Anaheim Ducks Teemu Selanne (8) steps onto the ice for the warmup before playing the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on April 7, 2014.
Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG
VANCOUVER — Less than four seasons, only 231 games. That's all Teemu Selanne played for the Winnipeg Jets.
Yet, Selanne was touched by Canada, by its culture and people and, most of all, our passion and reverence for hockey.
There was a bond between people and player that, inexplicably, grew stronger years after Selanne left Winnipeg in 1996 in a blockbuster trade to Anaheim when its team was called the Mighty Ducks.
Former Anaheim coach Ron Wilson explained once how he was telling Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky they'd been traded to the Jets and was trying for their sake to be solemn and serious but kept having to suppress a smile “because we were getting Teemu freakin' Selanne.”
Orange County got Teemu Selanne, too. His four kids, ages six to 18, are Californians. That's home now for Selanne, and will remain so when he retires from the National Hockey League at age 43 after this season.
But Canada never left Selanne. The Finnish winger said Monday before his final game in this country, barring an Anaheim-Montreal Stanley Cup final, that his career and relationship to fans would have been different had he not started in Winnipeg.
“For sure, not the same way,” he said before facing the Vancouver Canucks. “Obviously, we all know how big hockey is in Canada and I'm very happy I had a chance to play those years in Winnipeg and started there. I think a lot of people in Canada remember those years the most in my career.
“The way they treat the players is unbelievable. That's why I think there's so special a relationship with the fans and hockey players.”
With Winnipeg, Selanne was exposed in his formative NHL years to the Jets' rivalries with the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames and Canucks.
Selanne said the hardest he was ever hit in 21 NHL seasons was Canuck Mike Peca's open-ice, blind-side bomb at the Pacific Coliseum on Feb. 9, 1995.
Still, Selanne re-arranged his schedule so he could play one last game in Vancouver.
As a concession to age, he doesn't play on back-to-back nights anymore. Typically, he dresses for the first game and sits out the second. The two exceptions he made this season were Oct. 6, for his Winnipeg farewell, and Monday in Vancouver.
He sat out the Ducks' game here on March 29 after playing the previous night in Edmonton. So he reversed things this time, sitting out the Ducks' 4-2 loss Sunday against the Oilers in order to play one more time in B.C.
“It's overwhelming, you know,” Selanne said of the response to him from fans in Canadian cities. “It makes you feel really good and, on the same hand, it's a little weird. Especially the places I have played for so many times, like all the Western Canada teams, it gives me pleasure to play. Great cities and great fans.
“I've always had a very special relationship with the fans. I've always approached things that, you know, I don't mind signing autographs and talking to people. That's my personality. If that makes people happy, it's great.”
Selanne announced before this season that it would be his last and isn't changing his mind, although he insisted Monday he could play another year if he wanted. He had nine goals and 25 points in 61 games this season for a Ducks' team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup.
“It has to stop somewhere,” he said. “I felt this year would be the perfect year to retire. The Olympic Games, we are a great team here, even the outdoor game (between the Ducks and Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium) was an unbelievable experience. This is good timing.”
He plans to take a yet-to-be-determined job with the Ducks, for whom he has played more than 14 seasons, but said “my bucket list, it's long.”
He wants to help coach his three teenage sons, two of whom have their driver's licence. Their car-collector dad was a notorious lead-foot when he was younger, racing rally cars in Finland under the wonderful pseudonym, translated into English, Teddy Flash, and accumulating speeding tickets like they were hat tricks.
“They're very good drivers,” Selanne said of his boys. “They can drive whatever car they want. They have to ask first. But they know if they screw up, we have a guest car, which is not a very good car. I'm kind of embarrassed about that car. It's a 2001 Toyota Sienna, like, a mini-van. And they know if they screw up, they're going to drive that.”
The Finnish Flash owns a mini-van?
“When I was in Winnipeg, all my family and my really best friends came to visit me,” he explained. “But for some reason, when I moved to California, everybody wanted to come. So I didn't want to keep them in nice cars. Because they were so cheap and didn't want to rent a car, I decided I'm going to buy a cheap car that fits seven people. If it breaks down, just take the plates and leave it there.”
There are many remarkable things about Selanne's NHL career: 684 goals and 1,455 points, a 76-goal season in 1992-93 for which he won the Calder Trophy, Rocket Richard (1999) and Masterton (2006) trophies, 17 20-goal seasons that included a 31-goal campaign at age 40, six appearances and four medals for Finland at the Olympics.
But maybe the most amazing thing about Selanne's Hall-of-Fame career is that reconstructive knee surgery in 2004 was supposed to end it. Playing on one leg, he endured a miserable 16-goal season with the Colorado Avalanche in 2003-04. The Ducks would have been one of the few teams willing to take a chance on him after the lockout ended in 2005.
On a one-year, $1-million deal – essentially an experiment for Anaheim – Selanne scored 40 goals and 90 points in 2005-06, then poured in 48 goals the next season when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup. He was as quick as ever. He has played nine years after he thought he was finished.
“Even normal people when they get sick – just a flu, stomach flu, whatever – I think they always appreciate more the times you're healthy again,” he said. “You take things for granted that you're healthy. That's what I think hockey players are doing, too.
“That 2004, when I got my knee surgery, I thought I was done. I knew I'm going to need like 10 months to at least have a chance to come back. Luckily for me, we had the lockout. I don't know how many teams would (have taken) a chance for me to come back after missing one year. It would've been tough. And after that, when I realized my knee, there's no pain, I knew there was going to be a happy ending. Every day since that, I have been thankful that I have been able to play again.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun