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Selanne still fabulous at 40

by Dave Lozo
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Middle-aged hockey players will say just about anything to kid themselves into believing time isn't chasing them down like a feverishly backchecking forward. There's no shortage of clichés in which they can find comfort.

Life begins at 40.

40 is the new 30.

I'm not getting old. I'm getting ... older!

Teemu Selanne is so old -- how old is he? -- that he broke into the League in 1992 as a member of the Winnipeg Jets. Eighteen seasons and 611 goals later, the 40-year-old Selanne isn't just desperately clinging to his career with the Anaheim Ducks. He entered Friday's game against the New Jersey Devils leading the team in goals with 5 and is tied for 18th in the League in scoring with 10 points.

His goal Tuesday against Dallas moved him past Bobby Hull and into 15th on the all-time goal-scoring list. He's 14 away from No. 14, Joe Sakic, who has 625 goals.

Selanne considered retiring after the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, but opted to return. He said last season would be his final one in the NHL. He made the same claim at the start of this season. How can anyone trust the NHL's answer to Brett Favre that this really, truly, honestly will be Selanne's last season?

"I don't know," Selanne said Friday. "My wife doesn't even believe anymore."

That's one of the problems with being the boy who cried retirement. Selanne said he's still having a blast and still has enough skill and speed to be a threat. So how does he know it will be time to retire?

"The time is when you don't enjoy coming to the rink anymore," Selanne said. "So far, it's been fun. If you still think you can play at this level and you can succeed here, that's my theory. But obviously I'm 40, so you know it's going to happen sooner or later. So far, I'm really enjoying coming here and playing, and that's all that matters."

But since he's having so much fun and still playing at a high level, is this really his last season?

"Oh, it is for sure," Selanne said with a laugh.

A big motivator for Selanne to come back this season was the series of bad breaks -- literal and metaphorical -- that came his way last season. He missed 25 games because of various injuries, but none of them were the old-man type that involves muscle strains brought on by years of wear and tear.

On Dec. 3, a slap shot by Dallas Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins broke Selanne's left hand, costing him 17 games. After scoring 2 goals in his first three games back from that injury, another slap shot, this one from teammate Ryan Whitney, was re-directed into Selanne's face during a game against the Boston Bruins. It broke his jaw and cost him another eight games.

Selanne played just 54 games last season because of those freak injuries, but it made his second straight 27-goal campaign all the more impressive.

"The time when I was healthy, I felt like I was playing really well. I was really having a lot of fun," Selanne said. "Especially at the end, I'm having so much fun that I'm crazy if I retire now, because I felt so good."

While serving as a motivator, the injuries also made Selanne think twice about returning this season. But it also made Selanne realize it's never smart to make huge decisions like retirement while emotions are still running high.

"During the injury times, I thought it was time to do something else," Selanne said. "It's funny how your mind changes. That's why I never wanted to do any decisions before the season is over; around 2-3 weeks later. You don't know how you're going to feel about everything. I think it's not a good thing to think too much about those things during the season."

Knock on wood, Selanne has been healthy so far this season and is making an impact. The Ducks are 4-5-1 and 14th in the Western Conference but have shown signs of coming together after dropping four of five to start the season. The Ducks are just two points behind the Detroit Red Wings for seventh in the tightly packed conference and are 4-2-1 in their last seven.

Coach Randy Carlyle doesn't want to think about where his team would be without Selanne.

"It's amazing that the 40-year-old can continue to score goals at the rate he has," Carlyle said. "Teemu's one of those guys who has to find his 'happy place.' We all don't know what that means, but I think I figured it out -- when he's scoring, he's happy.  We just like to keep him in that place. So far, he's made a huge contribution to our hockey club early in the season."

Selanne said it's not so much goals or statistics that keep him happy. It's more the feeling he can still play, which, of course, translates into goals.

"I still feel like I have a lot of jump," Selanne said. "The thing is, if I feel like I can't really use my speed or the things I have been doing over the years, there's no reason to play. I still think I have the good jump and that's why I'm still playing."

New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who will be in net Friday against the Ducks at the Honda Center, said Selanne's age doesn't matter. Selanne still is dangerous and Brodeur always wants to know where the sniper is located when he's on the ice.

"Even though he's 40, he skates like a guy who's 22," Brodeur said. "He's a true goal scorer. He finds the areas on the ice, he pick-pockets guys. You definitely have to watch what you're doing when he's around."

To hear Selanne say it, this truly is his last season. But if having fun and playing at high level is what keeps him playing and he's doing both of those things now, can anyone truly believe Selanne when he says this is it?

"After the season it's time to think about it," Selanne said. "In a lot of ways, when I think it's going to be my last year, like I've done the last four years, I try to think this is going to be it and I try to enjoy every day. I'm not going to leave anything here. That has been really good for me.

"But I think this is it."

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