HELSINKI -- Keijo Sailynoja
has been friends with Teemu Selanne
for more than 25 years, since before Selanne was a star for Jokerit and then in the NHL and for Finland.
They were teammates as kids, teammates as professionals and remain very close. Sailynoja has been there for Selanne's rise to heights and fame few people, let alone hockey players, actually reach.
To Sailynoja, Selanne is the same person he met so many years ago -- and that is the biggest reason why an entire nation and hockey fans around the world adore him so.
"That's why so many people like him, because he has always been -- of course, you can't say the same kind of person because years go by and he is famous now -- but I can say he hasn't changed so much," Sailynoja said. "He has always time for the people, maybe even too much sometimes. He takes care of the people. He is still taking care of his old friends and does much with charity. He has been the same kind of guy. That's why he is special."
Selanne came to the Jokerit hockey system when he was 13 from a junior club in nearby Espoo; Sailynoja arrived at the same time. They became teammates, linemates and close friends.
Right Wing, 2010-11 SEASON STATS
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 49 | PTS: 80
SOG: 213 | +/-: 6
Selanne wasn't the "Finnish Flash" just yet, but he already was a talented player when he arrived here.
"He played in a different team in Espoo and the team was very good," Sailynoja said. "We had good games against them, so I knew him but I didn't know him like friends. After that we played in the same line for many years. He has always been the same like today. He takes care of people. He is a nice guy, and he always takes care of his friends.
"Of course, he was a little bit smaller at that time. On the ice he has always been very fast, and he likes to score. He lives for the points and the scoring -- that hasn't changed at all."
Together they won championships -- first at the junior level and then the SM-liiga in 1992, the season before Selanne became an instant phenomenon in Winnipeg. He had won league MVP honors the season before, but helped Jokerit claim only its second title in the country's top division in franchise history before coming to North America.
"In the first year in Jokerit we were in the first division. We were not at the (top) league. I think that was good for us," Sailynoja said. "Then Jokerit came to the (top) league the next year. First years in the league we were not in playoffs. For example IFK was the better local team. We came from down to up and it took a couple of years. At that same time we had many players who were the same age that came from the juniors at the same time."
A few months later, Sailynoja's friend was a star -- not just in Finland, but worldwide. Selanne scored an NHL rookie-record 76 goals for the Jets, and became one of the most popular players in the League.
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Back at home in Helsinki, the reaction was of sensational pride -- and a bit of assurance.
"The first year it was amazing," Sailynoja said. "In that time there was not so many Finnish players in the NHL, but it is a little different today. It was amazing. Somehow I knew, we all knew, that he was going to make it, but that first year was so good."
Sailynoja had his own successful playing career in Finland, and he has found even more of it in his post-playing career. He has worked in the banking industry, but he also became the CEO of Jokerit, and now is the CEO of the company that owns the hockey club and Hartwall Areena, the largest in the country and the first to be privately financed when it opened in 1997.
He will have the pleasure of seeing not only a profitable week for his business, but the chance to spend some time with Selanne and his new friends this week with the Ducks in town.
"Actually, last year we had Minnesota and the year before we had Florida and Chicago here, so we were not sure if there was going to be Premiere games here this year," Sailynoja said. "But when the guys said we would have the chance to get Anaheim, then of course this was a very big thing for Jokerit and for Anaheim and the fans in Helsinki and Finland. It is such a big thing for us. We are very, very happy and can't wait for tomorrow and for Friday."
The anticipation for Tuesday night, when Selanne and the Ducks will play his old team, Jokerit, in a preseason game, is building. Preparations around the arena have been ongoing, from making the ice NHL-size to putting up new advertisements for the game.
There will be more than 13,000 fans in the arena Tuesday, and they all will be here to welcome Selanne home.
"Actually, I don't know how the people are going to be," Sailynoja said with a wry smile. "We could sell right now like 10,000 more tickets. It is going be … I am waiting for that time when they're going to say, 'No. 8, Teemu Selanne
,' and what is going to happen."