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World Cup

Teemu Selanne enjoying role with Team Finland

Former NHL star on World Cup, Patrik Laine, his future in hockey, Heritage Classic

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director, Editorial NHL.com

Teemu Selanne is perhaps the most revered hockey player in Finnish history. He retired in 2014 with 684 goals, the most ever by a Finland-born player in the NHL. Internationally he is among the most decorated players in the county's history in the sport. He is serving an adviser to management for Team Finland for the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

On Tuesday, NHL.com caught up with Selanne at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland. Among the topics were the 2016 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, the pressure faced by Patrik Laine, the potential heir to Selanne as the next NHL star from Finland, Selanne's future in the sport, Finland's chances in the World Cup and more.

NHL.com: You are scheduled to take part in the alumni game against Edmonton Oilers alums at the Heritage Classic next month. Have you thought much about that event and what it will be like to be in Winnipeg for such a big event?

Selanne: I'm really excited. Winnipeg is real special for me. I have great memories there. To have a chance to go back and play is something real special. I'm excited about it. I think the whole city is excited about getting the ex-players there. The Oilers are going to have a great lineup too, so it is going to be very special.

NHL.com: Did you ever think about playing in an outdoor game in Winnipeg during your time with the Jets?

Selanne: Not a chance. I don't think at that time it was in anybody's mind that you were going to play outdoor games in front of 55,000-60,000 people. It's going to be a very unique thing. A great idea. I played [with the Anaheim Ducks] against the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium [2014 Coors Light Stadium Series], but it was 65 degrees and a different environment. 

NHL.com: It must be exciting to have the opportunity to reconnect with former teammates.

Selanne: That's what, I think, you miss the most. Having a chance to do that again, it's going to be special. I always remember when I went to my first training camp in 1988 and I had a chance to play with Dale Hawerchuk the whole camp. There are a lot of guys I haven't seen for a while, so it's going to be special. Then, of course, Jari Kurri, Wayne [Gretzky] and Mark Messier, and those guys for the Oilers, I haven't seen those guys. It's going to be a very unique weekend. It's a very special rivalry. Having a chance to play again against them, obviously the intensity is not going to be the same as it used to be, it's still going to be a very unique moment for all of us.

NHL.com: What has it been like in your role here with Team Finland as a management adviser for the World Cup of Hockey 2016?

Selanne: It's been fun. I think it was a good time to get back to hockey. I don't think I am ready to be involved day-to-day. This is actually perfect. I can approach it for one month, and then I can think about it again and re-evaluate how much I want to spend time with the hockey and what I want to do. I'm excited. Obviously I'm with a lot of guys I used to play with on the staff here and we are in the same boat now, so it's kind of fun.

NHL.com: Is it different to be on the management side of the national team equation?

Selanne: I started my national team career in 1989 and it ended in 2014, so it was a long time and now it is a new generation. To still have a chance to be a part of this, it's special for us too. It's fun to be around.

NHL.com: Forward Patrik Laine has been the focus of the run-up to the World Cup for Team Finland after his big season in 2015-16. Have you talked to him about what awaits him in the next couple of weeks?

Selanne: The attention is going to be huge for him and we have to make sure we can focus just on his playing right now and put all other things on the side. That's a management job. Hopefully we can do a good job because it is important. He's a young guy with huge expectations and pressure, so we don't have to elevate it any more than we have to.

NHL.com: Did you feel similar pressure to live up to the expectations as Laine when you started your career?

Selanne: It's a different time and I was a little bit older when I came over and everything. Luckily he is in a smaller city than I was. If it would be Helsinki, it would be an even bigger story. Now he can still be a quiet kid, like a normal guy. But obviously when he goes to Winnipeg, it is going to be a different story; it's all about hockey. But I think he is really ready for that challenge. As long as he doesn't take on too much extra pressure. Hopefully he doesn't listen too much to the media and fans and just concentrates and focuses on his play. If he does that, he is going to be fine.

NHL.com: Team Finland has 13 players under the age of 26 on its roster. How much does the youth movement for the national team excite you?

Selanne: It's a very young team and I think we have a couple of other young guys that could also be on this team. Finnish hockey is doing great right now. I started my goal-scoring academy this fall, and I had the best 20 16-year-old forwards from Finland in a one-week camp and it was impressive what I saw. There are going to be a lot of great players coming up. It was a huge success. It was fun.

NHL.com: Do you have concerns about the younger players on the team in a best-on-best tournament like the World Cup?

Selanne: We have a very good mix on this team, younger players and older players. Obviously the old guys can help the young guys and get this new generation of players going and give them all the support they need. Our strength has always been that we know each other because we are a small country. There is not one guy that doesn't know every other guy. Because the preparation and the time to get ready is so short, you have to be ready right away. I think that has always been our strength. We don't have four first lines like when you look at [Team Canada] or [Team USA]. They are all used to playing over 20 minutes a game and now it is impossible. You have to balance those ice times equally and it won't happen. Some guys aren't going to play as much and they aren't used to it. It's not easy. But these Finnish guys, they know their roles and they accept them. 

NHL.com: We have talked so much about the younger players on the team, but Sebastian Aho has been forgotten a little bit because he appears to the No. 13 forward. Have you seen him play? And what are your thoughts on him?

Selanne: I was here for the [2016] World Juniors, and if somebody said he was the best player for Finland in the tournament, it was pretty close. He was unbelievable. Same thing in the Finnish League. He was actually a better player than Laine or [Jesse] Puljujarvi. I'm expecting he is going to be really good hockey player anywhere he plays. [Tuesday] in practice he was playing defense, and if you didn't know he was a forward you would say, wow, he's a good defenseman.

NHL.com: What can you tell fans about the Team Finland coach Lauri Marjamaki?

Selanne: Obviously he's a player's coach. He wants to take their input. Overall the European style of coaching is a lot of communication. He was an assistant coach in [2014] Sochi Olympics and he was looking after the power play and the forwards, so I had some experience with him there and I really like how he is approaching things. He's a calm guy. He tells you how things are and that is always good for the players. 

NHL.com: Are you excited to see how this all turns out for Team Finland?

Selanne: The thing is, if you look in the papers, Canada and U.S., they are always the favorites. But it doesn't matter. Who knows? That's the beauty of the tournament. Surprises are going to happen. That's the whole beauty of this tournament. I think it is really great that this is the first time that this tournament is in one city. Before there were so many games in other cities so you don't get the tournament environment. Now you get all the players living in the same city and all the games are in the same city, so it is going to be a great tournament atmosphere and that is awesome.

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