Selanne leading the way for Anaheim

Originally published on in 2000

By Lucas Aykroyd

Paul Kariya may wear the C for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, but it’s clear this team has two leaders. Teemu Selanne’s solid start to his ninth NHL season has been a key to whatever success the Ducks have enjoyed so far. The Finnish Flash has notched three game-winning goals and leads the team in scoring. Sure, he may now be the 30-year-old father of three sons, but he hasn’t lost a step.

Selanne was recently placed on a line with Mike LeClerc and Matt Cullen in an attempt to give Anaheim a more balanced attack, as the team has hovered near the bottom of the tough Western Conference most of this year. But in a 4-1 road loss to Vancouver on 29 November, he was paired up again with his old buddy Paul Kariya. Although the Helsinki native logged a team-high 23:46 of ice time, the duo was largely ineffective, and that was reflected in Selanne’s glum demeanor after the game.

“It’s always nice to play with Paul,” Selanne told EuroReport. “We were separated for a little while. It’s good to try some different things when the team isn’t working well. But we have to do a better job than tonight. We had great chances. We could easily have scored four or five goals, but it was the same story as in Edmonton: we just couldn’t score. The last two or three games, we have made other teams’ goalies look like heroes. It’s frustrating, you know.”

Selanne is weary of the persistent trade rumors that would see him go to the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils. “I don’t even want to talk about that,” he said. “That’s one thing I can’t control. It’s out of my mind now.”

Undoubtedly, he’s trying not to think about the freak accident that sidelined his usual centerman, Steve Rucchin, in a mid-November game against Colorado. Selanne’s slapshot during an Anaheim power play deflected into Rucchin’s face in the slot, breaking his nose and left cheekbone. Rucchin only started practicing this week and Selanne would love to see him come back to help the team.

“Of course, it’s huge. We need everybody in this dressing room and Rucchin helps us a lot. But still, we have to believe right now that we are so close to taking off and being a better hockey team. We are doing a lot of good things and it’s a shame that we can’t get the results. It’s about confidence. One goal would mean a lot.”

Thinking long-term, a solid run in the post-season would mean even more. Selanne, an Eagles fan, flew into the Anaheim “Hotel California” in 1996 after some great seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. But although he’s finished with more than 100 points three times for Anaheim, the team has never gone further than the second round of the playoffs, which was in 1996-97.

Could it be, as Don Henley sang, that at this hotel, “You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave”?

“I think the last couple of years we have proved a lot,” Selanne said. “Definitely we are going on the right track now. We are so close, that’s why it’s so frustrating that we can’t really get what we deserve. But we have to keep believing it’s going to turn around.”

Hopefully a pair of young Finnish prospects will contribute to that eventual success. The Ducks lead the league in one little-known category: promising Anttis. Antti Aalto and Antti-Jussi Niemi give them the edge over the Minnesota Wild, who only have Antti Laaksonen. Seriously, while both young Ducks have bounced up and down between Anaheim and the AHL farm team in Cincinnati this year, they have accomplished enough to catch Selanne’s eye.

“Niemi hasn’t been here much, but every time he has, he has done his job pretty well,” said Selanne. “Aalto is also a young player who can do a lot of good things out there. He’s a strong power forward and he can be really good for us.”

Having a gritty presence up front has been particularly important since the mid-1990’s, due to the NHL’s lax approach toward calling obstruction penalties. That is supposed to be a thing of the past this year, with NHL director of officiating Andy Van Hellemond calling for a crackdown. Selanne likes what he’s seen so far.

“It’s good they’re trying to call those holding and interference penalties, because that’s what’s going to kill the speed in hockey. I think the referees have been doing a good job and they’re improving all the time. They’re getting better with the two-referee system and they know they’re both going to call the same thing.”

Sometimes, for a little inspiration, Selanne calls home and speaks with his legendary former teammate with the Ducks and the Finnish national team, Jari Kurri.

“Yeah, once in a while. He doesn’t really know what he’s going to do. He’s being a commentator for some games back home and trying to enjoy life. He’s doing good.”

And “doing good” is a nice understatement when it comes to evaluating Selanne’s own career. Entering this season, he had scored more goals than anyone else in the NHL since 1992-93 (346 to Jaromir Jagr’s 328). His goals-per-game average of .613 ranked fifth behind Mario Lemieux (.823), Mike Bossy (.762), Brett Hull (.649) and Pavel Bure (.634). Illustrious company indeed.

Now if only he could add Stanley Cup silverware to his bronze medal from the Nagano Olympics, it would be a golden moment for this Finnish hockey superstar. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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