sports agent, met them in Phoenix. Rudoy negotiated two-year contracts for Rautakallio and Lauri Mononen with the Phoenix RoadRunners*. At the contract signing party, Rudoy preened for the publicity shot (Arizona Republic 1975, 30).

Steamship agents of yore accompanied their recruits on part of their journey until passing them to the next link in the chain (Wyman 1993, 29). Waiting outside the airport, the Rautakallios found Roadrunners’ General Manager, Al Rollins, waiting for them. Effectively, Rudory handed them off.

Taking them from the airport, Rollins dropped the Rautakallios off at a motel to find housing, transportation, and other necessities. Rautakallio spoke limited English. At practice, teammate Cam Connor asked Rautakallio about his name. Rautakallio replied in bad English, “It means Iron Rocky”. Thus, Rautakallio earned his nickname, Rocky. Still in adjustment, they lived out of the motel. Unknown to the Rautakallios, Phoenix contained a thriving Finnish community centered around George and Helmi Anttila.

 After reading about a new Finnish hockey player, George tracked down the Rautakallios. George’s parents emigrated from Ranua, Finland in the early 1900s as immigrant laborers. George grew up in Michigan. In 1947, George and his wife, Helmi, moved to Phoenix due to health reasons. In 1953, the Finlandia Foundation opened a chapter in Phoenix. George was its first president and held the post for 23 years. Over the years, George assisted Finnish athletes and hobos. For promoting friendship between the United States and Finland, Finnish President Urho Kekkonen awarded George the Medal First Class with Gold Cross of the Order of the White Rose in December 1964 (Cooke 1970). George extended that helping hand to the Rautakallios.

 Anttila met Rautakallio in the Roadrunners’ office. From there, Anttila helped Rautakallio rent an apartment just a few blocks away on 17th Ave. Then, Anttila assisted them with getting furnishings and a car. When Mononen arrived in September 1975, Pekka already started informal training with Roadrunners’ coach, Sandy Hucul. While Mononen met the Anttilas, he received help from fellow Karelian living in Phoenix. Repeating history, both players relied upon the pre-existing community to help them transition.

The 1976/77 season added two more Finns to the Roadrunner roster, Seppo Repo (center) and Juhani Tamminen (left wing). With Mononen at right wing, these three Finns formed the Lappline because they originated from Lapland in northern Finland. The Lappline lived near each other on W. Octollio Rd. They lived so close that they would carpool to practice. Also, Rautakallio moved from 17th to 27th Ave. possibly to be close to the other Finns.

Ocotillo Rd and 27th Ave. 1979/2019 (Maricopa.gov)

Although Rautakallio’s English improved, the team declared Tamminen the official team interpreter. In the 70s, Finnish school experienced a systemic reform (Jaatinen 2014, 30). Reforming the schools included replacing German with English in the 1960s (Jaatinen, 39). As result, Rautakallio and the other Finns may have learned Latin and German, but only briefly exposed to English. Tamminen’s college offered a path to learning English not available to the other Finns.

On April 6, 1977, the Tamminen supplied the WHA Phoenix Roadrunners’ final win with three goals and an assist. The team’s 7-3 win against Indianapolis sealed the end of the team, but not the Finns. Tamminen and Repo finished the season with the Oklahoma Blazers. Rautakallio and Mononen returned to Finland. By the 1977/78 season, all Finns played for teams in the top Finnish league. In 1979, Rautakallio returned States-side to play for the NHL’s Atlanta Flames. He became the first Finn to play in an NHL all-star game.

Rautakallio Stats (hockeydb.com)

Tamminen Stats (hockeydb.com)

Migration stories rarely end with the accomplishment of a few successful migrants. For example, the US Visa office considered Rautakallios, Tamminen, and the other Finns to be nonimmigrants. Migrating for work does not equate to being an immigrant. Transient athletes acquired an H-1, exceptional ability, or an H-2, temporary worker, visas potentially impacting quotas until 1990. In 1990, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service created a new category, P, to separately cover nonimmigrant, professional athletes. And what of their impact.

