Teemu Selanne: Shooting for Success

Originally published on EuroReport.com in 2000

By Lucas Aykroyd

For such a nice guy, Teemu Selanne has courted controversy frequently over the last year. On 2 July 1999, he was involved in a car crash that injured the president of the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation. Early in the 1999-2000 season, he seemed disenchanted with the rigid defensive system employed by Anaheim Mighty Ducks coach Craig Hartsburg. And in recent weeks, rumor had it Selanne would be traded to the New Jersey Devils until Anaheim general manager Pierre Gauthier put that one to rest.

The best answer the superstar right wing from Helsinki could give his critics has been on the ice. The Finnish Flash’s production has soared with points in 15 of his last 18 games (9-17-26). His 13-game point streak from 21 January to 18 February was the fourth longest in the NHL this season, and that helped to boost Anaheim’s record to 7-3-4 in its last 14 outings.

Speaking with EuroReport after a 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place on 3 March, Selanne conceded Hartsburg’s system is starting to click for the Ducks, who must spread their wings down the stretch to nab the final playoff spot in the West.

“Our system is working well,” Selanne said. “Even in the games we’ve lost, we’ve still had a chance to win the game. That’s a good sign. But we still have to play smart as a team, especially when Paul Kariya is out.”

Kariya, Selanne’s partner in the NHL’s most dynamic scoring duo, has missed four games with a bruised right foot and is expected to resume skating soon. That’ll make Selanne happy. Buddies on and off the ice, they’re 1-2 in the Ducks all-time scoring list. Kariya has a slight edge with 447 points to Selanne’s 400. While both know how to put the puck in the net, it’s not unfair to say the North Vancouver native cocks the gun and Selanne pulls the trigger when they’re on top of their game.

“Obviously there’s not going to be as much room when Paul isn’t out there with me,” said Selanne. “But I still try to do the same things.”

Consistency has never been a problem for Selanne. Heading for his 30th birthday on 3 July, he’s become the NHL’s overall leading goal-scorer with 338 tallies since he entered the league in 1992-93. He boasts the fourth-highest goals-per-game average (.621) and the sixth-highest points-per-game ratios (1.30) in NHL history among players with at least 250 goals and 500 points respectively. But he’s hardly epitomized the stereotypical brooding Scandinavian in the way he’s achieved these feats. Even this year, the mellow eight-year veteran isn’t upset he won’t equal his 47-goal, 107-point outburst of 1998-99, which earned him the inaugural Rocket Richard Trophy.

“I never try to put pressure on myself about goals or points,” said Selanne. “They come when you do the right things. Of course, I expect that I’ve got to do more damage. But that’s hockey. I don’t think anybody can have a good season every year. I’m not worried about my individual accomplishments. My goals are for the team.”

A Stanley Cup would be nice. But right now, that doesn’t seem imminent for the Ducks. The team lacks depth after Kariya and Selanne, and the prospect of facing a first-round opponent like St. Louis or Dallas has to be daunting.

According to Selanne, it will all come down to consistency again.

“I think we just have to find a way to get the job done and play for 60 minutes. In the past, some nights we’ve played 50 or 55, but in this league, you have to go the distance. When we play teams that have so much skill, we can’t give them any turnovers or they’ll take advantage right away.”

Though he’s no stripling at 6-0 and 204 pounds, Selanne can’t hide his frustration when discussing the stifling defensive systems that have hampered the NHL (and its skilled players in particular) since the lockout season of 1994-95. So if he could make one change for next season, what would it be?

“I would make the neutral zone bigger in every rink,” Selanne stated. “Right now, there’s so much traffic in the middle that everything really starts there. Tonight, we gave opportunities to Vancouver, because we had turnovers, but usually, teams we play against don’t give us any turnovers. So we don’t have any room. The other thing is, there’s still so much holding and grabbing and hooking. There are supposed to be two referees right now. But many nights they’re just watching each other, wondering who’s going to call what. And most nights they don’t call anything. It frustrates the players because everything can be totally different the next night.”

He brightened visibly when the possibility of seeing a Finnish head coach in the NHL was raised. Ivan Hlinka’s likely ascension as bench boss in Pittsburgh next year may trigger a European invasion. And Selanne already has a Finn in mind: a Turku native whom xenophobic Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry once mocked on national TV for having a first name that matches a popular brand of dog food.

“In Chicago, they’ve brought in Mike Smith as manager of hockey operations, and we know that he’s really good buddies with Alpo Suhonen, who is now an assistant coach with Toronto. They have always worked together, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the head coach of Chicago next season. I think European head coaches have a lot of good things to give North American hockey.”

But Selanne doesn’t think the NHL should plan to expand into Europe: “The distance is much too far. If they had five or six teams over there, it would be a different story. But I think the road trips would still be too long. It’s a fancy idea, but I don’t see that happening. Anyway, it’s not my job to think about those things.”

So much for the Turku Titans or the Helsinki Sauna.

In the meantime, Selanne takes a breather from hockey by supporting charities both in Anaheim and his native land. He was named the First Godfather to the Children’s Hospital in Finland, and he regularly visits the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Perhaps having two young sons—Eemil Ilmari, born 23/2/96, and Eetu Nikodemus, born 12/11/97—heightens his appreciation for these causes.

“I think it’s important for me to find a way to help other people,” Selanne said. “That makes me feel really good. Life has treated me pretty well, and I have been very lucky to be able to do the things I love to do. So it’s a big thing for me.”

No controversy there.

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