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A complete team effort, from start to Finnish

Times Staff Writer

Tears streamed down Teemu Selanne’s face, dreams meeting reality in a confluence of powerful emotions he was helpless to contain.

After 14 NHL seasons, after a knee injury robbed him of his speed and confidence and nearly ended his career, he had won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Ducks. His name will be engraved on the imposing silver trophy and the letters will be traced by the fingers of champions for generations to come, boys still playing pickup games on the streets of Helsinki, Toronto, and Orange County.

It was too much to grasp. He wept out of joy, out of relief, out of sheer awe that the Ducks had pulled off a 6-2 rout of the Ottawa Senators that made them the Cup champions in a convincing five games.

“It’s the biggest dream of my life,” the 36-year-old Finn said, his voice wavering. “It’s unbelievable. It’s everything I hoped it would be.

“I’m so proud of my teammates. We made this happen as a team.”

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The Ducks were by far the better team Wednesday, as they were for most of this series. They’re not from a “traditional” hockey city, but they won this series the old-fashioned way: They outworked the Senators, played stouter defense and got goaltending that was far superior to anything the Eastern Conference champions could muster.

They played for each other, covered for each other and, when it was over, exulted for each other, surrounding goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a squirming pile of humanity. The standing-room-only crowd of 17,372 at the Honda Center, as lively as any that ever filled the arena of an Original Six team, roared while streamers dropped from the rafters and championship hats appeared on players’ heads as if by magic.

“I feel like I just got off a roller coaster,” defenseman Sean O’Donnell said.

“I’m happy, excited, just dizzy. It’s been an unbelievable season.”

The roars reached a peak when team captain Scott Niedermayer, who was voted the most valuable player in the playoffs, accepted the Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman. He lifted the 35-pound trophy as if it were a feather, its newly polished surface reflecting the lights of flash cameras and the gleams of smiles.

He soon passed the Cup to his brother, Rob, a heartwarming gesture with profound meaning. They had been on the opposite sides in 2003, when Scott and the New Jersey Devils defeated Rob and the Ducks in a seven-game series, and Scott’s desire to play with his brother had brought him to Anaheim.

Their names will soon be listed together, for posterity.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Scott said of the etiquette of handing off the Cup. “I guess he’s one of the assistant captains. Maybe not quite the seniority, but I figured I could use my rank as captain to make that decision.”

Like so many decisions he makes on the ice, that one was precisely right.

From Rob Niedermayer it went to Chris Pronger and then to Selanne, who seemed unwilling to let it go. In fact, he took a second jaunt with it before joining his wife and sons for hugs and a family celebration.

No one begrudged him that extra turn.

“Nobody deserves it more than Teemu. I told him that tonight,” said defenseman Joe DiPenta, who filled in admirably on the two occasions Pronger was suspended by the NHL for overzealous hits to an opponent’s head.

“For guys like him and Rob and for Prongs, who last year lost in the finals, for the guys here who lost in ’03, Jiggy and Robbie again and Andy McDonald, it’s just amazing. I’m so happy for them.”

Although caught up in a mad swirl of emotions, many players flashed back to the long bus rides they’d made in the junior ranks or the minor leagues, to parents who’d driven them to the rink on cold winter mornings and siblings who had rooted for them.

Many brought their children, parents or spouse onto the ice for a celebration no one wanted to end. When the crowd had thinned, Giguere skated out with his arms cradling his infant son, Maxime, who was born on April 4 with a deformed eye but will surely handle that challenge with his father’s grace and class. Rob and Scott Niedermayer and Scott’s wife and kids posed for a photo on the bench. Ric Jackman, who didn’t play Wednesday, did a belly flop onto the Ducks logo at center ice and had friends take his picture.

O’Donnell ducked out of the celebration to call his parents back in Ottawa.

“Hockey is different than basketball or soccer, where you can just pick up a basketball or soccer ball and play,” he said. “You really need to have your parents involved and they have to dedicate some of their weekends, not just money.

“I wanted to call them right away and congratulate them and thank them and let them know they were such a big part of it.”

DiPenta, unable to find his wife and parents in the stands, found them afterward.

“I couldn’t wait to see them and give them a hug because that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I can’t wait to bring the Cup home this summer and share with my friends and family back there.”

DiPenta’s hometown, by the way, is a city in Nova Scotia called Cole Harbour. It had been famous for being the birthplace of Sidney Crosby. Now, it’s the home of Joe DiPenta, a Stanley Cup champion from Anaheim, a sentence that makes more sense each time you say it aloud.

helene.elliott@latimes.com


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