Finland's ageless wonder Teemu Selanne exits on a high note
Hockey captain scores twice in bronze medal match
The oldest player in the 2014 Olympic hockey tournament smiled like he was still 17 years old and making his debut for Finland at the 1988 under-18 European junior championship.
Teemu Selanne burst onto the international scene back then in a tournament hosted by what was then Czechoslovakia, scored seven goals and 16 points and led his country to a silver medal.
Twenty-six years later, there was Selanne still leading the way. He addressed his teammates before the game. He talked about the importance of this game for the younger guys. He told them it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get an Olympic medal because there were no guarantees the NHL would participate in the next Winter Games.
“You don’t want to blow this chance,” Selanne told them. Then, the ageless wonder went out and scored two goals as Finland embarrassed the United States 5-0 to win the bronze medal.
Afterward, the Finns took a victory lap at the Bolshoy Ice Dome and they let their 43-year-old captain skate out front.
“Who knows, he may be back when he’s 47 years old,” said Olli Jokinen, who snatched the puck at the end and presented the keepsake to his friend.
All-time leading scorer
Selanne finished his sixth Olympic Games with four goals and six points in six games. He tied his countryman Raimo Helminen for most Olympic Games and departs the all-time leading scorer with 24 goals and 43 points.
“If there’s one guy on the planet that I feel happy for, [despite] losing that game, it’s him,’’ said American defenceman Cam Fowler, who received a big hug in the post-game handshake line. “He’s one of the best players to ever live and one of the greatest guys I’ve known. Happy for Teemu, he deserves it.
“He told me he was sorry. That’s the guy he is. He feels for other people. For him and all that he’s done for the sport, how many Olympics he’s played in and what he’s done for Finland, I’m happy for him … but disappointed for us.’’
Selanne skated off the ice with his fourth medal. He made his Olympic debut in 1992 and won his first medal, a bronze, in his second Olympic Games in 1998 in Nagano (he didn’t play in 1994 because he was with the Winnipeg Jets).
Since the NHL began participating in the Olympics in 1998, nobody has won more medals than Selanne and the Finns. They won a bronze in 1998, silver in 2006 and bronze again in 2010 and 2014.
An idol and a legend
“He’s such a big legend in Finland,” said his 21-year-old linemate Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild. “He’s always there for everybody and he means so much to our country. He’s 43 years old, and to play at this level, is something else. He had an unbelievable tournament.
“He was such a big idol of mine and he still is. To be able to play on the same line as him is like a dream.”
Funny, but Selanne described winning one final Olympic medal as a dream, too.
“Twenty-six years ago I played in my first national team game and I’ve been carrying this jersey with a lot of pride and love,” he said. “Winning this last game like this is a dream come true.
“When you don’t have a chance to go to the final, you can still win the bronze. You lose the silver, but if I had to choose one of these I’d choose bronze. Nobody really believed us when we came here that we could win any medal here, so that’s why this is very special. We believed as players and that’s all that mattered.”
Selanne, who has played a limited role in Anaheim this season, was also happy to arrive in Sochi and be given a chance to make an impact in his last Olympic hurrah.
“I’m so thankful that our coaching staff believed in me,” Selanne said. “I came here, I got a chance to play on the first line, on the first power play, I knew I could do it. It was a dream come true for me.
“I'm so proud of our team. We had a lot of young guys playing for the first time. And old men too. A lot of guys like Olli [Jokinen], and [Kimmo] Timonen and [Sami] Salo probably played their last game, also. So proud of them, too."
Selanne was asked about wearing the Finnish sweater for the last time.
“It’s an incredible feeling but it’s sad also,” he said. “It has created so many memories, some disappointments, too. But that’s life. When you get good moments you appreciate those and enjoy them as much as I have. What an ending.’’