ANAHEIM, Calif. – With the clock winding down on the Anaheim Ducks' season and, by extension, Teemu Selanne's career, Bruce Boudreau walked over to the future Hall of Famer and told him to hit the ice for the game's final shift.
With about a minute to go, No. 8 climbed over the boards and, as he did, the crowd came to its feet.
"Let's go Teemu!" they sang in unison. "Let's go Teemu!"
It was one of those goose-bump inducing moments, made even more so when scanning the crowd to see who was doing the singing: Ducks and Los Angeles Kings fans.
Oh, the outcome had long since been decided, the Kings putting it to the Ducks on Anaheim's home ice, blitzing them with a three-goal onslaught in the first period en route to a 6-2 victory. Still, visiting fans paying tribute to a hometown player during Game 7 of a playoff series is, well, reserved for someone special.
Selanne made his NHL debut in 1992, when George H.W. Bush was still president and John Gibson, who was in goal for the Ducks Friday night, was in his mother's womb. He scored 76 goals his first season, still a rookie record. Over the next 19 seasons he'd score at least 30 goals 15 times.
Having finally raised the Stanley Cup in 2007, he retired, only to come back and play six and a half more seasons. Prior to this season, he announced his intention to return for one more year in a most unique way: on YouTube.
At 43, his ice time had been reduced, his goal scoring diminished. And so he made the call. Not that he still couldn't play at a high level. Three months ago he was named MVP of the hockey tournament at the Sochi Olympics.
"I still felt I could play way more," he said Friday night, "but when you start going down, maybe now you give your last push and it's time. It has to come from yourself, and I felt it was the right time."
But when the time actually came – when the announcement became reality – he didn't know what to do. As the buzzer sounded, signaling the definitive end, Selanne skated around the ice at Honda Center, staring blankly up at the rafters, into the crowd, fighting back tears. The Kings had won and were moving on to face the Chicago Blackhawks, but now even they were bridesmaids.
This was Teemu's moment and they knew it. The postgame handshake became a showering of respect to be heaped upon Selanne with pat on the back after pat on the back of his sweater.
When he got to the end and there were no more hands to shake, he skated around some more, still fighting back tears. He lifted his arms in appreciate to the crowd, which was still on its feet, and mouthed, "Thank you."
Eventually he made his way to the dressing room where he finally let go.
"I tried not [to cry], but then I came here and I couldn't hold myself anymore," he said. "But you know, it was kind of like I didn't know – it was something new. I didn't know what to do out there. … It's hard to realize it's all over now. Tomorrow morning it's going to be a weird feeling and I'm going to miss a lot of things. But it's gotta end somewhere."
He joked that he'll have to buy some new golf clubs, after having thrown his in the drink in that YouTube video; that he'll be rooting for the Kings because it would offer some consolation if they win it all; and that come next season he'll probably have an itch, but he won't act on it.
"Absolutely," he said when asked if he's at peace with his decision. "I've been flirting with this decision a long time, but the passion and the fun always brought me back. I still love this game. I still know I can play. But it's better this way."
With that, the great Finn was gone, in a flash.
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- Teemu Selanne
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