The critical result of the National Hockey Leagues’ first ever Freeway Series became known well before the final minutes of Game 7 at the Honda Center on Friday, May 16th.
Most of the fans of the Anaheim Ducks who stayed behind despite the disproportionate score in a 6-2 triumph for the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of their Western Conference Second Round series remained for one reason and one reason only -the chance to say goodbye to the great Teemu Selanne.
Selanne announced before the start of the season that the 2013-2014 NHL season would be his last. This was certainly not the end he was hoping for.
“It was very disappointing. I knew it was either going to be an unbelievable party or disappointment,” Selanne said. “This time it wasn’t the party. It’s very disappointing. It’s a funny game. We had our chances. We just couldn’t take advantage of them. That’s the way it goes.”
The 43-year-old is the 11th-leading goal scorer in NHL history with 684 goals and 1,457 points in the regular season and 44 goals and 88 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was awarded the inaugural Richard Trophy in 1999 and the Masterton Trophy in 2006.
The Finnish Flash is also a six-time Olympian for Finland, winning four medals. He was named the MVP of the Sochi Olympics in February for becoming the leading scorer in Olympics men’s hockey history while captaining Finland to a bronze medal win against the United States. He is one of the most decorated and dynamic players in the history of international hockey.
Truly considered an ambassador for hockey, both in America and in his native Finland, Selanne is one of the most revered players the NHL has ever seen. Whether it is opposing coaches and players or fans in any city, people are captivated by his fun-loving, free-spirited personality and his enthusiasm to shake every hand and sign every autograph.
The final scenes of Selannes’ career played out about as perfectly as could be expected considering the disappointing situation. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau put him on the ice during a stoppage of play with 1:52 remaining, and fans from each team gave him a standing ovation. After handshakes and pats on the chests or hugs from every player on the Kings during the handshake line, the Ducks gathered near their bench as the crowd saluted Selanne again. Before heading to the locker rooms all the Kings players stopped near their bench and tapped their sticks on the ice repeatedly.
“When I came here during the 1995-96 season, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Selanne said. “It turned out to be my home and a happy place for me and my family. There’s no better place. I’m very thankful I’ve been able to play for so many years, especially here. Everything great has to end. It’s been an unbelievable journey. I’ve really been enjoying every day. Everybody in this organization has been so important to me. I feel very special.”
On January 11, 2015 the Ducks will retire Selanne’s No. 8 jersey on “Teemu Tribute Night” when they host the Winnipeg Jets, Selanne’s first NHL team.
“Teemu is our franchise icon and deserves to be the first player in club history to have his jersey retired,” Ducks owner Henry Samueli said in a statement. “His dedication to this franchise and our community is unmatched.”
Selanne spent nearly four seasons in Winnipeg with the original Jets, winning the Calder Trophy in 1993 with a rookie-record 76 goals, before he was traded to Anaheim in February 1996.
The 10-time NHL All-Star left the Ducks in another trade with the San Jose Sharks in early 2001, but returned in 2005 after stops with the Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche.
“What a great honor,” Selanne said. “The Samuelis and the entire Ducks organization have made this a very special place for me and my family. I look forward to sharing this special night with our fans, who have treated me so well for 18 years.”
As a Duck, Selanne helped the team claim the past two Pacific Division titles and finished the 2013-2014 season with the Western Conference’s best regular-season record, but unfortunately could not capture a second Stanley Cup ring to Selanne’s only championship, won in 2007 .
Selanne will certainly be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame member in three years. There are very few players who are in Selanne’s class when it comes to the universal admiration and respect he has received, and earned, in his long career.
Where Selanne belongs on a list of greatest players in NHL history can be and will be debated for years. But no one can deny that he was one of the best of his generation, and without question one of the greatest in terms of longevity.