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Selanne has 'smile on my face' throughout Olympics

by Corey Masisak

SOCHI -- Beads of sweat continued to stream down Teemu Selanne's face several minutes after the game had ended, and his upper left eyelid was a few shades of red or purple and slightly swollen.

Selanne looked tired, but not so much that his demeanor could be affected. He has been one of the great ambassadors for hockey and for Finland during his career, and moments after his country defeated Russia on its soil Wednesday night in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he beamed while discussing the state of both his passions.

"Finnish hockey has improved so much," Selanne said. "I remember watching when I was a little kid [Sergei] Makarov, [Vladimir] Krutov, [Igor] Larionov, [Alexei] Kasatonov and [Slava] Fetisov. They were the best line in the world, and it was fun to watch how easy everything was for them. It is hard to believe that we can now compete with the best Russian players in the world. We have come a long way. I'm very proud of our hockey. When we came here, nobody believed in us and it doesn't matter. Our team believes, and I always say the gap is not very big with these top teams. It is a good feeling."

Selanne had a goal and an assist Wednesday, scoring the game-winner late in the first period. The Anaheim Ducks forward had four shots on goal, tied for second on the team, and continues to look like a player several years younger than what his birth certificate says.

He will turn 44 years old in July. By then he will have retired from the sport he has given so much to, and hockey will miss him dearly. Selanne is the greatest player in his country's history and one of the best to ever play in the NHL.

He also has made it clear with his play that this tournament is not a personal victory lap. Finland will face rival Sweden in the semifinals Friday, and Selanne's undermanned team is two wins from completing an incredible run to a gold medal.

"I wouldn't be around if I didn't believe that I could still play," Selanne said. "It has been tough back home (in Anaheim) when you only play 12 minutes a game. I don't care who you are, you can't play that way. I do the best 12 minutes I can. We have a good team, and I'm not really complaining. The expectations just have to be lower when you only play that much.

"I knew when I came back here I was back on the first line. I have a smile on my face the whole tournament. A lot of tough nights in the NHL, but this is what kept me going."

Selanne began the tournament playing with two kids, Aleksander Barkov (18) and Mikael Granlund (21), whose combined age did not match his. Barkov was lost to injury and replaced by Jarkko Immonen, but the Finns' top line has consistently played well.

Even against Canada's impressive forwards, Selanne's line succeeded in creating scoring chances as much of the rest of the team spent much of the game playing defense in its own end during a 2-1 overtime loss.

"I think he's a great player," Granlund, a Minnesota Wild forward, said. "He can score. He can make plays. He still enjoys the game. It is just great playing with him."

Granlund has been one of the breakout stars of the Sochi Olympics. He has added a bit of dynamism the Finns appeared to lack at the start when Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula were unavailable because of injury.

Granlund was fantastic against Russia, showcasing his elite speed to create Selanne's goal, then steering the rebound of Selanne's power-play shot past Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov to make it a 3-1 lead. He also nearly scored late in the game, and finished with five shots on net.

"I've been very lucky to play with some great players, and Granlund is a perfect example," Selanne said. "When you get open, the puck is coming. It is fun to watch when this young kid is so ready at this early age. This is Granlund's business card for the world. He's hungry. He can't wait to get out there."

Selanne has 22 goals and 41 points in 35 games in the Olympics. He had no goals and two points at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but he was playing about a month after sustaining a broken jaw.

He has played through injuries in the past two Olympics, but save for the normal bumps and bruises (like whatever caused the discoloration of his eyelid), Selanne is happy and healthy.

"I'm 100 percent and maybe hungrier than ever," he said. "Maybe not the same legs as when I was younger, but mentally I'm better, for sure. I appreciate things more. My enjoyment level is, for sure, highest ever. I'm just lucky here. I'm playing first line, first power play, what else are you going to ask for? I'm 43."

This is his sixth Olympics. He scored seven times and had four assists at the 1992 Albertville Olympics.

Selanne had a goal and an assist Feb. 22, 1992, when Finland defeated France in the seventh-place game. Four days later in Oulu, Finland, Minna and Vesa Granlund welcomed a baby boy into the world. They named him Mikael.

"Maybe that tells everybody what type of player he is," Granlund said. "He can still play at this level, and he is not just surviving there. He is playing and making great plays and helping the team to win. That's why everybody respects him so much."

Russia was a heavy favorite to advance to the semifinals. Finland played an inspired brand of defense-first hockey but was opportunistic when chances arose.

The Finns are short four centers -- Mikko and Saku Koivu, Filppula and Barkov -- and dressed more players from the Kontinental Hockey League than the Russians. Finland will be the underdog again against Sweden, and will be the underdog against either Canada or the United States in either of the medal games this weekend.

Though the Finns left the host nation's hockey fans in misery, the rest of the world can be thankful for two more appearances by Selanne in a Suomi sweater.

"During the day when I woke, and even before I went to bed [Tuesday] night, I noticed that this might be my last game in the Finnish national team," Selanne said. "It was kind of a weird feeling. That was my focus, that you know what, if I do my best and my teammates can only do their best. Nobody really believes in us. [Russia] played four games in five nights, and we tried to make that our advantage. I think that's what happened. It's a big day for us."

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