He is at an age now – 42 – where the youngest members of the Anaheim Ducks could be his sons. Cam Fowler celebrated his first birthday the same year Teemu Selanne shattered Mike Bossy’s NHL rookie goal-scoring record.
Twelve months after Devante Smith-Pelly was born, Selanne accepted the Calder Trophy after scoring 76 goals in his first NHL season, a record that will likely never be broken.
Nowadays, Selanne is going into the record books for his work as an NHL senior citizen. So on Saturday, for example, in the Ducks’ season opener, Selanne produced a mere four points. That made him the oldest player to score four points in a game since Gordie Howe did it against the Buffalo Sabres in 1971. You know you’re getting on in years when the Howe comparisons start. Howe made it into his 50s before he retired and Selanne wants no part of that.
But he is defying all the stereotypes in what is supposed to be primarily a young man’s game. In fact, that was supposedly one of the givens of a shortened 48-game NHL season – how young legs would rule. Then Selanne and Jaromir Jagr scored four points apiece on opening night and it made you forget all the givens and think: Okay, let’s see what else the old-timers can bring.
“It’s funny but I think I enjoy this more than when I was 22,” Selanne said Monday as the Ducks prepared to take on the Calgary Flames. “When you get older, you start to appreciate things. You know it’s near the end of the road, so you try to enjoy everything. When you’re 22, you think there’s a thousand games ahead and there’s a long way to go. So far, this has been awesome.
“I’m proud I’m able to play against these young guys, at this age, but after all, I guess they’re just numbers. If you look after yourself and you still have a lot of passion for the game, good things happen. It’s fun.”
Selanne was known throughout his career as the Finnish Flash and it was his skating that set him apart. His knees were acting up and in 2003-04, he had his worst year ever – 32 points in 78 games. Things didn’t look good. But then the 2004-05 lockout came along and allowed him a chance to heal. He was his old self again right away.
The numbers blur when it comes to Selanne and records but consider this: From the start of 2005-06, or just after he turned 35, Selanne has averaged almost a point a game (455 in 463) – extraordinary numbers by any standard, unprecedented when you consider the age at which he’s produced them.
Selanne will acknowledge that he had “almost lost the passion for hockey” when he was dealing with his knee issues in the mid-2000s.
“When I came back and felt healthy again, it was an unbelievable feeling. At that point, I said, ‘every day when I can come and be healthy and play this game that I love, I’m going to be thankful for that.’”
Selanne’s longevity is all the more surprising considering he originally planned to play just a handful of years in North America. He made a bet to that effect with his former Winnipeg Jets teammates Freddie Olausson and Thomas Steen.
“Lucky they don’t remember that,” Selanne said with a laugh. “But at that time, if somebody had told me when I was 22 that I would still be in the league when I’m 42, I would call the doctor for sure for this guy.
“My first year, it was an unbelievable year, but in that time, 30 for a hockey player was old. It was totally different. I remember when guys were talking about guys who were 30, they’d say, ‘yeah, he might have a year or two left.’ Well, it’s a different story now.”
Selanne is one of a handful of NHL players who’ve previously played a shortened 48-game season, in 1994-95. Jagr won the scoring title that year, while Selanne was 19th with 48 points in 45 games.
“It was a little bit different,” Selanne said. “I felt it was quite easy last time. I played in Finland. I was in top shape when the league started. Not so many guys did that. I don’t think, that time, so many players were prepared. Now everybody’s ready to go right away.
“But I remember the schedule was very tough, that time too. We played against our conference teams only. It makes every game more special. These points – every point is so critical right now. You always try to remind yourself and your teammates, one point, or two points somewhere that we lose because we just do something stupid early, that might be the points that make a difference. There are no nights off.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, who believes Selanne might be the best athlete in the world for his age, wants to make sure he gets his rest, which is hard to do in a shortened season – harder still, considering Selanne never wants to take a day off.
“My body feels better when I do a little skating every day,” he said. “But with this schedule, you have to force yourself to take more days off and rest. You have to do all the things right and be very disciplined off the ice.”
More than anything, Selanne wants to be part of a Ducks playoff team again this year. Anaheim finished 13th overall in the Western Conference last season, thanks to a dismal first half that cost Randy Carlyle his job as coach.
“When I look around this dressing room, I don’t see any reason why we can’t have success in here,” Selanne said. “It starts from every individual.
“Night in and night out, you have to find a way to play your best – even the tough nights. Everybody is playing well when they have their best night, but when you don’t have your best night, and you still find a way to win, that’s what you need and that’s our goal. The way we played the second half last season, that’s the hockey we want to play this year.”