Ducks’ Teemu Selanne has been good, and long-lasting
It was the era of big hair, big scoring and bigger dreams.
Even in the age of no limits, a winsome 20-something hockey player from Finland with speed and touch was putting his NHL career on the time clock.
Rookie Teemu Selanne was having dinner with two Winnipeg Jets teammates, forward Thomas Steen and defenseman Fredrik Olausson, and told them of his plans to return to play in Europe. They were properly dubious.
“I told them two, three years and then I go back,” Selanne, now 41 and entering the seventh season of his second stint with the Ducks, said the other day in Anaheim. “We make a bet. The guys start laughing, ‘You’re stupid. You’re crazy.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’
“I forgot the bet and I think they forgot too, because they haven’t collected. There is no way to think at that time I thought I’d still be playing and still enjoying the hockey.”
Who can blame him? Legends constantly readjust the lines of self-assessment. Not just athletes. How many times were, say, the Rolling Stones supposedly going onstage for one final run?
And now, the fleet rock star of Finland will be returning to the stage where it all started. Selanne played club hockey with the Finnish team Jokerit before joining the Jets in the 1992-93 season, and the Ducks will play Jokerit on Tuesday in Helsinki
This will be a wonderful coda to a compelling career, the beginning of his 20th NHL season. Selanne hasn’t played in his native country since the 2003 world championships. Not only will there be the Jokerit exhibition contest but a game with real meaning, the Ducks’ NHL regular-season opener against the Buffalo Sabres in Helsinki.
“It’s going to be a zoo out there,” Selanne said.
Call it a friendly, polite zoo.
Selanne was talking last week with three reporters before the Ducks left for Helsinki. He was trying to put his stature in proper perspective, among the pantheon of Finnish sports stars.
There would be former King Jari Kurri from hockey, soccer legend Jari Litmanen, Formula One driver Mika Hakkinen and ski jumper Matti Nykanen, among others, and reaching further back, long-distance runner Lasse Viren.
“We all know each other very well,” Selanne said.
Selanne may not know everyone in Helsinki, but it can seem that way. Alex Gilchrist, the Ducks’ director of media and communications, said the team’s players were walking to the harbor for a Selanne-arranged trip to Sauna Island on Sunday afternoon in Helsinki.
They were walking past a fish market and a couple recognized and greeted Selanne. It turned out they were old friends of his and ended up walking the rest of the way to the boat with Selanne.
The excitement is restrained in bigger cities, Selanne said.
“It’s when you go to the smaller cities, the people get like, crazy,” he said. “Like fun crazy. Like kids, ‘I can’t believe I saw this guy.’ ”
Said Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle: “I would expect it to be over the top.”
That didn’t take long. There was a giant mural of Selanne on the side of the arena in Helsinki.
Selanne called the Helsinki trip, and the return of NHL hockey in Winnipeg (the Ducks play in Manitoba on Dec. 17), a bonus for him, and said they were not the reasons he decided to put his body and mind through the rigors of another season.
The 2004-05 NHL lockout ended up saving Selanne’s career, proving that, against all odds, a good thing can result from a prolonged labor dispute. He had knee surgery during the lockout, which wiped out that season. He had plenty of time to rehabilitate after his physical woes in Colorado and rejoined the Ducks, putting the lost season with the Avalanche in the memory bank.
He had told his doctor that he would not play if he wasn’t 100%.
“Then when I got the new life, I got my wheels back,” Selanne said. “I was healthy. You just appreciate the time so much. When you are young, you expect to be healthy. You don’t really think you can be hurt. When something like that happens, you start appreciating it.”
Selanne always said he was never going to be a third-line player. He is, by all accounts, far from it. Last season, Selanne had 31 goals and 80 points in 73 games, combining consistency with individual brilliance. Late in the season, he became the first player at his age to record five points in an NHL game (three goals, two assists), against Colorado.
“I always said when you’re a bus driver, you’ve got to stay a bus driver,” Selanne said. “You don’t want to be a passenger.”
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