In October of 1997 I was 14 years old and I didn't care very much about the NHL. For one thing, we didn't get NESN at my parents' house, and for another I was too busy watching college hockey to care.
This did not, however, mean that I was not one to attend the occasional Bruins game. I'd been to more than a few times, but the team never really captured my attention in any real way. Hockey was good — I went to dozens of NCAA games every year and played street hockey all the time — but I was indifferent to the Black and Gold, and the NHL in general. For whatever reason, it just never really caught on as a thing I should care about.
On Oct. 30, my dad got tickets to a game between the Bruins and Mighty Ducks, now in their fifth year of existence. I remember a lot of the very vague details about that game, such as that it was on a Thursday night, for example. I know that because the Bruins used to — and perhaps still do — run a promotion in which high school and college students could get half-price tickets in the balcony.
That was a good way, I presume, to get people through the doors when the team was as mediocre-to-bad as it genuinely was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The season in question, the Bruins were coming off a 61-point campaign (this is what happens when a team allows 300 goals in 82 games, you see) after which they picked some kid named Joe Thornton first overall.
The reason I remember that it must have been a college night was that our section was filled with early-20s yahoos drunk off their asses midway through the first period. And I know they were drunk because this one particular group of, oh, let's call them yahoos, had been heckling Teemu Selanne with the same high-pitched screaming of his name — to imply that he was a woman, you see — which was each time met with uproarious laughter. The way these guys kept saying “Teemu Selanne,” with no real joke behind it other than the pitch at which it was said, was to these young men a late-90s equivalent of Woody Allen's moose bit.
Again, I didn't follow the NHL and thus didn't know Teemu Selanne from Guy Hebert. The only person on the Mighty Ducks I'd heard of at that time was probably Paul Kariya, whose transcendent performances in the NCAA six or so years earlier were still being whispered about in hushed tones whenever Maine came to town. Going 33-91-124 in 51 games will do that for your reputation in a sport as provincial as college hockey. I suppose I'd probably also seen him inexplicably show up at that Eden Prairie intrasquad scrimmage in D3: The Mighty Ducks. Kariya, though, was not at this game, continuing a holdout that lasted 32 games. Thus, the later implications from the guys a few rows behind us that he and Selanne were in a homosexual relationship seem, in retrospect, all the more non sequitur.
Instead it was Selanne by whom I found myself transfixed. This wasn't quite the Selanne of the Finnish Flash days where he scored more or less at will, but boy could he still get up and down the ice in a hurry, saddled as he was with a deeply inferior talent such as Scott Young on his line and hampered by the fact that the Mighty Ducks were on their fourth road game in six days. Despite that, I think I had probably never seen anything like Selanne's style in the sport of hockey. Not at that time, anyhow. He was magnificent, even if he only finished with three shots on goal.
I can still hear the high-pitched taunts directed at Selanne for nearly all of 60 minutes of that game, which wound up being a 3-0 win for Anaheim behind a pair of Selanne goals. To their credit, the bozos didn't leave until late, and I seem to recall they were thrown out, but maybe I'm wrong about that.
A funny story about the game comes from the AP writeup: Selanne's goal in the first period was originally credited to Young, but Young insisted he never tipped the shot. When it was changed to the rightful scorer, Selanne was shown the updated box score, and responded, “That's fine.” Classic Teemu.
I didn't know that anecdote at the time. Didn't care to read the papers about it, really. But it was on that date, 16 years and two days ago, that I became a Teemu Selanne fan. He is, to this day, my favorite player. Probably that's at least part of the reason for my entrée into enjoying the NHL at all. If you're among the people who dislike my opinions on the sport, please feel free to direct your letters to Mr. T. Selanne. Or better yet, don't.
Again, I never saw him with the Jets, and I will forever act like his stints with the Sharks and Avalanche were things that simply did not happen. Couldn't have, in fact. Those were just three-and-a-quarter seasons in which he was off doing something else. He is the Ducks.
Last season, it occurred to me that I hadn't gone to actually see him play for a while. The Ducks hadn't been to Boston since 2010, because the NHL's scheduling system used to be absolutely terrible, but I don't remember getting to that game (in which he had two assists). I must have still been in college the last time I saw Selanne play live. I was terribly afraid that, with the West and East not playing each other in the lockout-shortened season, I would miss what could be his final campaign. So worried, in fact, that I went to Nashville to see Anaheim.
