ANAHEIM -- There were days when Teemu Selanne thought it would never happen.
|On Wednesday night Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne finally got his opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup.
There were days he thought he would never play again, when lifting his legs seemed impossible. Even more impossible than the thought of lifting a Stanley Cup. But proving that good things really do come to those who wait, Selanne stood on top of the hockey universe Wednesday night after the Ducks won the Cup, the trophy that eluded him for so long.
Selanne had a long wait. He endured more heartbreak and doubt than most players, one of the elite scorers of all time who had to fight back from a devastating knee injury two years ago. He battled through that, through self-doubt and what he calls the dark days, when his body told him he’d never play again.
His body told him one thing. His heart told him something entirely different.
“For almost two years, when my knee was so bad, I couldn't even enjoy hockey anymore,” he said. “Winning this Cup, it didn't even come in my mind. I thought it was so far away. And after my knee surgery, when I finally realized that my knee is going to be 100 percent, and I can play like I played my first 10 years, it was an unbelievable feeling. It’s almost a feeling that somebody got glasses, when you can't see very well, then all of a sudden, you can see the world so bright.
“And I knew that there's a chance again and obviously I'm very happy and thankful that Brian Burke gave me a chance to come back here,” Selanne said. “Because this is the happy place for me and he built a winning team here and everything. I'm so thankful for this organization.”
The feeling is mutual.
He waited for captain Scott Niedermayer to hoist the Cup after the Ducks clinched the championship behind a 6-2 win in Game 5. He waited a little longer when Niedermayer handed it off to his brother, Rob, and then the other assistant captain, Chris Pronger. What’s a few extra seconds, when you’ve waited your whole life for something?
And then finally, it was passed to the 36-year-old Selanne under a deafening roar from his adoring fans. They wanted to win this for Teemu.
“I wanted to wait,” Selanne said. “Obviously, the captains, they do that first, what a great feeling to hold that Cup in my arms. It was heavier than I thought. I've been waiting and dreaming about that moment for so many times and years and finally it's in my hands. It's an unbelievable feeling.”
There was a parade of security guards and arena workers, who all seemed to slap him on the back on his way through the bowels of Honda Center, all of them making sure to tell Selanne how proud of him they were. For eight years, Selanne gave his heart and soul to Anaheim hockey. And on this night, Anaheim was able to give some back.
“I've been here a long time,” he said after having to nearly be wrestled away from the party so he could answer questions at the podium. “And I've played so many games for this dream, and there has been times I didn't know if it was ever going to happen, especially there were tough times with my knee and everything. But last two years have been by far the best part of my life. And I enjoy it every day. So that's why this is so special for me, and there's so many people I should thank and I'm so thankful to make this happen.”
|Selanne can now add Stanley Cup champion to his already prestigious hockey profile. |
Selanne has now done all there is to do in hockey. The 76 goals he scored for Winnipeg in 1992-93 are the most ever by an NHL rookie. He scored his 500th goal this season, played in his 1,000th game, and became the oldest player in League history to score 45 goals. The only player over the age of 35 to record back-to-back 40-goal seasons, Selanne was third in the NHL this year with 48.
With a surgically repaired knee under him, Selanne was an inspiration to the Ducks this season. That he found the passion he’d lost when he was hurt helped to propel Anaheim to the top of the standings most of this season. On a team filled with elite young talent, Selanne was a tremendous influence to all of them.
His resume has plenty on it. “The Finnish Flash” will go down as one of the great goal-scorers in NHL history. He will go down as an inspirational force for this Anaheim team. He’ll go down as an all-around good guy.
But now he can add Stanley Cup champion to that list.
“Obviously, we have to wait a long time for something unbelievable,” he said. “And it really makes it even more special. And I can't imagine to have gotten the win in our own home building. I'm so proud of my teammates. We've been like brothers. And we have had one dream together, and that's why it's so special.”
And so, Wednesday night in Anaheim, the city Selanne calls his “happy place,” he was the happiest guy in the rink. Hard to imagine, with all the people so happy for him, ecstatic to see a great thing happen to a nice guy.
He says he’ll have to think about coming back to play right now. But right now, there’s only one thing at the top of his things to do in the immediate future.
“Well, last two years have been best time of my life, and I think I played pretty much overall best hockey in my career, too,” he said. “So I've always said that I tried to keep playing as long as I feel the same passion and motivation and dedication that I've had the last couple of years.
“On the other hand I've always dreamed about retiring in the top. And I don't know if you can go more top than this. But I decided before the season that emotionally you're going to have some high and low points and I didn't want to make any decision before I'm stable and I have the time to think about the future. Because so much hard work and dedication that I've done the last two years, summertime and every day, if I don't have the same desire and passion and motivation in the future, there's no reason to play this game. It's too hard.
“So there's some big decisions coming,” Selanne said. “But now it's time to party.”
Author: Evan Grossman | NHL.com Staff Writer