Selanne's passion burning brightly
Veteran Anaheim Ducks winger doing everything he can to extend his final season
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With the hockey world abuzz in the aftermath of John Gibson's sparkling NHL playoff debut, Teemu Selanne chuckled Sunday at the thought of his first encounter with the Anaheim Ducks phenom goalie.
"When he was first here, we were having lunch or something, and he said, 'I think my mom is the same age as you,'" Selanne recalled.
To which Selanne's response to Gibson was not suitable for a family audience.
Of course, when you consider that Gibson was born only after Selanne had completed his first NHL season, well, it only stands to reason that Gibson's mother would share a similar birth certificate to the Finnish Flash.
Just don't tell Selanne that. In his heart and mind, he's still the same 22-year-old who took the NHL by storm in 1992.
"But you know what? I think it's awesome," said Selanne, still chuckling at the Gibson story. "That's why I'm so proud I've been able to play for so many years. I still enjoy it, I'm still hanging around with the young guys who could be my son. I don't feel older than these guys. I can guarantee you, I still enjoy this more than most of my teammates."
One of Selanne's longtime teammates still marvels at his old pal's passion for the game.
"It's unbelievable," retired star Paul Kariya told ESPN.com Sunday. "It's one of the great stories in all of sports. To play hockey at this level and the way he's doing it at this age, I mean MVP at the Olympics at 43 is just unbelievable. One of the great sports stories of all time."
Kariya and Selanne were the Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry of the mid- to late 1990s in these parts, putting the Ducks on the NHL map by delivering an exciting 1-2 punch. From the day Selanne arrived in Anaheim following his trade by the Winnipeg Jets during the 1995-96 season, Kariya has never been around a player who enjoyed life and hockey so much.
"His passion ... for life in general ... I don't know anyone that loves being alive and loves every moment of the day like Teemu does," said Kariya, 39. "He loves being around the guys and going out for dinner on the road and all the little things, the joking around. He loves every part of the game. I think that's a big reason why he's played for so long. It's incredible what kind of passion and love for the game he has held onto for this long."
Kariya attended Selanne's last regular-season game last month.
"I think he's actually going to play longer. I don't know why he's talking about this retirement stuff," Kariya said with a laugh.
"I just think they have to play him more," Kariya added with a chuckle. "It is funny. When we talked this year, there were times when he just wants to be on the ice more and more power-play time. That's what I'm talking about with the passion and the drive. He still has that determination to be the best and to help the team win hockey games. He feels like he can do more and I believe him."
Selanne's farewell season has not always been a dream. He's been scratched at times, including Game 4 against the Dallas Stars in the previous round.
And his usage as a bottom-six forward clearly is an adjustment for Selanne. He made that clear in Sochi when, during an emotional media session after winning bronze with Finland, he repeatedly talked about how it was refreshing to have a team still believe in him as a first-line player.
"I wasn't trying to hurt anybody," said Selanne. "I was asked the questions and I answered them, it's easier to play on the first line than the third or fourth line. I've found the last few years, playing less has been the hardest thing in my career. Your body doesn't work if you're not going all the time."
Scott Niedermayer can certainly appreciate both sides of that decision. Selanne's former teammate is now part of Bruce Boudreau's coaching staff. Scratching Selanne for a playoff game last round was not easy.
"I'm obviously in there now whenever those discussions happen," Niedermayer told ESPN.com Sunday. "It's not easy for anybody. But really at the end of the day, no one is immune from getting older and slower. Maybe it's when you're 30, maybe it's when you're 45 or 50, but no one is immune to it."
Selanne has played better of late, scoring goals in Game 1 and Game 3, seemingly reaching down and finding another energy level. Fact is, we might never again see a 43-year-old play at this level in this league.
"It's definitely, in my opinion, become a younger player's game since the rules were tweaked a bit," said Niedermayer, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last November. "But he's kept himself in good shape. I mean, you know, there were times this year when you could see he definitely wasn't the player he was 10 years ago. But he still contributes. He knows where to go, he knows what to do with the puck when he gets it in those areas, just like he did two games ago when he scored that big goal for us. It's fun to watch. It's nice to have him around."
After winning the Stanley Cup together here in 2007, Niedermayer and Selanne both decided to retire. But then they both returned to play.
"You get to that point, you win the Stanley Cup, you played two months of this type of hockey, you're pretty worn out," said Niedermayer. "I think at that point, we both felt we didn't have much left. I guess we were both wrong. Teemu was just a little more wrong than I was, I guess."
Seven years later, Selanne is still going.
"I know, unbelievable," Selanne says as he sits back in a chair at Honda Center.
Heck, he's had a book written about his life and career ready to go for a long time. It's finally going to be published in September.
"It was first supposed to come out in 2004. I was supposed to retire then," Selanne said, laughing. "But every year since we've added another chapter."
No question it was in 2007 when he came closest to truly retiring.
"Very close. I thought for sure I was done," said Selanne. "I thought there couldn't be any motivation to come back. Eight months later I came to a couple of games, I started to get itchy. It still looked fun."
And it still is fun. That was his message to teammates when the team was down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings in the series. Just enjoy the opportunity at hand.
"I try to tell the young guys, you don't know if you're ever going to get this kind of chance again to play for such a good team and get this kind of opportunity," said Selanne. "When you're young, you think you're going to play forever and get lots of chances like this. It doesn't happen like that."
When Selanne speaks, the young guys are all ears. Patrick Maroon took a deep breath Sunday when asked what it was like when he began playing on the same line as a legend.
"It's honestly a dream come true," Maroon said. "There's no words. You're playing with a Hall of Famer, whose presence and what he brings to the game is just unbelievable. As a kid, you watched him on TV and then you get a chance to play with him in his final season. Words just can't express what a good feeling that is. He's shown us young guys how to be a pro."
Selanne has made sure to soak it all in this season -- noting whenever he was playing a final game in a certain NHL rink, making sure to say goodbye to familiar faces along the way.
"Absolutely," said Selanne. "In many ways, it's more fun that way. You try to enjoy it all. It has been fun."
So many people have told him how much they'll miss him. How much he's meant to them.
"You can't imagine you can touch so many people's lives and get that kind of feedback. It's pretty special," said Selanne.
Life will be here in Southern California once he's done this season. He owns a restaurant in the area, it's where his kids (18, 16, 14 and 6) have grown up and it's where he's going to continue to connect with hockey.
"At some point, I'll work with the Ducks," said Selanne. "I don't know how soon that will be but I'm looking forward to that."
While he has no idea yet what he would do, it appears management appeals more than coaching.
"I've always been interested in being part of that group who is going to make the decisions about how to build a team," said Selanne. "I think I would have a pretty good vision about that."
Whether this is Selanne's final week of an illustrious career, or whether there's another month of playoff hockey for the Ducks, the end is indeed near.
The NHL will be such a lesser place for it. That, folks, is no joking matter.