Selanne's long haul

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! SportsJune 5, 2007

OTTAWA – Teemu Selanne said he'd give himself "10, maybe 20 minutes" to enjoy his Anaheim Ducks’ hard-fought 3-2 victory over Ottawa here, the one that after all these years and all these games put him just a single victory from etching his name on the Stanley Cup.

Anaheim is up 3-1 on Ottawa, Game 5 is Wednesday, and Selanne doesn't want to think about it. Not on the flight home. Not on the off day. Not until it's done. Although, he admits, after 14 NHL seasons, over 1,000 games and more than 500 goals it's easier said than done.

"I think it is every player's dream and obviously here and there you start thinking about it," he said.

With that, he caught himself.

"Well, we don't go that far yet," he said. "But, obviously, it is every player's goal and I include myself. Now I have an opportunity and I am going to go after it."

It isn't easy to win a championship in any sport, but there is something about the Stanley Cup that makes it seem even more precious. Maybe it is the grind of four playoff rounds. Maybe it is the physicality of the sport. Maybe it is the humility of the players or the forever memory that having your name – your father's name – engraved right there next to Gretzky and Orr and Richard and Lemieux and whoever is coming decades from now.

The Cup has always been about a long, slow fight; an emotional and physical survival test where only the toughest succeed. Which may be why each spring there is another aging veteran, a hockey warrior who grinded it out all those seasons in all those crowded corners only to, at last, close in on glory.

It was Ray Bourque in Colorado. It was Dave Andreychuk in Tampa. It was Glen Wesley a year ago in Carolina.

Now it just may be Teemu Selanne, the Finnish star who has seen his career reborn post-lockout with the Ducks.

Monday he had an assist on Dustin Penner's game winner and it was, quite expectedly, a thing of beauty, a 2-on-1 where Selanne's soft touch made the difference.

"He put it right on my tape," said Penner. "I had an open net to put it in."

"A big-time, skill-type play," said coach Randy Carlyle.

That's what he's been doing since arriving from Helsinki, Finland in 1992 and as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets, when he scored a mind-blowing 76 goals and 132 points. But that's always been his game and even at age 36, he's back going strong. His 48 goals this season didn't just lead the Ducks, it made him the oldest player in NHL history to score 45 or more.

Selanne being "old," of course, is a big thing with his teammates. They like to mention watching him when they were kids. One even attended Selanne's hockey camp in Winnipeg when he was 12.

So while everyone wants that Stanley Cup for themselves, they also appreciate not just the years Selanne has put into this thing but how after all those miles, he's still making the critical plays.

Anaheim, after a horrendous first period filled with too many defensive lapses, too many dumb penalties and too much reliance on Jean-Sebastien Giguere were lucky to be down just 1-0.

"I think we got frustrated and said, 'come on, let's stop this. This is embarrassing to play like that,' " Selanne said. "We can't do (the penalties) we put ourselves behind the eight ball every time. I think we learned.

"In the third we played smart. There is no secret to how this team has to play."

They came out and played with purpose and precision, took the Sens fans out of the game and early in the third allowed Selanne to set Penner up for the most important goal of the season. So far, of course.

This is Selanne's first Stanley Cup finals, his first real chance. The way his career stalled a couple years back in San Jose, for awhile he may have thought it would never happen. Then he wound up reunited with Carlyle, whom he played with in Winnipeg, and the magic returned.

Even so, he wasn't taking this opportunity lightly. He has been focused and determined. For some fun he flew 16 pals from back home – he calls them the "Finnish Drinking Team" – over to enjoy themselves and be there, just in case there is something to celebrate.

"We get spoiled by it because you see him day in, day out," said Carlyle. "The thing he's demonstrated for our group (is) a tremendous amount of leadership. He's provided the passion for our group."

So after all the games and all the goals it is Selanne providing the passion, providing the reminder to his young teammates to seize the opportunity, to quit with the silly penalties, to ignore the difficulties of playing on the road and make this happen.

"(He) has a Hall of Fame career already in the book," Carlyle said. "But his biggest accomplishment is the next one."

Sixty minutes more for Teemu Selanne. Sixty minutes to get what he's been dreaming about, even if he can't yet admit it.