Column: Ducks retire Teemu Selanne’s jersey in a poignant ceremony
It was the perfect touch in a ceremony illuminated by many poignant moments, an afternoon of joy and laughter and more than a few suspiciously moist eyes.
Teemu Selanne arrived for his jersey retirement festivities Sunday at the Honda Center by walking down an aisle and through the crowd to reach the ice, high-fiving and patting the shoulders of hundreds of friends he had never met. His Hall of Fame career ended last May, but his bond with fans in his adopted home of Orange County — and fans anywhere that sticks, pucks and ice come together — remains as strong as ever.
“Thank you for everything, what you guys have done for me and for making this night so special for me,” he told an adoring crowd that broke into chants of “Tee-mu” and a chorus of “one more year” before his jersey became the first to be retired by the club.
“This whole journey has been unbelievable. I am so thankful and lucky to have experienced all this.”
In 21 seasons in the NHL, 15 with the Ducks, Selanne never encountered a stranger, just people who hadn’t yet experienced his charm or his generous spirit. On Sunday he thanked the fans, his parents, his wife and his four children, standard fare for events like this. But he also remembered to leave an empty seat for his late agent, Don Baizley, a profoundly thoughtful way to thank the man Selanne called his North American dad.
“Don was such a huge part of my success and my life,” Selanne said of Baizley, who died of cancer in 2013. “And I was really hoping that he would be here tonight. And he was somewhere here.”
Selanne had earned his solo in the spotlight Sunday but insisted on sharing it, as he had so often shared his time and energy throughout his playing career. Fans saw him sign autographs for hours after games. They didn’t always know how much he gave beyond that.
“We don’t need statistics to confirm that Teemu has led our team in hospital visits, school visits,” Ducks owner Henry Samueli said during the 90-minute ceremony. “Teemu’s star shines even better in his off-ice activities, and no record book exists for that….We salute you, we thank you, we love you.”
It says a lot, too, that those summoned to the microphone Sunday spoke not only of Selanne as a player but as a leader and person. Commissioner Gary Bettman was booed, as he is in every NHL rink. But this time, he didn’t mind.
“I would get booed to be with Teemu anytime,” he said. “I have no doubt that hockey in Southern California wouldn’t be where it is today without Teemu Selanne.”
Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Selanne’s teammate on the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Ducks, said he looked up to the Finnish winger as a player but also took note of Selanne’s loving manner as a father, ways Giguere vowed to remember when he had his own family. Giguere, retired and living in Montreal, is now a father of three.
“You couldn’t think of anybody else being first,” Giguere said of Selanne’s jersey hanging alone in the rafters, at least for now.
Selanne’s idol, Hall of Fame winger Jari Kurri, called six-time Olympian Selanne “the greatest ambassador of hockey in Finland.” Kurri added, “Enjoy your retirement. I hope you will be back involved in hockey in some way, soon.”
Selanne called the ceremony “a perfect package,” and it was. It brought back Chris Pronger, Steve Rucchin, Saku Koivu and George Parros, welcome sights. The videotaped tributes hit the right notes, even if that was the only way fans saw Paul Kariya, Selanne’s linemate and longtime friend. Kariya attended Selanne’s last regular-season game but has stayed away from the rink, and he cited a family ski trip for his absence Sunday.
“That’s my next challenge, to try and get him back in hockey,” Selanne said. “I think right now he doesn’t want to be a part of it, and I respect that.”
That didn’t detract from the occasion. The Winnipeg Jets, the Ducks’ opponent Sunday, joined the party by wearing warmup uniforms with Selanne’s name across the back and the number 13 he wore when he broke into the NHL with Winnipeg. The Ducks also had Selanne’s name across the backs of their jerseys, some with 8 and others with 13 in the various styles the team has worn over the years. He appreciated that; he hasn’t forgotten his start in a city with a cold climate but warm heart.
Eventually, Selanne said, he will get involved in hockey again. “But no rush,” he said. In the meantime, he can look up and see his banner hanging above the ice he graced so well for so long.
“I hope that people remember me as a guy with a lot of passion and joy,” he said, “and every day when I came to the rink, I really enjoyed coming the rink.”
That’s only part of who he was, but a wonderful part, no question.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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