ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Teemu Selanne was determined not to cry when his jersey was retired by the Anaheim Ducks, and he barely succeeded somehow during an emotional tribute Sunday to his life and career.
Turns out there’s nothing the Finnish Flash can’t do in a hockey rink.
”Actually the toughest part of keeping the emotions was when I was walking down the stairs,” Selanne said, referring to his entrance through a cordon of high-fiving fans. ”The whole thing just hit so hard – plus I have to concentrate so I don’t fall down those. What a night. It’s very special.”
The Ducks hung Selanne’s No. 8 in the rafters to honor the beloved forward who became their franchise scoring leader during his 21-season NHL career. Eight months after Selanne ended a record-setting career spent mostly in Orange County, the Ducks celebrated the franchise’s most popular player and the 11th-leading goal-scorer in NHL history.
”I feel very lucky in so many different ways,” Selanne told the sellout crowd. ”You guys have made this a happy place for us. It’s overwhelming. You guys have treated me so well. Thanks for making this life so special.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman, team owner Henry Samueli and Selanne’s family joined two decades of teammates on stage before the Ducks faced the Winnipeg Jets, Selanne’s first NHL club. After the ceremony, the teams surprised Selanne by warming up in replicas of every jersey worn by Selanne with the two clubs – everything from the Ducks’ current look to the franchises’ mid-1990s sweaters.
”This whole thing has been unbelievable,” Selanne said, employing his favorite adjective over the years.
After speaking to the crowd, Selanne was joined by his family under a spotlight while a black banner with his No. 8 slowly rose.
”I don’t remember the last time I was this nervous,” Selanne said. ”I didn’t know what to expect. It was really special. The whole package was perfect.”
Selanne won the Calder Trophy in 1993 and the Stanley Cup in 2007 while delighting hockey fans for a quarter-century with his electrifying offensive abilities and magnetic personality.
Samueli hailed Selanne as ”the true face of the franchise” and an exemplary leader who ”touched thousands of lives” with charity work.
”We salute you, we thank you, we love you,” Samueli added. ”You are permanently ingrained in the soul of the Anaheim Ducks franchise.”
Selanne’s jersey is the first retired by the Ducks, who came into existence in 1993 – a few months after Selanne set an NHL record with 76 goals in his rookie season in Winnipeg.
Bettman called the goals mark ”a record that no doubt will never be broken,” and he credited Selanne with a large role in hockey’s rise to prominence in Southern California – even while fans greeted the commissioner with his usual round of boos.
”I would get booed to be with Teemu any time,” Bettman said. ”Unless I’m mistaken, it sounds like you’re going `Tee-muuuuuu.”’
Selanne laughed and cocked his ear when fans started the ”One more year!” chant that became an Anaheim staple over the last half-decade.
”That was funny,” he said. ”Luckily, it’s not possible.”
The then-Mighty Ducks acquired Selanne in February 1996, and he returned to the franchise for good in 2005 after brief stints in San Jose and Colorado. Selanne spent parts of 15 seasons in Orange County, where he still lives year-round with his wife and four children.
After flirting with retirement for seven consecutive summers, Selanne finally did for good last year after racking up 684 goals and 773 assists in 1,451 games. He is the 15th-leading scorer in NHL history with 1,457 points and the Ducks’ career leader in most major categories, including goals (457), assists (531) and games played (966).
Selanne’s family was joined on the stage by Jari Kurri, his childhood hero, and former Ducks teammates, including Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Saku Koivu, Steve Rucchin, Guy Hebert, Todd Marchant and George Parros. Selanne also insisted on leaving an empty chair on stage for the late Don Baizley, his former agent.
His friends took a few jabs: Giguere claimed Selanne is known for having ”a muffin for a shot.”
”What I’d like to know is how you fooled so many goalies over the years,” Giguere asked with a smile.
After Kurri related a story about the notorious gearhead asking to borrow his car the first time they met, Kurri addressed Selanne directly: ”Enjoy your retirement, but I hope that at some point, you go back into hockey, somehow, some way, soon.”
Selanne co-owns a Laguna Beach restaurant and plays plenty of golf and tennis in his retirement, but he expects to get back into hockey in some capacity soon, either with the Ducks or the Finnish national team.
Before watching the game from a luxury suite, Selanne confirmed that the Stanley Cup victory was his most memorable day in a hockey uniform.
”Yeah, but not only that,” he said. ”The biggest thing is that we won it right here. Thank you so much. This night is so special for me. I’m never going to forget this.”