HELSINKI -- The loudest cheer of the night came before the first whistle, but the noise near the end indicated just how close this contest ended up being.
The Anaheim Ducks needed an overtime goal Tuesday night from Ryan Getzlaf to hold off Jokerit HC Oyj at sold-out Hartwall Areena and prevail 4-3 in a preseason game that is part of the lead-up to the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere Games this weekend.
"It was a special night," Helsinki native Teemu Selanne said. "I really enjoyed being in the game. It was tough for us, but it was a nice experience."
This was Selanne’s night, and the highlight came when he was first introduced before the game started. Selanne played for Jokerit from when he was 13 years old until he came to the NHL nearly two decades ago.
The 13,349 in attendance got loud when injured defenseman Toni Lydman was announced after Anaheim’s non-Finnish players came on the ice, then it was a roar for national team captain Saku Koivu. Just before Selanne’s name was announced there were some old highlights of him playing for Jokerit on the scoreboard, and the fans began to stand up.
When Selanne’s name was announced, it sounded like a goal had just been scored by the home team in a Stanley Cup Final game. He skated onto the ice and waved to the crowd before joining his team along the blue line -- and then he had to wave again two more times because the ovation lasted so long.
"It was awesome," Selanne said. "I didn’t really know what to expect, but obviously when I stepped on the ice it was unbelievable. The fans were great, and it was something that I will always remember."
Added Koivu: "For Teemu, I was really happy. The reception that he got from the fans -- what I got was amazing -- but I think it was more his night, being from here and playing for Jokerit for all his life. The reception that he got -- you were able to sense and feel that appreciation they have for him and all the things he has done for this club over the years."
After the game began, Anaheim quickly took control of the play and Corey Perry gave the team a 2-0 lead with a pair of first-period goals. Koivu assisted on the first and Selanne the second, and the home fans saluted each of them again after the goals.
Jokerit started to catch up to the Ducks at even strength early in the second period, and then proceeded to control the play for the last 30 minutes of regulation. Six penalties against the Ducks didn’t help, and neither did a warm building being the team was less than 72 hours removed from a long journey from Anaheim to Newark, N.J., to Helsinki.
It also didn’t help that the Jokerit players got comfortable during the game and started to play really well. They forced the Ducks into turnovers, and created multiple odd-man rushes on the counterattack just as it seemed like Anaheim might score.
"They’ve got a lot of skill and a lot of speed," Perry said. "They are a team that likes to hold onto the puck and they had a great game plan. They battled and they battled back hard, and made it interesting against us."
After dominating for a long stretch in the second period, Jokerit finally bested goaltender Jonas Hiller, who made 30 saves. Jokerit nearly scored on a 4-on-2 before Tommy Kivisto, a seventh-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft by Carolina, fired a shot from the inside edge of the left circle to make it 2-1 late in the second.
Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler helped the Ducks regain their two-goal advantage with a shot from the high slot with 5.9 seconds left before the second intermission. That tally proved crucial after Jokerit responded with two goals in the third period.
When Riku Hahl scored for Jokerit to make it 3-2 the Hartwall Areena crowd started to stir, and the chants and synchronized clapping was louder and louder as the period progressed. They were all there to see Selanne and Koivu, but when it was clear their team had a chance the tenor shifted back to a more traditional experience.
Former Boston College star Ben Eaves leveled the score with 3:57 remaining in regulation, but Getzlaf banged home the winner after the puck squirted free from a cluster of bodies near the left post to the Anaheim captain at the other side of the crease 1:13 into the extra session.
After the contest was over, the teams went through a handshake line and players from both clubs acknowledged the crowd. This building will turn completely in favor of the Ducks on Friday when the Buffalo Sabres are here for the start of the 2010-11 season, but this night was about seeing two of their heroes in person -- and a great showing from the hometown team as well.
"I think the game was an entertaining game, and it was one where both sides could leave happy," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "Obviously when we have a lead we don’t want to give up a lead late in the game, but they clogged up the neutral ice and forced us to turn the puck over. They played a very technically sound hockey game."