Today, the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum still stands. Its economic impact is modest at best, but its cultural impact significant. It brought world class hockey to the desert. Its ice allowed Finns to demonstrate their hockey prowess for the NHL and the world. Finally, it kept winter sports alive for a young, Mexican-American named Auston Matthews to discover a passion for ice hockey. From San Ramon, California to Scottsdale, Az and now in Toronto, Matthews learned hockey from a Ukrainian who was Mexico’s director of ice hockey. All because of family connections to Mexico (Pinchevsky 2017). Matthews scored the most goals in the 2020/21 NHL season dominating the Rocket Richard race against Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) and Pasternack (Bruins). The circle completed as migrant worker Anttila assisted migrant Rautakallio who kept alive a migrant worker’s sport for migrant Matthews to excel.

*NOTE: This transaction was likely one of Rudoy’s first as an agent. By the 1980s, Rudoy improved how he handled players. Currently, Rudoy performs agent duties for NBA, NFL, and soccer (MLS and FIFA) players.

Links to the other parts of the series:
PART 1: Phoenix: Preparation for Migratory Sports
PART 2: The Coliseum’s Impact
PART 3: Migration Patterns of Hockey Players: Pekka Rautakallio and Juhani Tamminen

Player Stats (Hockeydb):
Pekka Rautakallio
Lauri Mononen
Seppo Repo
Juhani Tamminen


SOURCES:
Pekka Rautakallio (Hockey Player/Coach) in discussion with Hannu Kauhala, June 2021.
Juhani Tamminen (Hockey Player/Coach) in discussion with Hannu Kauhala, June 2021.
Wyman, Mark. (1993). Round-trip to America: the immigrants return to Europe, 1880-1930. Ithaca, N.Y : Cornell University Press, 15-31.
“Publicity Photo of Al Rollins, Juhani Whalsten, Pekka Rautakallio, Lauri Mononen, and Herb Rudoy.” Arizona Republic, June 17, 1975, 30.
Cooke, Ellen “Cooke’s Carte: Someone to put the Finnish to the Food”. Arizona Republic, December 3, 1970.
Order of the White Rose of Finland – Ritarikunnat, last accessed June 22, 2021.
Phoenix Roadrunners [WHA] all-time player list at hockeydb.com, last accessed June 22, 2021.
Jaatinen, R., & Saarivirta, T. (2014). The Evolution of English Language Teaching during Societal Transition in Finland – A mutual relationship or a distinctive process?. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(11). http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2014v39n11.3
Pinchevsky, Tal “Secret behind Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews’ skating prowess is a Ukrainian via Mexico”. ESPN, Jan 17, 2017. NHL — The secret weapon behind Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews’ skating prowess is a Ukrainian instructor who moved from Mexico (espn.com) Last accessed June 23, 2021.

Climate data:
Climate Pori (August 1975) – Climate data (29520) (tutiempo.net)
https://www.almanac.com/weather/history/AZ/Phoenix/1975-08-01

Migration Patterns of Hockey Players: Pekka Rautakallio and Juhani Tamminen

According to Finnish hockey historian Hannu Kauhala, ten Finns played in the World Hockey Association (WHA) opening the NHL for Finns like Pekka Rinne, Tukka Rask, and Miro Heiskanen. Four of them played for the Phoenix Roadrunners. Pekka Rautakallio played defense during the 1975/76 and 1976/77 seasons. For the 1976/77 season, Juhani Tamminen played as left wing on the Lappline along with Seppo Repo (center) and Lauri Mononen (right wing).

In the search of talent, the WHA discovered that talent in Finland with Rautakallio and Tamminen. Rautakallio (in gold and yellow) traveled from Pori, Finland to Phoenix, Arizona. Returning to Helsinki for two years, he joined the NHL’s Flames final season in Atlanta. He stayed with the team in their move to Calgary. Two seasons later, he returned to Helsinki.

Tamminen’s journey (in shades of blue) started in Turku, Finland. He headed to Cleveland and then traded to Phoenix. The Roadrunners declared bankruptcy. Tamminen moved with the team to Oklahoma City to join the Central Hockey League. For the 1978/79 season, he returned to Turku where he finished his playing career.

Of note, Rautakallio mentioned his first apartment was a few blocks away from the Memorial Coliseum on 17th Avenue. Not many two storey buildings existed on 17th Ave. One possible candidate was sandwiched between 17th drive and 17th Ave. along Grand Ave. (Note: Lower right corner below).

