Hall: Ageless wonder Selanne draws high praise from coach
Boudreau calls 42-year-old ‘the greatest athlete in the world for his age’
Bruce Boudreau realizes the critics might well accuse him of rank hyperbole or, at the very least, shamelessly pumping the tires of one of his own players.
Not that the thought of stirring things up has ever stopped the original star of HBO 24/7 from speaking his mind.
So in the depths of the Scotiabank Saddledome Monday morning, Boudreau unleashed the ultimate compliment for his second-line right-winger.
The Finnish Flash himself, Teemu Selanne.
“I think he’s the greatest athlete in the world for his age,” Boudreau said in advance of his Anaheim Ducks taking on the Calgary Flames. “I defy people to tell me what sport somebody his age is playing at the level he is playing at equated to the sport they’re in.”
In other words, Selanne plays a sport that requires the ultimate in conditioning and forces the body to endure violent physical contact night in and night out.
“If you see it in baseball, he’s a pitcher — he might be a relief pitcher or the knuckleball pitcher that the Jays got,” Boudreau said.
R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball pitcher, is actually a mere 38.
“In football, he would be a kicker,” Boudreau said of stars aged 40 or over. “In tennis, they can’t play that long. In soccer, I don’t know of anyone over in Europe who is that age.
“If you just look at it — and I’m not trying to brag for my player — that’s an amazing, amazing feat what he’s doing at his age, playing to the level he’s playing at.”
And the level Selanne is playing at? Well, the NHL’s resident senior citizen collected two goals and two assists in Saturday’s 7-3 shellacking of the Vancouver Canucks.
With that outburst, Selanne became the first 42-year-old to amass four points in a single outing since Gordie Howe in 1971.
To think Selanne – without even a hint of bravado – says he doesn’t even feel anything close to top form coming out of the 113-day NHL lockout.
“I don’t think that was his best game the other day,” Boudreau said. “I mean, he got the points, because he’s a natural goal-scorer. But he didn’t have the legs I know he can skate with, which comes with having no training camp to mock-eight in a game.”
Selanne is hardly alone on that score, but the transition just has to be more difficult for a man old enough to be Sven Baertschi’s dad.
“Hopefully this short (season) is going to be good for this old body,” said Selanne, not a hint of grey in his flowing locks. “When you’re older, you know there’s not going to be much left. You know it’s the end of the road and it’s right to enjoy every day.
“The older you get, you start to enjoy the little things and different stuff than when you’re 22.”
Those little things include morning skates, considered the bane of existence by many veterans around the league.
Not Selanne. Quite the opposite, actually.
“Trying to keep him off the ice is the hardest job I have,” Boudreau said. “I’ll tell him to take practice off. I’ll turn around, and he’s on the ice.”
Disobedience? Well, yes, but Boudreau isn’t about to send the future Hall of Famer to his room to ponder the error of his ways.
“He’s like a 12 year old,” the coach said. “He hasn’t lost that enthusiasm, that lust for the game and everything. You’ve almost got to tie him up to keep him down.
“He’s an amazing person.”
So amazing, in fact, the coach down the Saddledome hallway uses the same adjective to describe a player with 665 goals and 745 assists for 1,410 points in 1,342 games.
“Selanne is going the wrong way,” said Flames bench Bob Hartley, invoking the Hollywood blockbuster The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. “It seems he’s getting younger year by year.”
It might seem that way, but Selanne, the last time we checked, is human. He realizes this won’t last forever.
And to think he thought his time in hockey was coming to an end 10 years ago in Denver.
“The Colorado year was very tough for me and a couple years earlier when my knee was not that good,” he said. “I almost lost the passion for hockey. When you can’t do normal things and you can’t enjoy the level that it used to be, that really opened my eyes.
“When I came back and I felt healthy again, it was just an unbelievable feeling. At that point I said `Every day I can come and be healthy and can play this game we love, I’m going to be thankful for that.’ ”
Trust us, Teemu. The feeling, on behalf of anyone watching the game, is mutual.
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