ANAHEIM, Calif. — Those golf clubs that Teemu Selanne famously chucked into the pond of an Orange County golf course last year? He’s going to need new ones.
Selanne took the ice with just over a minute left in Friday night’s loss to the Kings in the Western Conference semifinals and immediately everyone in the stands rose to their feet. Kings fans, Ducks fans and the players on each bench watched intently, some with tears in their eyes and all with reverence, as a legend skated his last final shift in the National Hockey League.
Following the final buzzer, he embraced goaltender Jonas Hiller. No one dared leave the ice.
The crowd roared as he skated a final lap. This one was not a victory lap, not like in 2007 when he hoisted the Anaheim Ducks’ first-ever Stanley Cup. The finality was evident.
It was evident in the way that nearly every Los Angeles player whispered something to him in the handshake line, hanging on just a little longer. It was evident in the way they remained on the ice, encouraging the crowd — most of it made up of their own fans by that point — as they tapped their sticks in his honor.
He walked back to the dressing room for the last time. Selanne was finally retired.
"I knew it would either be a big party or a big disappointment," he said. "It’s a big disappointment."
For so many reasons, the Ducks desperately wanted to that Game 7 win. One of those was for Selanne. Though they demurred the subject throughout the postseason, it was an obvious unspoken motivation.
"We knew this was Teemu’s last year and if you lose in the playoffs that’s going to be it for him, but you don’t have that in your head," said Anaheim’s Saku Koivu and Selanne’s Finnish countryman. "At the end, he got the reaction from the fans and from the Kings and from his teammates so it’s an emotional moment but it kind of overtakes the disappointment of losing the Game 7."
At 43 years old — 44 on July 3 — Selanne was ready to retire. Yes, the Finnish Flash was still productive. He was named the Olympic Games MVP earlier this year and he appeared as young as some of the Ducks’ rookies at times. It was never a question of whether or not he could still play — it was whether or not he wanted to do so. He shot down the rumors of going to the KHL in Russia, simply saying he was comfortable with his decision to retire.
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"I knew my role would be smaller but I still knew I could play," he said. "I don’t really have to play anymore. I don’t want to."
For the last few years, he’s returned on one-year contracts, never forcing him to make any long-term decisions. Last year, he released the video that showcased his sub-par golf game, announcing his final season. It was humorous and it was Teemu, in every way. The accent that’s as thick as the day he left and the vivacious personality.
Although it’s always a possibility, he never thought it would end like this.
"It’s a tough feeling, you want to go further," he said. "But I want to look at the big picture and enjoy this game, my teammates, the fans and the organization. Not even in my wildest dreams did I expect to have a career like this.
"I’m very thankful."
It was a sad end to such an illustrious career but it’s even sadder that one of the game’s greatest players on the ice and greatest guys off it won’t be playing any longer. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said he’ll be sad the next time he faces Anaheim and looks over at a bench only to realize Selanne isn’t there. Most of the Kings spoke for most of the players he had faced when they said he was an honor to play against.
"There are not many guys left in this league that have earned the respect and admiration of not only the fans but the players he plays against," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "I think we would have stayed out there for 20 minutes if we could. If that is his last game, I imagine he has nothing to be upset about. He is an awesome player."
"He is a special player and a special person," said Selanne’s former coach and current Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. "I know the respect that our players have for him, too. It was really nice to see that."
He played the game with speed, grace and hard hits — the way any good hockey player would. He’s loved in this country and his own. It was not the most fitting end, but he’s at peace with everything that came in the 21 seasons before the end.
"When I came here during the 1995-96 season, I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be my home and a happy place for my family," he said. "Everything great has to end. There’s going to be a lot of sadness about this, but overall, there is going to be a lot of happiness.
"It’s been an unbelievable journey. I’ve really been enjoying every day. Every morning I drive here with a smile on my face, win or lose."