Selanne Steals the Spotlight From Gretzky


Almost from the first day he pulled the strange and different jersey of a new team over his shoulder pads, he transformed the team that had traded for him.

With him on their side, his teammates seemed better, and he seemed rejuvenated himself, almost reborn.

And his name is Teemu Selanne, not Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky skated onto the ice at the Pond in a St. Louis Blues uniform Sunday for the first time, but he was upstaged by Selanne, the player the Ducks got in a blockbuster trade of their own.

Selanne scored three goals in the Ducks' 5-1 victory, recording the 10th hat trick of his career and his second in only 15 games as a Duck.

Thirteen games under .500 when Selanne arrived, the Ducks are four games over .500 with him in the lineup (9-5-1). And by winning Sunday, they closed to three points behind Winnipeg for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

As for Gretzky, who makes a dramatic return to the Forum to play the Kings tonight, many among the crowd of 17,174 were booing him every time he touched the puck by game's end.

Gretzky accepted it with nonchalance, but he was one of few who did.

Blues Coach Mike Keenan, though, said he was "embarrassed for the game of hockey."

Gretzky has been booed occasionally since his departure from the Kings, but Keenan said, "This is the first time it's happened on a consistent basis, that's why I'm disappointed for hockey. These people have to look at this from a broader perspective."

The Ducks' Paul Kariya, who grew up idolizing Gretzky, was baffled.

"I don't know why they booed. I couldn't understand it, with what Wayne has done for the game of hockey," said Kariya, who assisted on all three of Selanne's goals. "I don't know if there would be a team here if not for him."

Selanne objected too, saying, "I don't like that. I think Gretzky is the greatest player in hockey and he's done so much for the game. I don't like that they were booing. The guy has class. I know the Kings and Ducks are battling, but he's not there now. I think everybody should be glad Gretzky's still playing and still so good."

On the other hand, Duck Coach Ron Wilson barely stifled a smirk.

"That was fun, listening to the boos," he said. "That's not disrespect to Wayne Gretzky, I'm just glad our fans were behind us. When he came in with the Kings, half our fans were for the Kings, for whatever reason."

The fans are definitely behind them now, with the Ducks threatening to make the playoffs for the first time in their three seasons after winning four games in a row and going 5-1-1 on a homestand that ended Sunday. They embark on a difficult six-game trip today.

"We played a team that's playing very well right now," Gretzky said. "They're playing as well as they have. They're in a desperate situation and need to win games. We didn't play the way we had to to be competitive."

Wilson sent out Selanne and Kariya with Alex Hicks to match Gretzky, Brett Hull and Shayne Corson to start the game.

"Ron's been watching a lot of boxing, and he said he wanted to go toe-to-toe," Kariya said. "We obviously had to play well defensively. You can't take as many chances, but the same goes for them, too."

Selanne and Kariya each had three points and Gretzky had one, an assist on Murray Baron's goal that made the score 2-1 at 2:48 of the second period.

Selanne and Kariya have become an unpredictable yet potent combination. Since the Feb. 7 trade, Selanne has 11 goals and 23 points in 15 games, and Kariya has 11 goals 23 points in 16 games.

"It's helpful when we both can pass and score," Kariya said. "That way the defense doesn't know who's going to do what."

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