Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Selanne Still Going Strong at 40

By Larry Wigge

For several years now, Teemu Selanne's brilliance has peaked coach Bruce Boudreau's interest -- from afar.

Boudreau has coached Alex Ovechkin while with the Washington Capitals, but Selanne's star was a new challenge when he took over the Anaheim Ducks. Selanne's career had spanned nearly two decades and his star was among the brightest of all galaxies.

"I find it amazing that a man his age can still skate the way he can," Boudreau gushed. "Having coached Ovechkin the last 4 1/2 season, I got see Ovie dig his skates with a powerful stride.

"Teemu's stride is like a feather the way he glides along the ice. Selanne's just a whisp on top of the ice. He doesn't look like he's even touching the ice."

Selanne's career once again reached a milestone, when he scored the 650th and 651st goals of his career in a 7-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nevertheless, the 41-year-old from Helsinki, Finland, was still going strong. He was leading the Ducks in scoring with 14 goals and 25 assists in 40 games.

Like Old Man River, Selanne just rolls along. He was the 10th player taken in the first round all the way back to the 1988 NHL Entry Draft.

Though he's not scoring 76 goals and 56 assists like he did as a rookie in 1982-83, Selanne is once again on pace of 30 goals -- which would be the 12th time in 19 seasons. This may -- or may note -- be his swan song, but Teemu is hardly intimating might be his last.

"When you get older, you absolutely think about the kind of commitment it takes to play at a high level," encourages Selanne. "I ride the bike a lot during the summer. The most you put into the game in the summer pays of for you during the season.

"I was young again ..."

Then, he stared me straight in the eyes and said and began laughing, "I've already said five times that I'm going to retire. But nobody believes me anymore."”

There aren't many athletes 41 still star in their sports. Forty-years in downright ancient. Age hasn't slowed Teemu Selanne, who remains an oldie-but-goodie.

At home, Selanne has sons Eemil (16), Eetu (13) and Leevi (12) to keep them thinking young. And to keep working on his game.

"They all play hockey at a high level -- and they never let me forget a good scoring chance that I don't cash in on," said the proud papa. "Two years ago, I got off to a slow start. You wouldn't believe the trash talk at the breakfast table. From all three of them. It was vicious.

"They had more goals. So, therefore, they were better than dad. They wouldn't let me hear the end of it."

Wife, Sirpa, acts as the go-between, reminding them of Teemu's 40 goal seasons -- eight times, including five times in his first six not (not counting the lockout shortened 1994-95 season).

It wasn't always that way. Back in 2004-05, Selanne has to take off to do a major knee surgery -- that coming after an ill-fated move along with teammate Paul Kariya to the Colorado Avalanche as a pair of free agents. Teemu had his career low of 16 goals and 16 assists.

Said Selanne, "I felt like I was racing a car with just three tires."

It was a lockout-lost season. But the NHL welcomed Selanne back to the Ducks a year later. New knee and all, Teemu returned to Anaheim with a 40-goal, 50-assist season in 2005-06.

His knee wasn't locking up any more. His moves were back. And Selanne still had the flair and goal-scoring knack.

With the Ducks in 2006-07 he won his first Stanley Cup.

"Everything starts with passion, if you don't have it, you shouldn't be playing," Selanne explained. "You can practice and develop it, but a lot of it is a gift. Sometimes you just have to have the magic. You can go a lot of games without scoring and you can get frustrated, but you stick with it.

"Alex Ovechkin can beat people from the blue line. I can't do that. A lot of people can't. With him it's both power and accuracy. Guys can shoot the puck hard but the key is accuracy, because there are only a few places where you can score."

Look at it as a fast-twitch response. It takes a phenomenal amount of athletic ability. You have to get rid of the puck so fast. It isn't surprising that Teemu drives cars so fast, because he has such hand-eye coordination and his reflexes are so quick. You can't really teach that part.

He's always had skating speed. The ability to score -- well, that's all Teemu.

Former Edmonton great Jari Kurri was always his hero.

"I had his poster on my wall when I was a young boy," said Selanne, who past his Finnish compatriot with 575 goals and 1,204 points in 1,126 NHL games. "Obviously, he's a buddy of mine too now, so that's pretty neat."

It also been pretty neat watching Teemu Selanne for nearly two decades. Living for skating on the slippery slope of a goal scorer. Where you are praised when the puck is going in and ridiculed when it isn't. Shooting is one thing. Scoring is another altogether. The best scorers have a definite plan in mind when they're bearing down on a goalie.

For Selanne, it's a knack, an innate ability to see a play develop before it happens and having the patience to cash in on that opportunity. 

Release ... accuracy ... skating speed. Those are the physical components of goal scoring.

Teemu Selanne has it all -- with spades.

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