Arizona Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum and 17th Ave 1976/2019 (Maricopa.gov)

Similar to the migrant workers of today and the early-20th century, Rautakallio and Tamminen came with different backgrounds and requirements. Their ability to face the challenges of migration drastically differed.

PART 1: Phoenix: Preparation for Migratory Sports
PART 2: The Coliseum’s Impact
PART 4: Pekka and Juhani: Their Migrant Story

SOURCES:
Pekka Rautakallio (Hockey Player/Coach) in discussion with Hannu Kauhala, June 2021.
Juhani Tamminen (Hockey Player/Coach) in discussion with Hannu Kauhala, June 2021.
Kauhala, Hannu “WHA – Unelmien Liiga” 2014. ISBN: 9789526789729
Historical Aerial Photography (maricopa.gov) last accessed June 16, 2021.
HockeyDb “Phoenix Roadrunners 1976-77 roster and statistics” last accessed June 18, 2021.

Phoenix: Preparation for Migratory Sports

Extreme population and area growth in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1950s supported the importation of migration-based sports, like hockey. Throughout the 1950s, Phoenix experienced about a 300% population increase and nearly an 1100% area expansion (Phoenix, 2013). This growth pushed Phoenix from the 99th rank city in the U.S. to 29 (Phoenix 2003, 44).  

In 1965, the Arizona State Fair Commission desired a multipurpose facility with unobstructed, arena seating for events ranging from livestock shows to concerts and sports. Associated Capitol Architects submitted the winning proposal, a hyperbolic-paraboloid arena covering approximately 2.75 acres (Az State Fairgrounds 1966).

Despite the deep Sonoran Desert locale, the commission and builders included facilities and mechanization for seemingly out-of-place activities. If taken by itself, including amenities for ice skating and hockey appears to be a random whim of the rich. However, Texas supported several minor professional hockey teams starting in the 1920s (Farris 2016). Eventually, these teams would lead to the World Hockey Association (WHA). In preparation for creating northeastern winters in the desert, engineers ensured the coliseum could produce artificial ice.

Oklahoma business men brought hockey to Phoenix. First, they forced their Tulsa Oilers team to play a few exhibition games. In 1967, the Western Hockey League granted franchise for a new team in Phoenix, who would be called the Roadrunners. In 1974, the Roadrunners switched allegiances to the WHA, a new competitor to the National Hockey league.

PHXRoadrunnersWHA.png
World Hockey Association Logo (1974-77)

With Major League Soccer, three major league sports are rooted in the immigrant community. The immigrant community saved baseball. Additionally, baseball forced many sports related immigration quotas. Soccer started out as a national level amateur sport with attention during the Olympics. Basketball failed to discover international talent until 1990 with Valde Divac and Dikembe Mutombo. Hockey started as sport of immigrants, by immigrants, but for the common people.

In the WHL (1967-1974) and WHA (1974-77) years, only three Americans played for the Phoenix Roadrunners. During the WHA years, two Americans and four Finns played. Pekka Rautakallio (centered) offered his personal story about migrating to America for temporary work.

Typically, we associate migratory work with farmers or even the early 20th century. In the Southwest, where I grew up, I learned about migrant farmworker programs. But who knew that the Phoenix Roadrunners would eventually lead to Auston Matthews from Scottsdale, Az and winner of the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals in the NHL.

PART 2: The Coliseum’s Impact
PART 3: Migration Patterns of Hockey Players: Pekka Rautakallio and Juhani Tamminen
PART 4: Pekka and Juhani: Their Migrant Story

Sources:
Arizona State Fairground Brochure on the Coliseum, 1966, Arizona Memory Project.
1960 Census Supplementary Reports: Rank of Cities of 100,000 or More: 1960 PC(S1)-7, census.gov
2013 Summary of Community Profile and Trends, Phoenix.gov
McCartney, Earl “ICE Factory”, The Arizona Republic, February 13, 1966, retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78675623/arizona-republic/
“Contract Signing” Arizona Republic, June 17, 1965. Retrieved from Clipping from Arizona Republic – Newspapers.com
Phoenix Roadrunners’ Logo, wikimedia. Retrieved from PHXRoadrunnersWHA – Phoenix Roadrunners (WHA) – Wikipedia
Farris, Jason (ed.) “Texas on Ice: Pro Strides to the Stars – the 1942/3 to 1992/3 Seasons” 2016