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Selanne: One More Year(s)
By Michael Walters
“I never thought I’d be playing this long, but why should I retire when I still love the game, and have been healthy enough? It all comes down to the same thing it’s always come down to—passion for the game,” Teemu said. “You either have it or you don’t.”
Anaheim offered Teemu $4 million for the season, which was his highest salary since 2004. While he probably could have gotten more elsewhere, the Ducks were the only choice for him.
According to Syvahuoko(Teemu’s good friend who is a doctor), it’s a miracle his friend could play not just one, but three more seasons with that knee. He believed Selanne would need major surgery after retirement to have his leg aligned or have a knee replacement.
“Before the major 2004 surgery, my left knee was at 40 percent of what it could be, and between 2005 and 2011 at 100 percent. After that, maybe 85 percent. My right knee’s always been at 100 percent,” Teemu said.
His 20th season became another memorable one.
A week before he re-signed with the Ducks, Teemu woke up to the news of a Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) team’s plane having crashed in Russia. He turned on his phone and his worst fears were confirmed. The plane that carried Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to its regular season opener had crashed, claiming the entire team. His phone was flooded with messages from all over the world, and he went through the names in his head.
“I remembered right away that Ruslan Salei had signed with them, but I also heard that he had traveled to Minsk early to meet with his parents. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true,” he said.
The Belarusian defenseman had been a Duck for a decade and was a good friend. He had a house in Anaheim and had been skating with the Ducks that fall. “He told me he’d play one more season in the KHL and then settle in California.”
Two other friends also lost their lives. Forward Igor Korolev was a teammate in Winnipeg in 1995, and Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins was with Teemu on the Avalanche in 2003–04. “I couldn’t believe it. I was in a state of shock for days,” Teemu said.
A week after he agreed to terms with the Ducks, the team traveled to Finland for part of its training camp, an exhibition game against Jokerit, and its regular season opener against the Buffalo Sabres as part of the NHL Premiere 2011 event.
Again, Selanne was a great ambassador. “It was a great week. I took the guys boating and to the smoke saunas.”
While that part of the visit to Finland was enjoyable, what wasn’t fun was dealing with coach Randy Carlyle, who put his players through an intense training camp once again.
“We lost our legs again. I still don’t understand why he had to drive the players to the ground during training camp. I’m sure that was why we didn’t make the playoffs,” said Selanne.
The Ducks beat Jokerit in a sold-out arena and fans gave their hero a standing ovation. Anaheim opened the season in Helsinki against Buffalo and lost 4–1. Then the Ducks were off to Stockholm and beat the New York Rangers 2–1 in a shootout.
The Ducks didn’t find their legs during the fall and Carlyle, the coach who had won the team’s Stanley Cup, was fired on November 30. Bruce Boudreau, who had been fired by the Washington Capitals at the end of the previous season, replaced him.
Teemu’s season had the makings of a mediocre and forgettable tour of duty had there not been a few highlights along the way.
In March, Teemu picked up two assists in a game against the Colorado Avalanche and passed Jari Kurri on the NHL’s all-time scoring list, becoming the top-scoring Finn ever with 1,399 regular season points.
Selanne was also named to the All-Star Game, but he declined. Corey Perry represented the Ducks instead.
The biggest highlight was his return to Winnipeg, the place where his NHL career started.
The Atlanta Thrashers, an expansion team that had begun play in 1999, had made the playoffs just once in their 11 years in Georgia, and the franchise was losing money. In January 2011, court documents revealed the team had lost $130 million since 2005, and the owners were looking to sell the team.
In May, it was announced the team had been sold to True North Sports and Entertainment and that the Thrashers would be relocated to Winnipeg. The new team got the old name, which somewhat muddied the waters because the original Jets had moved and become the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes.
Teemu’s first game in Winnipeg in mid-December was the hottest ticket in the city, as everyone was excited about their favorite star’s return to Manitoba.
Selanne, too, was pumped: “The feeling was mutual. My whole family, including my mother, flew to Winnipeg ahead of me. We had a game in Chicago the night before.”
Sirpa and the kids enjoyed every second of their visit. They stayed at the Leipsics’ while Teemu’s mother, Liisa, spent the night with her friend Liisa Nygard Johnson, the sister of Finnish-born fashion mogul Peter Nygard.
The Ducks arrived in Winnipeg in the middle of the night and hundreds of fans met them at the airport.
Selanne’s visit in Winnipeg was short but sweet.
“We got to the hotel at three in the morning, and it was really cold, but the fans had stayed there waiting for me. I bet they woke up everybody in the hotel when they yelled my name,” he said.
It was the first time Selanne had been in Winnipeg since November 2004, when he had been in town to say goodbye to the Winnipeg Arena, in a special ceremony that featured an AHL game between the Manitoba Moose and the Utah Grizzlies.
“That was emotional, too. After all, I played the first four seasons of my NHL career there.”
Selanne was celebrated with six standing ovations: during the pregame skate, a pregame video greeting with Teemu’s record-breaking 54th goal on the Jumbotron; his first shift; during the first commercial break when they showed another highlight reel on the videoboard; postgame when Teemu stayed on the ice by himself; and when he was named the first star of the game.
“Every time I touched the puck, the crowd cheered. When another Duck had the puck, they booed him. I felt everybody’s eyes on me already when we had the pregame skate,” he said with a chuckle.
The Jets won the game 5–3, and Teemu had two assists. “It was such an emotional night. I was in tears when Teemu took the ice. The Jets made it such a great event,” Sirpa said. “And it was wonderful to have our kids see how the fans loved their father there. We also were able to show them our old house in Winnipeg.”
Sirpa wasn’t the only one wiping tears off her cheeks.
Teemu’s mother, Liisa, had spent a lot of time in town early on when Sirpa was at school in Finland and Teemu was alone in Winnipeg. “Winnipeg’s such an important place for me that I was crying all the time. I have so many friends there,” she said.
As for the kids, the fact they had the chance to play hockey outside made it even more special.
“We played hockey on an outdoor rink every day, and even after the game we played some more on the pond behind the Leipsic house,” Eemil said.
His knee problems in check, Selanne played all 82 regular season games and scored 26 goals and had 66 points to lead the team in scoring for the first time in five years.
The Ducks missed the playoffs again, and the retirement watch was back in full swing. Even if Teemu wanted to take some time to think about whether to keep playing, there were constant reminders. Some started before the season ended and others picked up when it was over.
Selanne chuckles now when he thinks about how much fuss was made about whether he was done once and for all.
“After every year I tried to retire, but the thing for me it was almost a joke, one more year and one more year. I always would say, ‘This is my last year,’ or ‘I think this is my last year,’ but for me that is how it felt,” he said.
This excerpt from Teemu Selanne: My Life by Teemu Selanne with Ari Mennander is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble or www.triumphbooks.com/TeemuSelanne.
Selanne also stopped by on our podcast for an interview about his book.
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November 28th, 2019