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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Teemu Selanne’s number retirement ceremony was perfect – fit for hockey royalty. Full of pomp and circumstance, it lasted an hour 33 minutes. The event, before a Ducks, Jets game, at the Honda Center had baby pictures (BABY TEEMU!), his family, former teammates and montages of great Teemu moments.
Even the Kings loaned the Stanley Cup to the Ducks for a night.
But in the hallways of the arena, there were whispers of one obvious question: Will Paul Kariya show up?
The first real Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks superstar was on a ski vacation with his family. But surely, he had to return to see his buddy’s number get raised to the rafters of the building … a place that was once his building. He was going to come in like a pro wrestler and rappel from the roof with Wild Wing. There had to be some stunt, right? At very least a recorded video?
It never happened. When asked after the ceremony if he was disappointed, Selanne didn’t show it.
“I think time heals. There’s something that he doesn’t like to be part of hockey right now. That’s my next challenge, to get him back in hockey,” Selanne said. “I think right now he doesn’t want to be a part of it and I respect that.”
Selanne could have easily voiced some displeasure. He could have made a plea to Kariya in front of a group of international reporters that the once mightiest of Ducks return to hockey in some capacity.
But instead Teemu did what he always does (unless he’s taking a shot at Bruce Boudreau in a tell-all book). He took the high road.
The lack of Kariya at the ceremony wasn’t glaring. The event would have been festive regardless. But it was more sad than anything.
(Steve) Rucchin said he tried his best to persuade the reclusive Kariya to attend but said Kariya had long ago committed to a family ski trip. Several other players also tried to sway Kariya and, unfortunately, failed.
Which is unfortunate considering how well they complemented each other on and off the ice. Kariya and Selanne had similar skill sets that were dynamic. And it was Selanne who was able to get the hyper-intense Kariya to loosen up a little when the two were away from the rink.
Said Fox Sports West:
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.
His absence was made even more obvious by the appearance of Philadelphia Flyers defens… err, Department of Player Safety staffer Chris Pronger, another former Selanne teammate.
The NHL’s hiring of Pronger earlier in the season was much-maligned for many reasons – partially because of the fact that he’s still under contract with the Flyers (cough) cap circumvention (cough). But it’s more the optics that the Department of Player Safety seems to have historically had more players like Pronger than Kariya. The league needs skill players in this spot. It needs Kariya.
He blasted the NHL and its handling of supplemental discipline in 2011 when he retired due to concussions. It was a powerful and poignant moment by one of the top players in the game’s dead-puck era. A guy who could have had a greater career if not for the on-ice brutality of Gary Suter and Scott Stevens amongst others.
Leading up to the Suter slam, Kariya’s points per game went from 1.32 to 1.43 to 1.41 the year Suter decided a cross check to the face of a defenseless player was a good idea. Kariya never touched higher than 1.23 again. It’s a sad tale indeed.
NHL Hockey is a tough game. Regardless of how well players are compensated, the travel combined with rugged play can take a physical and mental toll on those who play it. The point that Kariya wants to take time to be with his family and enjoy life is completely understandable
But the man is missed. When his face was shown briefly in a video montage interview for Selanne, the Honda Center crowd erupted. The Ducks fans want him back. And the game needs him. A guy with 989 career points in 989 games just disappears?
People from Kariya’s era with lesser stats have been selected into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hopefully we won’t have to wait for this moment to see him back in hockey in some capacity.
There is no better spokesperson for the damage head injuries can do to a skill player.
Help us Teemu Selanne. Bring back Paul Kariya. You’re our only hope.
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