Next to Teemu Selanne’s teammates and those that worked for the team, the next group of people Selanne saw the most at work were the beat writers.
For the Anaheim Ducks, there is a small core of scribes that have followed the team throughout the years. Some have moved on, and some have stuck around. Instead of quizzing Teemu’s former teammates for stories they’ve probably told 100 times by now, I thought it would be an interesting perspective to get some of the beat writers memories of Anaheim’s ‘Great 8.’
I’ll start with my own. Granted I have more fan related memories than I do from this side, but there is one interaction that will always stick with me.
My first time ever in an NHL locker room was following a Ducks game. I had no idea what I was doing; I didn’t know the protocol at all. This didn’t stop me from pretending to act like I had it all together.
Standing in the middle of the locker room as other reporters were off in their conversations with other players, I pretended to text on my phone, trying to listen to what everyone else was doing. Teemu came out one of the rooms, went over to his stall, and I could tell he was looking at me. It was probably because I was shaking as I held my phone.
He walked right up to me (vomit rose in my throat), and asked if I needed a quote for my story. He also added that I looked scared, and I shouldn’t be because these are regular guys you have to go up and talk to or they won’t. I thanked him profusely and held my phone up for a quote. When we were done, he walked away, I left the locker room exhilarated. As I went to turn off the recorder on my phone, I realized I never turned it on in the first place. Damn it.
It ended up not to matter, though. He gave me what I needed – confidence.
My opinion of a player’s character is rarely based on his locker-room affability or whether he says something quotable. It’s fairly easy for a bad guy to fake it for a few minutes, or a good guy to have a cranky moment.
If you want to learn about someone, ask his opponents. Talk to the people who battle against him, who are paid to make him miserable on the ice. Do they like him? More importantly, do they respect him?
When it comes to Teemu Selanne, there’s no question. I’ve been around the Kings, at close range, for a decade. They gritted their teeth when Selanne scored big goals against them, first with the Ducks, then the Sharks and Avalanche, then the Ducks again. They often hated what he did, but they didn’t hate him.
It’s easy to joke about Selanne, about his penchant for fast cars, his loose command of certain English phrases and his loose-lips approach to handling reduced playing time, but that’s as far as it ever went.
Consider what happened last May 17, at the end of Game 7 of a second-round playoff series.
The Kings, having rallied from a 3-2 series deficit, beat the Ducks in Game 7 on the road. They ended Selanne’s career, denied his bid for a dream farewell. They celebrated for a bit on the ice, then gathered near their bench and stopped.
Selanne gave a goodbye salute to Honda Center fans, and the Kings stood and tapped their sticks on the ice in tribute. Even Kings fans, who lustily jeered the Ducks moments earlier, stood and applauded.
After the game, Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who often talks as though he’s being charged by the word, gave a lengthy, heartfelt tribute to Selanne and called him “a special player and a special person.”
Kings captain Dustin Brown expressed similar sentiments, and it wasn’t lip service. I’d seen that level of respect from Kings players only once before, after they beat Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
As for my personal memories of Selanne, they’ll run very similar to those of other writers. He was unfailingly polite and thoughtful. It didn’t matter if you were a Ducks beat writer or a visiting beat writer, if you were at the rink every day or once a decade. Selanne brought a joy to the game that transcended all areas.
I’ll remember, in his last couple seasons, glancing at a blur on the ice, generated by a nice move to the net or an impossibly quick release on a wrist shot. I’d do a double take, thinking it couldn’t be a 40-year-old man.
Selanne’s stats say it all. Well, almost all. The rest is said by the respect he received from opponents.
Jon Rosen is currently working as the LA Kings Insider; however, back during the 2011-2012 season, he reported for FoxSports.com and FoxSportsWest.com. His memories of Teemu vary. One of the funniest stories he mentioned was that of an interaction with current Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen and fellow Finn:
There were a few things last year I remember, though they’re mostly about Sami Vatanen. I remember Vatanen saying about the Mercedes Selanne loaned him “I don’t know if I like that car actually, but it’s free.”
Selanne’s love of cars is well known. The fact he loans them out to teammates is awesome, and frightening considering the youngster had just joined the big club.
After the Kings defeated the Ducks last season, Rosen reflected back on his childhood memories of Selanne:
I was in sixth grade when Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals as a rookie. It was the same year the Kings advanced to play the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final, and a friend and I would occasionally interrupt class with high-pitched, cartoonish “Tee-mu!” calls for a short period until we moved on to other ways to distract our peers. For those of my generation, there always seems to be a nostalgia and longing to the early-to-mid 1990s, and those who recalled witnessing the joy, personality and skill embedded in Selanne’s play were probably taken back to those halcyon days while watching him absorb a hearty salute as he took a lap for the final time as a player on an NHL ice surface. Thank you, Teemu.
Curtis Zupke covered the Ducks for The Orange County Register and now NHL.com. He has a couple of memories that come to mind when he thinks of Teemu:
Last season, when his farewell tour was nearing the home stretch, the Ducks lost to Toronto at home. Me and some of the other writers were there a long time afterward filing our stories, a couple of hours after the game at least.
As me and Elliott Teaford of the L.A. Daily News were driving past the tunnel we spotted Teemu’s car parked off to the side in front of a throng of fans. He had stopped to sign autographs, and he obviously wasn’t going to leave until he signed them all. This was hours after the game ended. That’s Teemu in a nutshell – even after a loss he’s still in a good mood and happy to interact with the fans.
A few years ago, on a random off day, I was covering Ducks practice and Teemu walked through the dressing and asked me ‘How are you doing?’ Simple question, right?
Well, that was the first time a pro athlete ever asked me how I was doing. And it wasn’t just polite. He genuinely wanted to know.
Let’s put it this way … Kobe Bryant ain’t asking me how I’m doing. That pretty much sums up the kind of genuine people person he is.
The other thing that immediately comes to mind is after the Ducks played that incredible regular season game against Chicago two seasons ago. They won, 4-2, and afterward we asked Selanne if the game was as fun to play in as it was to watch.
“You just grab a hot dog and a beer and go watch,” he said. “Good seats out there.”
I still laugh when I think about that quote.
Finally, we have Eric Stephens. He currently walks the beat for the The OC Register, and probably spent the most time covering Teemu over the last handful of years.
There are a lot of great Teemu stories but one happens to stick out for me. It was the night of his initial return to Winnipeg in 2011 as a player after 15 years away. The new Jets were back after moving from Atlanta and the anticipation for Selanne’s first game back in the city where he started was unlike anything I had seen personally.
The night remains one of greatest events I’ve had to cover simply because of the unbridled love and adulation Winnipeg fans showed for their former superstar after so many years. The noise in the intimate MTS Centre was deafening and you could see the sincere appreciation that Selanne had when he raise his right hand and motioned to his heart.
But the thing that really defined Selanne in my eyes is afterward. The Ducks were on a road trip, had just played in games on back-to-back nights and took a 5-3 loss to the Jets. Players were already on the bus, ready to go to sleep and head off to the next city. And yet there were maybe 150-200 people in an area within in the bowels of MTS waiting for Selanne to finish his press conference and visit with them.
Visit with them Teemu did. He met with every single person, young and old, dearest friend and occasional acquaintance. Different members of the Ducks’ media relations staff took turns trying to pull the winger away, telling him and anyone near him that he had to get to the team bus. It didn’t matter. Teemu wasn’t leaving until he greeted everyone with a shake of the hand, a bear hug, a kiss on the cheek, a snap of the camera.
Somehow, Teemu made it to the bus. Everyone got their moment with him. Everyone left with a smile. That’s No. 8 for you.