ANAHEIM -- If practice lasts long enough, a Teemu Selanne signature moment will happen.
On this day it came at the end of coach Bruce Boudreau's dreaded two-hour skate, when Boudreau lined up the Anaheim Ducks and ran them through "Herbies," or conditioning drills. Selanne grabbed his helmet and flung it to the side to let his head breathe, like a motorcyclist feeling the wind.
"He's always done that, ever since I've been here," Corey Perry said with a laugh. "Every time there's a skate at the end of practice, off comes the helmet. That thing is probably a little heavy for him, anyways. Who knows how old that helmet is?"
This was a dog day of Selanne's 21st training camp and his millionth bag-skate drill. After the following practice, Selanne sat outstretched at his locker, his skates on, open to chat with anyone who wished. The season loomed, and Selanne was raring to go.
"I've always said that between the last game of the season and the first game of the season, it's crying time," Selanne said. "When the season gets going, it's all fun again."
That's all the reason Selanne, 43, has ever needed to play hockey and, again, the primary motivation behind his return for what will be his 21st and final season. Anaheim opens the 2013-14 season at the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, and for the first time it is certain that this is Selanne's farewell tour.
"I think we're going to try and use it [as motivation]," captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "I think that's something that you can use to help motivate you…it was tough waiting around again [for Selanne's decision] and tough on [general manager] Bob [Murray]. But Teemu's a great guy and I feel that he's a little rejuvenated from last year."
The story goes that when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007, Selanne handed the Cup to Getzlaf and said, "It's your team now." The season before he turned 40, Selanne said it would be "embarrassing" for a 40-year-old to play in the NHL.
Three years later, the end really does begin now, and the Ducks are aware of it twofold.
While the 2004-05 lockout prolonged Selanne's career because it allowed him to recover from knee surgery, last season's lockout-shortened schedule was difficult, even on the legendary Finn. Anaheim played 23 games in a 41-day stretch and "that killed me," Selanne said.
Boudreau plans to give Selanne not only days but games off in order to save him over the course of an 82-game slate.
"I'd rather have 60 great games from Teemu than 82 when a lot of them could be mediocre because he's tired," Boudreau said.
Selanne said he is more open to sitting out this time around, and maybe Anaheim's collection of young, capable forwards makes it more palatable.
"I was really stubborn last year to take those because it didn't feel right, but you've got to be smart – especially with all the back-to-backs," Selanne said. "In the long run it would be best. I'm going to be smarter this year and force myself."
Murray and Boudreau reassured Selanne that he still would have a top-six role after Selanne was essentially a power play specialist by the end of last season. His ice time dipped and he played a playoff–low 12:55 minutes in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Detroit Red Wings. Selanne did not register a goal in the final six games of that series.
Selanne will start out on a line with Nick Bonino and Jakob Silfverberg, once the off-season acquisition from the Ottawa Senators returns from a lower-body injury. Last season, Selanne still finished with 12 goals in 46 regular season games, which projects to a 20-goal total over a full season for a player whose shoulder pads are older than some of his teammates.
"Every time he beats somebody wide, I think of myself trying to skate at 43 years old," Kyle Palmieri said. "It's hard enough bending over and tying my skates at 22. It's pretty special the way he goes out there and plays his heart out every night, and the passion for the game he has is contagious. Everyone who's ever shared a locker room with him knows that, for sure."
Teammate Andrew Cogliano noticed that Selanne still experiments with his skates and tries different pairs. Selanne went through three pairs last season and typically uses five over the course of a full season.
"I'm always willing to try anything," Selanne said.
Selanne and the Ducks are wearing t-shirts that read "Unfinished Business," a reference to their Game 7 loss to Detroit. It gnaws at Selanne, who didn't want to finish his career on that note.
"That's how you felt," he said." You have a great dinner and you're not full at all. It's like a teaser."
With that, Selanne finished a quick lunch and was soon out the door of Honda Center for an appointment, another season of fun just days away.
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