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Love the column and of course the hair! We here in Orange County obviously have a great admiration for Teemu Selanne and have been fortunate to see him play for the last many years and win a championship. With his impending retirement, do you have any good or funny stories you can share with the fans? We know the kind of player he is and what a nice guy he is off the ice, but few of us know what kind of person he is on the ice.
Thanks for doing this column, always a great read.
Chris from Laguna Niguel
I can tell you first hand that Teemu Selanne is as nice a guy on the ice as he is off of it. While we didn't always agree (as you might expect) I never heard a curse word or disrespectful comment come out of the mouth of the "Finnish Flash"; either directed at me or anyone else. From the very first game that I saw Teemu as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets, I knew this guy was a very special talent. The rest of the hockey world would quickly recognize just how skilled Teemu was while on his way to scoring 76 goals and winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in the 1992-93 season. (Teemu's record remains intact for most goals for a rookie in the NHL.)
Teemu always seemed to exude a "boyish" smile when he was on the ice; a signal to me as how much he loved to play the game. I also witnessed acts of kindness that he demonstrated off the ice to arena and parking attendants in the Honda Centre and other NHL cities. An off-ice official of the Calgary Flames once shared with me that Selanne was such a friendly and classy superstar that he could make people around him feel better about themselves; even in their relative insignificance!
As nice a guy as Teemu is, I also saw a fierce competitiveness and desire to win. Like all champions he hated losing; but unlike some, Teemu did so with class and grace. The 'worst' I ever got from him at the end of a close loss (when he thought I was less than 'perfect' in my performance) was a saddened look of disappointment and perhaps a slight shake of his head as he exited the ice. If the game was on the line Selanne wanted the puck on his stick. He had pull-away speed and a rifle of a shot that made him a game changer. Teemu always made players around him better because he could finish the play.
We recently witnessed Selanne's deep national pride as captain of the Finnish Olympic team in Sochi. The 43-year-old played with speed, youthful energy and determination in leading his team to a bronze medal for his home country.
I first encountered that Finnish pride in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, an NHL-sponsored event as a prelude to the '98 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. I worked a game in Helsinki (Sweden vs. Finland) where the fan atmosphere was more like a U.S. college football game than a hockey game and was like nothing I had ever experienced before. An hour prior to game time fans jammed into the arena end zone, many with their shirt off and face and body painted in Finnish blue. They chanted and sang unceasingly. It also appeared that they consumed a considerable amount of alcohol. Drums were beaten and horns blew. The crowd never sat down in the end zone seats. Instead they stood throughout the whole game shoulder to shoulder and cheered for Teemu Selanne and their other heroes. They were a 'happy' crowd; very loud but not boisterous or unruly. They were having fun watching the game they loved and went wild when Finland won the game.
Back in the Officials' dressing room I had showered and dressed as the party continued inside the arena. The dressing room door opened and a guy I thought to be Teemu Selanne said, "Hey Kerry do you have any beer in your room?" I thought it to be very unusual but invited 'Teemu' in and told him to help himself. He sat down and we were having a great visit over a few beers when finally 'Teemu' admitted that he really wasn't Teemu Selanne at all but his twin brother Paavo!
Paavo Selanne was a real character and said that his brother Teemu told him there is always beer in the refs' room. The next time I saw Teemu and told him of the case of mistaken identity his smile changed to a belly laugh over the joke his brother played on us. They are a fun-loving family.
Congratulations to Teemu and his family on a tremendous NHL and international career. There is no doubt he will eventually enter the Hockey Hall of Fame. It couldn't happen to a more deserving candidate and nicer guy. When that day happens maybe I will be lucky enough to sit down and enjoy a beer with Teemu and his twin brother Paavo in celebration of this great player's career.