He has 665 goals, more than 1,400 points (and counting) and practically every Ducks record you can think of, but Teemu Selanne may actually be at his best when he’s off the ice, interacting with his fans.
That was on display yet again at Wednesday night’s Ducks Face-Off Fest, an annual event for season ticket holders that features a number of activities that include autograph sessions with players.
Selanne, who is one of the prominent Ducks who gets their own table for the event, was stationed at a booth in the Honda Center parking lot, and had a line that stretched seemingly forever. If you stood over his shoulder throughout his more than two-hour autograph session, here is what you saw:
6:29 p.m. – Clad in one of his jerseys and a pair of jeans, Selanne takes the long walk from inside Honda Center to his tented table, passing everyone in his long line on the way. (He’s asked a cameraman from the Ducks production crew to record that walk, possibly for posterity.)
A little girl, seemingly unaware Teemu is about to walk by, has moved a little out of the line to pose for a picture her parents are taking. Teemu sneaks up beside her and bends down over her shoulder , to get in the picture just before the camera flashes. In other words, pretty much a Hall-of-Fame photobomb.
6:30 p.m. – There is a group of 20-something girls that are at the front of the line, proudly telling Teemu they had been there since noon. “You had nothing else to do?” he joked. They are some of the numerous fans who have seemingly gotten his autograph before, and it’s amazing how many endure the lines just to get a few seconds up close with him again.
6:34 p.m. – A fan has Selanne autograph this photo of him in a Finnish advertisement for an old Star Wars Nintendo game, in which he guesses he was “like 19” years old. “Don’t show this to anybody,” he jokes.
6:41 p.m. – A large photo that depicts airbrushed versions of Teemu, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jonas Hiller is given to Selanne to sign, to which he genuinely responds, “Nice picture. I really like this one.” He says that each of the dozen or so times that picture makes an appearance during the night. I finally ask him if he wants one for himself, and he says he’ll use his 35% discount in the Team Store. “Nothing is free around here,” he says with a laugh.
6:43 p.m. – A 40-something woman presents a pillowcase with a Ducks logo on it, which she asks Teemu to sign, “So I can dream about him.”
6:46 p.m. – Two fans each have a photo of Teemu doing the now-famous gun celebration after he broke the rookie goal-scoring record while in Winnipeg. I ask him what the 22-year-old version of himself was thinking when he did that. “I don’t know,” he says with a laugh. “I wasn’t thinking.”
6:50 p.m. – Selanne is handed the first of many Teemu bobbleheads that are part of the Ducks Die Hards membership kit, which he has already proclaimed looks more like Cam Fowler. He jokingly pretends to sign it, “Cammmmmmmm Fowlerrrrrrrrrr.” (He repeats this joke a few more times throughout the night, and somehow it’s funny each time.)
6:55 p.m. – A middle-aged woman can’t help herself as she finally gets to the front of the line, blurting out, “You’re beautiful!”
6:57 p.m. – Some fans have been to so many events like these, Selanne knows them by name. “Brianna!” he says to a girl who gives him a picture of the two of them (taken at a Ducks charity event) to sign.
6:58 p.m. – I ask Teemu what’s the weirdest thing anyone has asked him to sign, remembering that last year one woman had him autograph her arm tattoo that was a foot-long drawing of Selanne (see photo at right). He remembers that one, but says the weirdest ones are usually when he’s approached by bachelorette parties. I decide to leave that one alone.
7:04 p.m. – A fan hands Teemu a photo taken of him walking through the Ducks parking lot in a black suit with a t-shirt underneath. “This is the day we got back from Ottawa,” he says, referring to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. He’s asked how he knows that, and he replies, “I just know the beard.”
7:06 p.m. – One woman tells him that she’s half-Finnish and he asks her if she speaks any of it. “Just the bad words,” she says. “Those,” he says, “are the most important.”
7:07 p.m. – One girl has Teemu sign the back of her cell phone, “Ah, iPhone 5,” he says. It’s the second cell phone of the night, but this one doesn’t even have a cover. “I get those a lot,” he says.
7:09 p.m. – A six-year-old girl is making a noticeable fuss because she brings a Ducks shirt that for some reason has a Kings logo on the back. She apparently wants Teemu to sign the Kings logo and her mother has told her no. Selanne, who has four kids himself, calms her down with ease: “How old are you?” “Are you in first grade or kindergarten?” “You like school?” She’s immediately back to normal.
7:10 p.m. – I ask Teemu if he ever waited in a line this long to get someone’s autograph and he says the only autograph he ever got as a kid was that of a certain Finnish rock star, “and I waited an hour and a half for it.” I ask the name, he looks at me like there’s no way I’ll understand it and he scrawls it in silver Sharpie across my note pad: J. KARJALAINEN.
A quick Wikipedia search reveals that Jukka Tapio Karjalainen, better known by his stage name J. Karjalainen, is a Finnish singer-songwriter [who] has been called the "Bruce Springsteen of Finland."
7:25 p.m. – Teemu often jokes with fans about the grind of signing thousands of autographs, saying things like, “When I was young, I was dreaming about this, but I don’t know anymore.”
Later he overhears someone on a staffer’s walkie-talkie saying the autograph sessions end at 9:00, though they are supposed to end at 8:30. He grabs the radio and says, “This is Teemu. It’s not nine o’clock, it’s eight…thirty.” There is silence on the other end, as staffers undoubtedly ask themselves if that was really Teemu Selanne on their radio. The irony is, he’ll stay even longer to make sure each last autograph request is granted (more on that later).
7:38 p.m. – Teemu grants a request to say “Happy birthday, Cheryl” on cell phone video, to which the guy shooting it says, “She’s gonna have a heart attack.”
7:47 p.m. – A fan has a Ducks jersey with a name on the back that translates in Finnish to “THE FINNISH FLASH” (Selanne’s longtime nickname). He’s so impressed by it (see photo at left), he takes a picture of it himself with his phone.
8:10 p.m. – A Ducks staffer named Jen tells Teemu that this is her last time working at his table because she’s leaving the organization to move back to her hometown in Michigan. “You’re gonna be sorry,” he says. She asks why. “Because, you’re gonna miss us!”
8:31 p.m. – Somehow, despite the line that stretched seemingly for miles, Selanne signs for the last person in line right as the deadline hits. “That’s it??” he jokes. “It‘s less and less people every year.” (This, of course, is not true.)
8:36 p.m. – As Selanne heads out for the night, fans come sprinting over from other players’ booths try to get one last shot at a Selanne autograph. He grants as many as he can while walking slowly toward his car, surrounded by a few dozen people and a couple security guards doing their best to clear a path for him.
And with that, Teemu’s gone into the night, a countless number of fans having gotten a few seconds with him, a moment they’ll likely never forget. That is, except for one little boy earlier in the evening, who just wasn't cut out for the long wait in line. He was asleep on his dad’s shoulder by the time they got to the front, as the man used his free arm to hand Teemu a photo to sign.
“That’s all right,” the man said. “I’ll tell him all about this when he wakes up.”