He was not the player I remembered. Obviously I've seen him a ton on TV over the years, thanks to Center Ice and GameCenter Live. I know that the Selanne that burns fuel up and down the ice and is impossible to stop went away along with his original knees prior to the second Gary Bettman lockout, and that he's completely revamped his game. But seeing it live was something else. He registered a team-leading four shots on goal in a little more than 15 minutes against the Predators by doing what a predator does, in fact. He lurked, then pounced into exactly the right areas at the exact right moment and struck quickly. This at 42 years old. This at the end of an 11-day, six-game road trip. This on the second night of a back-to-back.
He wasn't getting 25 shifts a night. It was an economic move, more than anything. The Ducks frankly looked like a team that were just too tired to play all that well, and they still won 3-2 in a shootout. Poor Viktor Fasth was under siege, but still in the midst of his remarkable streak, after all.
It's kind of remarkable, I think, that a guy who was already a first-ballot, no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer continues to plug away at the sport like this. Maybe he's scared to walk away, I don't know. But that he's still an above-average scoring threat, with his game completely changed when he was already in his mid-30s, is amazing. He scored 88 goals in the two years following the lockout, and was on a pace to pot another 21 or so had last season been a full 82.
Fortunately, he decided that this season, and not last, would be The Final Year. With the NHL's revamped scheduling, every team plays every other team both home and away. That means, or rather, meant, that every arena would have a pretty good chance to see Selanne play in front of them one last time. It seemed right, fitting. But he is 43, and elite athlete or not, sometimes you have to take a night off. Maybe that disappoints the people of Ottawa, etc., but these kinds of allowances have to be made.
A few weeks ago now, my dad let me know that he had purchased tickets to Thursday's Ducks/Bruins game specifically so that I could see my favorite player one last time. I don't generally like to give Jeremy Jacobs a cent for reasons which I should think are obvious, but in certain watching-hockey-with-your-dad-and-seeing-Teemu-Selanne-play-live-one-last-time instances, I think it's probably defensible. Sentimentally, if not morally. This was all very exciting. Maybe going to games with your dad is just the thing everyone loves to do, but I think it's the best. It's one of those father-son things that you don't do as often as you should, maybe, and I'm sure when I'm older I'll regret it. But that's just how it goes, I think. The opportunity to see my favorite player play one last time almost exactly 16 years later from the first time we saw him together. It meant a lot to me.
Then Luke Schenn caught Selanne in the face with a stick during Tuesday night's game in Philadelphia. Though Selanne traveled with the team to Boston (and gave me hope in the process), he was then sent home for oral surgery and is on the shelf for two weeks. Devastating.
I have — or rather, had — nothing against Schenn as a person, but the fact that he did this (to me?) is of course unforgivable. Emerson Etem likewise deserves some blame in my book, but he's American and so I will save some of the vitriol. Sure, no one meant anything. It was an innocuous play. Happens all the time, and it didn't even look that serious until all the blood showed up.
That doesn't un-spill the milk, or more accurately, put the teeth back in Selanne's mouth, though. Sixteen years and a day after I saw him play live for the first time, I will instead have to watch his team play without him. So too will everyone for the next two weeks. Hockey's tough and injuries happen. Obviously. I'm taking it oddly hard. I'm writing this before I meet my dad — the man who once almost physically dragged me to my first NCAA game (this was when Dwayne Roloson was still in college) because I wanted to stay home on a Friday night to watch TGIF — for a pregame meal and the game itself and I'm sure I'm going to have a great time.
Our ostensible reason for going was taken from us by Luke Schenn, who I now despise and will until both of our dying days, and then for at least a few more years after that. Going to this game feels kind of hollow. And I definitely don't feel comfortable giving Jeremy Jacobs that money now.
But then, this is Teemu Selanne we're talking about and you never know. The guy's had more final tours than the Rolling Stones. Would you really be that surprised to see a Puck Daddy post in July with another video that he's back for The Final Final Final Season? I hope that's what happens. Really wanna get out to that game with my dad.