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Selanne soaking in final Olympics with Finland

by Dan Rosen

SOCHI -- As the perspiration poured off his face, requiring him to repeatedly wipe his brow and his nose with his sweaty blue glove, Teemu Selanne couldn't stop his eyes from wandering and his mouth from moving.

The Finnish legend is playing in his sixth and final Olympics, his emotions are running wild, and he's genuinely excited to talk about it.

"I think anything you do for the last time, it's going to be emotional because a lot of times you don't know it's your last and there's still a lot of things you wonder about such as what could happen after," Selanne said after his first practice Tuesday. "But when you know it's your last you try to take everything in. You see things differently. It's just been an unbelievable journey in my national career and ending it here, it's a perfect way."

Selanne is 43 years old and he still says he's a kid even though his body tells him otherwise. He's quick to point out he never once thought he'd make it this far and play for this long.

Now that he's at the end of what has been an illustrious career not only in the NHL, but also in the Suomi sweater, it's all finally coming together for Selanne, so much so that he finally accepted the captaincy of the Finnish national team.

For years Selanne has turned down the opportunity to wear the 'C' -- but not this time.

"Usually I'm [alternate] captain and a lot of times if they have asked if I want to be captain, I don't really need a letter to be a leader," he said. "A lot of times it's better if somebody else going to be [captain]. But now it's my last one, this time I felt it's time to be captain and I'm very honored."

Selanne has 96 points and three Olympic medals playing with the national team.

He's 26 years removed from making his international debut at the 1988 European Junior Championship, 22 years removed from making his Olympics debut in Albertville, France, and 12 years removed from the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, when he thought his career was just about over and he might have played in his final international game because his knee was bothering him so much.

"My knee started going downhill and I knew it would last one or two years," Selanne said.

The thought of going to the 2006 Torino Olympics was so farfetched to Selanne that it barely even entered his mind. The idea of playing in Vancouver four years ago and Sochi now, well, forget about it.

But then came the 2004-05 lockout and a chance for Selanne to have surgery and spend a year rehabilitating his knee.

"That gave me a second wind," he said.

And so he went to Torino, shunned retirement, went to Vancouver, shunned retirement some more and now he's here in Sochi. He swears he won't shun retirement again.

"I would bet anything that after Salt Lake City that I wouldn't play in Sochi," Selanne said. "I mean I could bet anything, but that's how things work when you enjoy this. You have fun and good things happen."

Selanne will start the Olympics on Finland's top line with Mikael Granlund and Aleksander Barkov, two of the five Finnish players who weren't born when Selanne made his international debut.

Olli Maatta, who is 19, called it a "dream come true" to play with Selanne in the Olympics.

"That's definitely going to be awesome," Maatta said.

Tuomo Ruutu, who is playing in his second Olympics and fourth international tournament with Selanne, said it's still "an honor to play with him" after all these years.

"I just think it's amazing that he's able to play on this level when he's young as a person but old as a hockey player," Ruutu said. "Especially playing the role he plays, he's a goal scorer and he can still skate, which is exceptional for a guy who is 43 years old. I don't know how many players can do that. He's always had the smile when he comes to the rink and he just enjoys playing hockey. That's why he's so great."

Selanne feels the love, but tries to give it back too.

"It's a big honor for me too," Selanne said. "I always say the young guys keep me young too. I'm very thankful and proud that I've been able to play for so many years and I met a lot of players through my career, especially my national team career. If somebody told me when I was younger what's going to happen, it would be hard to believe."

Maatta joked he definitely should corner Selanne to ask him for advice. He'd get some.

Selanne knows how revered he is, so he makes it a point to try to give the young players the keys to some of his success.

"I try to remind these young guys enjoy every moment, your career goes fast and you don't know what's going to happen, so try to handle things, try to appreciate things and be thankful for what you have because this is a dream come true for so many guys," Selanne said. "A lot of guys don't realize it before it's going to be the end, so live the moment and enjoy it."

Now he's trying to heed his own advice one more time.

Selanne still has some NHL games to play, but this tournament will be his last with Suomi running across his chest. Forgive him for being emotional.

"You just see everything differently," he said.


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