Willes: Selanne really is that guy fans love
After all these years of success, Teemu hasn’t really changed
Hockey Player Teemu Selanne (C) attends the Anaheim Lady Ducks Fashion Show Luncheon with Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza at Montage on March 21, 2014 in Laguna Beach, California.
Photograph by: Ben Horton, Getty Images
Back in the fall of 1994, the Winnipeg Jets held their training camp in Helsinki, largely because of the celebrity of Finland’s favourite son, Teemu Selanne.
As part of the exercise, a group visit was arranged to the Finnish Children’s Hospital, which Teemu had adopted as his own and helped subsidize through a group of Helsinki’s leading business people called The Godfathers.
He was 24 at the time.
Anyway, the TV cameras were all out in force and Teemu did his thing, but off to the side stood a distinguished-looking man in a white lab coat who turned out to be the hospital’s head of surgery. I wandered over and started talking to him and this is the story he told.
Teemu has been coming to that hospital since he was a junior playing with Jokerit. This was also after his three-year stint working at a daycare facility. Even after he hit it big in the NHL — and 76 goals in his rookie season was pretty big — he’d still show up unannounced with board games and sit and play with the kids for hours.
“He hasn’t forgotten us,” the doctor said.
You think about things like that when you try to explain Teemu. You think about the moments, big and small, over the years that revealed so much about this singular man who finally, definitely is retiring after this season. Few have had better playing careers. But fewer still have touched hockey fans as profoundly and, for those who know him even a little bit, this is the best thing you can say about him.
That guy that hockey fans love? He really is that guy.
“It’s overwhelming,” Selanne said before the Anaheim Ducks’ Monday night meeting with the Canucks. “It makes you feel really good but at the same time it’s a little weird.”
This was shortly before he dropped the following gem on the assembled scribes. Teemu loves cars the way dogs love bacon and he owns a fleet of high-end automobiles at his place in Orange County. A couple of his kids are of driving age now and these are the rules in the Selanne household. They can drive any car they want but if they screw up, they have to drive the guest car.
Teemu was asked about the guest car.
“It’s a 2001 Toyota Siena minivan,” he said.
The thought that Teemu’s oldest is now 18 is more than a little off-putting for those who’ve known him for a while. My first meeting with him was just before the 1992-93 season when he showed up at his introductory press conference in Winnipeg wearing a dark suit and white socks.
He then shattered Mike Bossy’s rookie goal-scoring record while taking Winnipeg the way The Beatles took North America.
The love affair between Teemu and the Manitoba capital, alas, burned brightly but briefly. The next season his Achilles tendon was severed. The year after he started to experience knee problems. The Jets, who were on their way out of town, thought they had a diminishing asset and traded Selanne to Anaheim for Oleg Tverdovsky, the second pick of the ’94 draft and Chad Kilger, the fourth pick of the ’95 draft.
Everyone in Winnipeg agreed the Jets had made a good trade.
Teemu would score just the 225 goals for the Ducks over the next five-plus seasons.
Still, the knee issues didn’t go away and, after three lost seasons in San Jose and one regrettable campaign in Colorado, Selanne says: “I thought I was done.” That was in 2004, and here’s the one good thing you can say about the season that was lost to one of Gary Bettman’s lockouts.
It restored Teemu to the game.
After surgery and rehab, he returned to the Ducks and rattled off 40- and 48-goal seasons.
“I knew then the story would have a happy ending,” he says.
The 48-goal year also came in 2006-07 when a stacked Anaheim team rolled to the Stanley Cup. Teemu flew over a bunch of his friends from Helsinki for the final series. They were quickly dubbed the Finnish Drinking Team. As the clock wound down in the Cup-clinching Game 5, Selanne was bawling on the Ducks’ bench.
Three years ago, as a 40-year-old, he reached back for an 80-point season but this year, his playing time and his profile on the team have been reduced dramatically. He’s not happy about it. He says he could play another year, and if you saw him in Sochi, you have to give him that.
But, in the next breath, he says: “It has to stop somewhere and I felt this year would be the perfect year to retire: The Olympic Games, we have a great team here, even the outdoor game (at Dodger Stadium) was an unbelievable experience.
“Now it’s for real.”
And that’s a little hard to reconcile because, standing there, you don’t see the 43-year-man whose journey has come to an end. You see the kid who scored 76, you see the star who helped the Ducks to the Cup, you see the Finnish hero who’s played in six — six!!!! — Olympics and has won four medals.
Mostly, you see the guy who gave of himself, who’s helped those who couldn’t help themselves, who was never too big for the game or the fans. And you feel good because you know everything you’ve written about him over the years was a true story.
© Copyright (c) The Province