In 1997 and 1998, a well-known automobile race known as the World Rally Championship was held in Finland and drew a host of top drivers, along with an interloper who gave his name as Teukka Salama. Salama didn't come close to winning, but by all accounts found the experience exhilarating nonetheless.
This is not at all surprising, considering how the driver -- the name translated to Teddy Flash -- comported himself in his day job, and how he became renowned from the northern tip of Europe to the southern coast of California, and many places in between. Salama's real name, after all, was Teemu Selanne, aka "The Finnish Flash," a man who was a Ferrari on skates, a right wing with a stride as smooth and fluid as hot syrup; who moved so fast he would've left rubber if it were possible to do such a thing on a sheet of ice.
Video: Teemu Selanne scored record 76 goals as rookie
"It was hard to keep up with him," said Thomas Steen, a Swede who was Selanne's teammate on the Winnipeg Jets. "You could flip the puck into the neutral zone and that was always a breakaway for him. He was the first guy on the puck, you knew it. He could do it blindfolded."
Said Brian Burke, then-general manager of the Hartford Whalers, "Selanne can change speeds without any perceptible change in stride or gait. That's a real weapon when you're bearing down on a defenseman. He can't see it."
For Selanne's part, it was all pretty simple.
Games: 1,451 | Goals: 684 | Assists: 773 | Points: 1,457
"I think I like to take advantage of the speed, and try to be in the right place at the right time," he said.
Over his 21-season NHL career -- parts of 15 spent with the Ducks (Mighty and otherwise) -- Selanne was in the right place with stunning regularity. He finished with 684 goals and 1,457 points. He is the only player to both capture the NHL scoring crown in his first year and be named MVP of the Olympics in his last, Selanne receiving that honor after the Sochi Games in 2014, when he scored two goals to spark Finland to a 5-0 rout of the United States in the bronze-medal game, a performance that elicited raves from his young teammates, among them forward Mikael Granlund.
"He's 43 years old and can still play at this level," said Granlund, then 21, who grew up idolizing the Helsinki native. "You can't understand how important he is for Finland."
Selected by the Jets with the No. 10 pick in the 1988 NHL Draft, Selanne, a star for the Finnish club Jokerit, didn't make his NHL debut until 1992, neither club nor player in a rush to bring him to Western Canada before he was ready. He almost didn't arrive in Winnipeg at all, after the Calgary Flames signed Selanne to an offer sheet that was reportedly worth $1.5 million more than the Jets' offer. The Jets matched it, and Selanne's impact was immediate. He had 11 goals in his first 12 games, and his pace never slackened as he crushed Mike Bossy's 15-year-old rookie record of 53 goals. Selanne finished the season with 76, tying him with Alexander Mogilny for the NHL lead.
The night he broke the record, with a hat trick against the Quebec Nordiques, Selanne used a trademark burst of speed to beat a Quebec defenseman before celebrating by flinging his left glove in the air and pumping fake shots into it with his stick, and then hugging his teammates.
Video: Teemu Selanne breaks Bossy's rookie goal record
Such exuberance was another Selanne trademark, from the beginning of his career to the end. With chiseled good looks and an angular animation to his game, he exuded joy and looked upon attention from media and fans not as a burden but a compliment. He signed every autograph and answered almost every question. When Sports Illustrated wanted to do a major profile of him during his epic rookie year, Selanne graciously obliged. Of course, it didn't hurt that the magazine rented a sporty convertible for him to drive along the way -- roughly akin to plying a nursery-school kid with candy.
"Every day, Teemu finds something to be happy about," longtime teammate Paul Kariya said. "[He] gets as mad as anyone else when we lose, but I think he forgets it quickly. Teemu keeps everybody on an even keel. When things are going poorly, he's upbeat and he keeps everybody loose. When things are going well, he's the same, so we always know what to expect from him. Guys get down, but he's there picking us up."
Marty McInnis, another Anaheim teammate, marveled at how popular he was in all NHL precincts. His ebullience was as palpable as his speed, and fans tend to pick up on that.
"In every town on the road, he has good friends," McInnis said. "I mean, every town."
Selanne never matched the output of his rookie year -- indeed, no NHL player has even hit the 70 mark since then (Mario Lemieux came closest, with 69 goals in 1995-96) but remained among the most prolific scorers anywhere, with six other seasons with 40 or more goals.
"He's probably the best pure goal-scorer in the League," Kariya said, no small compliment from a man who had almost 1,000 points himself.
An Achilles tendon injury and a work stoppage short-circuited Selanne's second and third years in the NHL, and he was subsequently traded on Feb. 7, 1996, to the Mighty Ducks, where, in his first full year, he scored 51 goals and had 58 assists. He and Kariya were as explosive a pair of wings as there was in the League, and the young franchise made its first playoff appearances before Selanne was dealt to the Sharks late in the 2000-01 season. In 2003 he signed with the Colorado Avalanche, where he had his least productive season (16 goals and 16 assists in 78 games), battling nagging knee problems and a demotion to the fourth line.
Any notion that Selanne was on a rapid descent was quickly dispelled after he re-signed in 2005 with the Mighty Ducks. Selanne scored 40 goals and had 90 points in 2005-06 to help the Ducks reach the Western Conference Finals. The next season, Selanne was even better, scoring 48 goals and leading the League with 25 power-play goals, 10 of them game-winners (also the most in the NHL), as the Ducks (who had dropped the Mighty) captured their first Stanley Cup title by defeating the Ottawa Senators in five games.
"I can't describe the feeling I had when I hoisted the Stanley Cup," Selanne said. "I had dreamt of winning something big for fifteen years, and had waited for that moment with every fiber of my body."
It would prove to be the career pinnacle for the 36-year-old Selanne, whose affability and blithe spirit had long since made him as popular as any athlete to play in Orange County, "The Finnish Flash" bringing winter-sport glory to the land of Mickey Mouse. It was only fitting that early in 2015, not even a year after his retirement, Selanne became the first Ducks player to have his number retired, his No. 8 jersey being raised to the rafters in a ceremony both joyful and poignant, the audience including his wife and children, a host of former teammates and 17,356 friends at Honda Center.
By then Selanne had opened a popular restaurant, Selanne Steak Tavern, in Laguna Beach, and been the subject of one of the biggest-grossing documentaries ever made in Finland. He had his collection of speedy cars, including a '61 Lincoln Continental and a '68 Corvette, and had won championships in two countries and four Olympic medals (three bronze, one silver), becoming an all-time great in the process. He retired as the leading scorer (24 goals and 19 assists in 37 games) in the annals of Olympic hockey and the oldest player to score a goal in the Games, doing so in 2014 at age 43.
Teemu Selanne, aka Teddy Flash, said later he was overcome with nerves and emotion that night, trying his hardest not to cry.
"People ask me, 'Was the 2007 Stanley Cup the biggest thing in my career?' Selanne said in his speech. "I say, 'Yeah, but the biggest thing is we won it right here. Thank you so much. This night is so special for me. I'm never going to forget this."
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