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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue Jackets make Kekalainen NHL's first European GM

Finn scouted 8 years in Blues organization

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Columbus Blue Jackets hurried to make history.

Just more than 24 hours after firing Scott Howson, they announced the hiring of Jarmo Kekalainen of Finland as the first European to be a general manager in the National Hockey League.

Kekalainen, director of amateur scouting with the St. Louis Blues from 2002-10, held a news conference Wednesday in his native Finland at the same time the Blue Jackets held theirs in Ohio.

"One of my dreams since I hung up my skates has been to be a GM of an NHL team sometime. Now that dream has come true," Kekalainen said in Helsinki at the home arena of the Jokerit club, where he's been GM since 2010. "I'm really happy and pleased, even proud, that I've been give this chance."

The 46-year-old, who played sparingly in the NHL, worked closely with Columbus director of hockey operations John Davidson with the Blues. When the Blues hired Doug Armstrong as general manager in 2010 instead of Kekalainen, Kekalainen returned to Finland to take over as GM of Jokerit in Finland's top league.

"Jarmo and I have a relationship that goes back a number of years, most recently with the St. Louis Blues organization where he was an assistant general manager and in charge of the amateur draft," Davidson said. "I look at Jarmo as a person who has a world of experience. Thirty per cent of the players in our league are European. He's very intelligent about the world of hockey, not only in Europe but also in North America."

Kekalainen's current team is in first place. So badly did Kekalainen want to return to the NHL as a GM, that he had an unwritten agreement with the club's owner that he could be let out of his contract if a GM job developed in the NHL. He is expected to arrive in Columbus as soon as travel and visa issues are resolved.

"I'm humbled but at the same time have faith in myself. I believe I've deserved this opportunity through my own hard work," he said. "Now I'm going to roll up my sleeves and go there and build a team out of the Columbus Blue Jackets that seriously aims to win the Stanley Cup."

He'll face a number of challenges.

Under Howson, the Blue Jackets made the playoffs in 2008-09 but have fallen to the depths of the league since. They had the worst record in the league a year ago and have a record of making a mess of things at the draft and in trades. Attendance has also fallen; there are published reports the club sold between 7,000 and 8,000 season tickets this season.

The Blue Jackets are 4-7-2 and left Wednesday to begin a six-game western swing that starts in Los Angeles on Friday night.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 D2

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