On Friday night, Teemu Selanne‘s NHL career came to an end as the Anaheim Ducks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings.
In many ways, it’s a sad event.
It’s sad to see a future Hall of Famer go off into the sunset, perhaps a couple seasons too late.
It’s sad to see one of the game’s great gentlemen go out on such a low note.
It’s sad to see one of the most exciting players the game has ever seen complete his career. There’s a reason he was called The Finnish Flash, after all.
However, and perhaps most selfishly, it’s sad to see the end of what’s probably the final remaining link to the childhood hockey I knew.
I’m not old enough to have a true appreciation for what Selanne did in his now-iconic rookie season in Winnipeg. You hear about the 76 goals he scored in that 1992-93 season, and his legendary celebration after scoring his 54th goal that season to break Mike Bossy‘s rookie record is played on highlight reels time and time again.
But I was three years old when that happened, so it’s not something I can vividly recall.
My first tangible memories of Selanne came when he was part of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the mid-1990s, playing as part of one of the best duos of all time with Paul Kariya, my favourite NHL player to watch back in the day.
The way Selanne and Kariya worked together on the ice… There was just something magical about it, with all due respect to Disney.
After the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim was a close second in terms of being my favourite team (a role, ironically enough, filled by the Kings now), and it was all because of Selanne and Kariya.
So naturally, my interest in the San Jose Sharks grew once Selanne was traded there, but it just wasn’t the same as his days in the eggplant and jade.
Now, Selanne’s career statistics will also include a season with the Colorado Avalanche. However, I choose not to remember that, as it just wasn’t the same Teemu Selanne I remembered as a kid. In fact, some wondered how long he might go after that season, or if he’d become a casualty of the NHL lockout the following year.
Instead, he returned to Anaheim in 2005, and it seemed like The Finnish Flash was reborn.
He was home, where he belonged.
Selanne experienced a career resurgence after returning to Anaheim, posting three more 30-goal seasons, with two of those being 40-goal seasons. More importantly, he finally got to hoist the elusive Stanley Cup in 2007 as the Ducks stood mightiest.
The next few seasons portrayed Selanne as something of an ageless wonder, still making significant contributions until Father Time caught up with him in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
His numbers (684 goals, 773 assists for 1,457 points) spoke for themselves, but Selanne’s impact always extended well beyond the stat sheet.
Selanne is considered a national hero back in Finland, and it’s little wonder why, as he never hesitated to represent his country, doing so in an astounding 16 international tournaments, including six Olympic Games.
The closest parallel I can think of on that front is the recently-retired Ryan Smyth, affectionately nicknamed Captain Canada. However, his resume still pales in comparison with Selanne, as do those of just about any other player, including Selanne being named most outstanding player at the Sochi Olympics in winning his fifth Olympic ice hockey medal.
So when Selanne decided this season would be his last, it almost didn’t feel real. Maybe it was his previous wavering on retirement contributing to that feeling, but maybe it was the selfish feeling of not wanting to let go of one of the greats.
Yet, as he skated through the handshake line at the end of Game 7, there was a sense of relief. Even though Selanne would have wanted to go out with the Stanley Cup over his head, it’s hard to think of anything more dramatic than a Game 7 against a bitter rival.
He was a beloved and well-respected figure wherever he went. If, for whatever reason, you need more proof, look no further than the reaction he received during his last game in Winnipeg earlier this season.
That should give you chills. Of course, we saw it again on Friday night when the Kings, a longtime intrastate rival, stayed on the Honda Center ice for a few extra minutes after the Game 7 handshake to give him the proper sendoff he so thoroughly deserved.
Thank you for all the memories, Teemu. I look forward to the day you take your rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.