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Al Suomi Obituary

10/29/1913 - 9/23/2014| Visit Guest Book
Al Suomi (Wikimedia Commons/ via the Suomi Family)
Al Suomi (Wikimedia Commons/ via the Suomi Family)
Al Suomi was just 23 and playing semiprofessional hockey in Detroit when he got a surprise telegram. The Chicago Black Hawks of the National Hockey League wanted him for the final five games of the 1936-37 season.

The Hawks were finishing a dismal campaign. Team owner Fred McLaughlin, who had commanded the famed Black Hawk regiment in World War I from which his hockey team took its name, decided to salvage the season with a patriotic gesture. He would ice a lineup of players all born in the United States.

Suomi was joined in the experiment by fellow forwards Milton Brink at center and Bun LaPrairie on right wing. The Hawks also signed defensemen Ike Klingbeil and Butch Schaefer. The regular Chicago goalie was Mike Karakis. All six had been born in Minnesota or Michigan.

Suomi was the last living member of the all-American Hawks and the oldest living former NHLer when he died Sept. 23 at La Grange Highlands, outside Chicago. He was 100 and is believed to be the only NHL player to live long enough to be a centenarian.

Albert William Suomi was born Oct. 29, 1913, in Eveleth, Minnesota. His father was a Finnish immigrant and mine worker. Al played shinny on frozen ponds with sticks carved from tree branches and tin cans or frozen horse droppings as a puck.

Obituary notice for Al Suomi

Eveleth was a hockey hotbed and Suomi's high school team was coached by the legendary Cliff Thompson, who would be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The team's goalie was Frank Brimsek, who would be nicknamed Mr. Zero for his shutouts as an NHL star.

Suomi enjoyed hockey, but had little thought to making a livelihood in the sport until a scout offered him $25 per week to play for a purported amateur team in Chicago.

“You have to understand that this was in the middle of the Depression and $25 a week was a lot of money at that time,” he told reporter Brian Miller four years ago. “I went home and told my mother and dad. My mother looked at me and said, 'You're going to where all the gangsters are?' ”

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound left-winger skated for the Chicago Baby Ruth, a team sponsored by the Curtiss Candy Co. and coached by Connie Pleban. The coach and nine of 13 players on the roster were from Suomi's Minnesota mining town.

He spent the following two seasons playing semiprofessional senior hockey in Detroit for the Detroit Tool Shop and Detroit Pontiac teams before getting a telegram from the Black Hawks.

Suomi made his NHL debut March 11, 1937, when the Boston Bruins defeated the Hawks 6-2 at Chicago Stadium. The American defensemen were on the ice for all six Bruins goals.

The Hawks then lost 3-2 in Toronto, Canada, where the American players were cheered by knowledgeable Canadian hockey fans for their spirited effort. The Hawks then traveled to New York, where they defeated the Rangers 4-3 before losing 9-4 to the Americans. They ended a dismal season with a 6-1 loss to the Bruins in Boston.

Suomi recorded no goals, no assists and no penalty minutes in his five NHL games. In fact, the only rookie signup to score in the experiment was Klingbeil, the defenseman, who had one goal and two assists. The poor showing convinced the owner to abandon his idea of changing the team's name to the Chicago Yankees with an all-American lineup.

Suomi stayed in Chicago to play for a local semiprofessional team. Away from the arena, he worked as a welder and an electrician before opening Al's Hardware in Countryside, Illinois, in 1962. The store closed in 2007 and he retired at 94.

He is survived by two sons, two daughters, 11 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, the former Anna Rose Bedenk.

The title of oldest living former NHL player now falls to Elmer Lach, 96, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who won three Stanley Cups in a 14-season career with the Montreal Canadiens.

___

By Tom Hawthorn

Tom Hawthorn is a reporter who lives in Victoria, B.C. He is the author of "Deadlines: Obituaries of Memorable British Columbians."

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Published in a Chicago Tribune Media Group Publication on September 26, 2014
Albert W. Suomi, age 100, of the LaGrange Highlands. Longtime owner of Al's Hardware in LaGrange and former Hockey Player for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1936. Beloved husband of the late Anna Rose... Read Obituary
Published in Suburban Life Publications on October 1, 2014
Albert W. Suomi Albert W. Suomi, age 100, of the LaGrange Highlands, formerly of Eveleth, Minnesota, passed away on September 23, 2014, in LaGrange. Longtime owner of Al's Hardware in LaGrange,... Read Obituary

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