SOCHI – Teemu Selanne led the skate around the ice, pointing to the crowd, pounding on his chest, on the "C" stitched to his blue and white sweater, smiling the entire time. Finland was watching, adoring, admiring, and maybe even crying.
Taking off your country's colors for the last time can be one of the hardest things for any athlete to do. Particularly for someone of the legendary status that Selanne carries across Finland and well beyond its borders.
For 26 years he has worn his national team jersey with pride and with love. But Selanne, now 43 and ready to retire after the NHL season, insists that the bronze-medal game at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Saturday will be his last for Finland.
He went out with quite a bang.
Selanne capped his impressive national team career with his fourth Olympic medal and his 23rd and 24th Olympic goals in a 5-0 win against the United States. His total Olympic haul includes a silver medal (2006) and three bronze medals (1998, 2010 and 2014). He also played in the Olympics in 1992 and 2002.
"I played for my first national team 26 years ago and I've been carrying this jersey with a lot of pride and love, and knowing this was going to be my last game, I couldn't really ask for more than this," Selanne said. "It's a dream come true."
Selanne never won an Olympic gold medal and it might one day be a regret he admits to having, but for now he is content with his medal chest and accomplishments.
He leaves as the oldest player to ever score a goal in an Olympics, a record he set earlier in the tournament and broke twice more. He leaves with 54 goals and 102 points in 95 games with Finland's senior national team.
Selanne also left the rink Saturday night with the game puck, a gift that teammate Olli Jokinen made sure to give him before the Finns left the ice to meet the media.
"You got a 43-year-old guy who scores two goals, the way he moves, who knows, maybe he'll be back in four years when he's 47," Jokinen said, laughing. "You never know."
Selanne knows. He hasn't minced his words at all this season.
He was clear on the hilarious video the Anaheim Ducks released before the season, the one featuring Selanne tossing his golf clubs and phone into a pond before calling general manager Bob Murray to tell him he'd be back for one more season.
He was clear about his intentions to retire when he spoke at the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium, saying the outdoor game in Los Angeles was one of the reasons he wanted to come back for one more season.
He was again crystal clear when he arrived at the Olympics and told reporters that this is his last tournament, his last time playing for Finland. In his last tournament, he jumped at the chance to accept the captaincy when it was offered after typically wearing an "A" for years.
But this tournament wasn't just a swansong event with hugs, high-fives and well wishes for the Finnish Flash. Finland coach Erkka Westerlund immediately put Selanne in a prominent role, on the first line with Mikael Granlund and Aleksander Barkov. It was a surprise to everyone and a relief to Selanne, who has been playing a smaller role in Anaheim this season and is scratched for the second half of most of the Ducks' back-to-back games.
Selanne left the first game in Sochi with a neck injury, but he returned the next day and scored the first goal in a 6-1 win against Norway. He played all six games on Finland's top line, finishing with a team-high four goals as well as two assists.
"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."
The same could be said for his teammates, too.
Take Granlund, who wasn't born when Selanne made his first appearance on Finland's national senior team at the IIHF 1991 World Championship.
"He was such a big idol of mine and he still is," said the Minnesota Wild center, who assisted on three of Selanne's four goals. "To be able to play on the same line as him is like a dream."
The same is true for 19-year-old Olli Maatta.
"I don't think anybody else had to do anything when Teemu was out there; he did it all himself," the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman said. "That's awesome. Growing up watching him and now winning a medal playing with him, it's a dream come true."
It even is for 30-year-old Jussi Jokinen, who previously played with Selanne in the 2006 Turin Olympics and the 2008 World Championship.
"Every one of us has had Teemu for our idol when we were growing up," the Penguins forward said. "He's been leading our team and had a great tournament. He had a tough year this year in Anaheim, but we knew what kind of player he is, how good he is and what kind of a leader he is. I feel honored to play on the same team as him in probably his last tournament."
There is no probably about it, at least not according to Selanne.
"What an ending," he said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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