There are few players in the league that transcend rivalries and are genuinely liked by most fans. Teemu Selanne happens to be one. And on Friday night, his prolific 21-season NHL career came to an end.
It's difficult to put into words how much Teemu has meant to Anaheim Ducks fans.
I was lucky enough to see Teemu play almost every game in a Ducks sweater. He was acquired from Winnipeg three months after my first Mighty Ducks game in 1996; when my love for the game was becoming an obsession.
Selanne and Paul Kariya proceeded to turn a literal Mickey Mouse organization into an actual NHL franchise. The season following Selanne's acquisition, the team made the playoffs for the first time ever, and even made it to the second round.
As Anaheim's first Dynamic Duo, they made the team exciting. They gave people a reason to watch a lowly expansion team.
Don't get me wrong, I LOVE having Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but hot damn were those some beautiful goals. I miss the Kariya to Selanne (or vice-versa) magic. Without those two, the Ducks could be located somewhere else today.
I'll never forget when Teemu was traded to the San Jose Sharks in 2000-2001. Being the mature 18-year-old I was at the time, I promptly logged on to AOL and shot off an email to the Mighty Ducks stating I'd be canceling my season tickets because of the trade. The thing was, I didn't have season tickets. I just wanted Disney to know how upset I was at the move, and I figured hitting them in the theoretical pocketbook was the way to do it. I sure got them!
When he came back in 2005, it was like the prodigal son returned, but with a brand-new knee. Ducks fans brushed aside the years spent in San Jose and Colorado, and welcomed him home with open arms. In return, he scored 40 goals, and was awarded the first ever Rocket Richard trophy.
The '05-'06 team was good, but the '06-'07 team was great. They afforded Selanne the one thing that had eluded him his entire career - the Stanley Cup. I don't see a lot of moments in sports that make me want to cry happy tears; however, seeing Teemu finally hoist the cup did:
After Wayne Gretzky, I'd put Selanne as one of the top three influencers of hockey growth in California. He was the face of the Ducks franchise. It is a bit serendipitous that Long Beach, California native Emerson Etem will probably replace the Finnish Flash in the lineup next season.
Without a doubt, his No. 8 will be the first to be retired into the rafters at Honda Center. He's a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer. There is only one Teemu Selanne. We may never see another player reach the same stature in our lifetime.
On behalf of all hockey fans, and especially Ducks fans, THANK YOU, TEEMU! The NHL won't be the same without you.