By Adam Brady
“He’s a warrior,” Selanne said. "He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he doesn’t avoid the traffic and he puts himself in situations where he’s gonna get hit. Plus, the way he can see the game and pass, he can make a huge difference.”
If Sami Vatanen has been overwhelmed by the journey he’s experienced over the last few days, he certainly hasn’t shown it.
The unruffled, shaggy-haired Ducks defenseman was playing with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs as of three days ago. He was set to play Game 2 of their series with the St. John’s IceCaps when he was called upon by the Ducks on Wednesday. He endured a nine-hour flight from Newfoundland, through Toronto and finally into LAX in plenty of time to make his postseason debut in Anaheim’s crucial Game 3 on Thursday with the Kings.
Vatanen not only was thrust into the lineup for that game, but he was declared the best player on the ice by his coach in a vital 3-2 victory for Anaheim at Staples Center.
“I thought Sami was great," Boudreau said. "I got to tell you I thought he was the best player on the ice for both teams tonight."
In that game, the 22-year-old Vatanen (a fan favorite some have come to call "Vatman") flashed the skills that were on display this regular season, in which he had 21 points (including six goals) in 48 games.
“He’s a warrior,” Teemu Selanne said about Vatanen today. “He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he doesn’t avoid the traffic and he puts himself in situations where he’s gonna get hit. Plus, the way he can see the game and pass, he can make a huge difference. He’s also very dangerous on the power play, so it’s good to see him back.”
Selanne has taken a noticeable interest in the growth of Vatanen, the fellow Finn who was also a teammate of Selanne’s on bronze medal-winning Team Finland at this year’s Olympics.
Selanne, noted for his extensive collection of automobiles, has lent his Mercedes CLK to Vatanen to drive when he’s up in Anaheim.
“I haven’t seen that car for a year and a half,” Selanne joked.
“I don’t know if I like that car actually,” Vatanen said today, to a round of laughter from the gathered media. “But it’s free.”
Either way, offering the youngster something to drive is Selanne’s way of paying it forward, since countrymate Teppo Numminen helped him out when he was a rookie in Winnipeg back in the early ‘90s.
“I remember how much he helped me, so that’s why I want to do my job with the young guys too,” Selanne said. “You see how much they appreciate it and how life is easier when you have a little help here and there.
“It’s so much easier for a young guy coming up when another countryman wants to help. It makes it easier to get used to different things and get settled down. That’s a very important part of our job.”
Another Finnish Duck, Saku Koivu, has helped Vatanen away from the rink this season and last year, when he played eight games with Anaheim (and had two goals).
“You’re trying to help him get settled down and get a place to live, help with his bank account, just the everyday stuff,” Koivu said. “We helped him move in and with some of the furniture and stuff like that.”
Ben Lovejoy said yesterday Vatanen is treated more like a son than a little brother by the likes of Selanne and Koivu.
“He could be,” Selanne said with a laugh. “But mentally we are at the same level.”
During the times that Vatanen has been with the big club, he’s gained a reputation – despite his relatively reserved demeanor – as a bit of a jokester.
"I try to make some jokes with the boys and relax the feeling here," Vatanen said prior to Game 3. "Look at these boys, they're all smiling here. I think I'm the clown here."
Corey Perry, who knows a little something about being the quiet one, smiled when asked about Vatanen’s character. “It’s just Sami being Sami. That’s what I call it,” Perry said. “He’s a quiet guy, but he just has these short little remarks once in a while, and it gets guys laughing.”
Yet Vatanen is all business on the ice, something he showed again in Game 3. His focus now is solely on keeping it going while he’s got the opportunity in this postseason.
“There are some positive things that I did something right,” he said. “But I just have to forget that and start to play the next game.”