It’s one of the biggest nights in Anaheim Ducks history.
People are being flown in from all over the world and events were planned all week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, when legendary Finnish winger Teemu Selanne will become the first Duck to have his jersey retired.
Selanne himself has 60 people coming and many more will be there on their own in order to honor the future Hall-of-Famer.
But there’s one person that won’t be in attendance: Paul Kariya.
The reclusive former Ducks star made a rare appearance at the Honda Center for his ex-linemate’s final regular-season game back in April, but it doesn’t appear as though he will be there Sunday night. Although there are whispers of a surprise appearance, Ducks PR confirmed that he’s on a ski trip this weekend.
"I’m going to kill him when I see him," Selanne joked. "I’m not ok with it, but he says he’s out of town and he’s serious about it."
Kariya is almost as loved in Orange County as Selanne. You say one name, you think of the other. Selanne has said it was "magic" when the two of them played together and even off the ice, they were the dynamic duo, always together and even rooming together at times on the road.
But you’d never know, since they checked into hotels under aliases. Selanne was "Theodore Flash" and Kariya was "Tony Montana."
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"It used to be that when we were in some cities, girls would be calling us through the night to come party with us," he said. "But there was a problem, only a few times, when we went out."
The problem, Selanne said, is that the two of them lost their hotel keys.
"When we came back late at night, I have no key," Selanne said. "So I go to the front desk and I say, ‘Uh, can I get a key for room 616?’ he says, ‘Sure, and your name is?’ ‘Theodore Flash.’ And then, ‘Do you have ID?’"
It sucks to lose your key if you’re Theodore Flash or Tony Montana, he said.
Kariya’s No. 9 is the next number Selanne wants to see retired in the Honda Center. There’s a running joke that Kariya may not show up for his own jersey retirement, and it’s probably a legitimate question too.
Kariya’s well-documented head injuries and his feelings towards the league for letting his head suffer have kept him from the hockey scene since his retirement. He surfs now, and Selanne says he’s good at it.
His appearance at Selanne’s final regular season game was a well-orchestrated surprise. It took a week of calling Kariya daily and that’s a chore itself since Kariya, still a little old school in some ways, rarely answers his phone.
"He really believes that answering the phone costs him money," Selanne said, laughing. "I always have to say, ‘Hey buddy, it’s free to answer the phone.’"
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"I said, ‘You’ve got to be there.’ He didn’t want to come because he didn’t want to see anybody. So my son Leevi he knows, in the Honda Center, every seat there. So I said, ‘He’s going to pick you up before the first period is over, and you don’t have to see anybody.’ (Leevi) is good with the stuff. So he met him at the ramp and took him up to his seat and he didn’t see anybody."
Well, that was until the Honda Center cameras found Kariya in a suite and put him on the big screen, completely surprising even the Ducks’ brass.
Should he show up Sunday night, it will once again surprise the Ducks’ brass. The franchise icon that helped the Ducks reach the 2003 Stanley Cup Final and sacrificed his body to get the Ducks to a Game 7 will continue to be revered in Orange County lore. The organization and fans would always welcome him back.
But for now, his friend says he’s content to live his quiet life by the beach away from hockey. Teemupalooza will have to go on without Paul Kariya.