What were you dreaming about 15 years ago? Have you had a chance to make that fortune, get that girl, win that prize? If you did, would you want to retire at the top?
I think not.
And yet, that’s what we expect from our sports heroes. We want their stories to end on a high note even though winning the championship, getting that trophy is never the end of the story. Life goes on. The show must go on.
And I think no matter whether the Ducks win the Cup or not, Teemu Selanne shouldn’t retire just to finish a story on a high note. He should retire if he feels that playing at that level doesn’t give him anything anymore.
Fifteen years ago, Teemu was a twenty-something handsome kid who had swept Finnish mothers and daughters off their feet and had all the fathers and sons chasing his hockey cards and following his every move on the ice.
Jari Kurri, Finland’s Mr. Hockey, was at the end of his career, and a national hero for all his accomplishments in the NHL, but still distant. Kurri hardly ever posed on the covers of magazines, and while Finland was following his Cup quests, and everybody was proud of him and how he had climbed to the top of the world, he was above everything.
Selanne was on a first-name basis with everybody. He was, and is, simply Teemu. A part of the reason is that there were about 150 other Finnish stars, athletes and entertainers, named Jari, but still. You talk to a Finn about Teemu, and you can be sure you’re talking about the same guy.
Teemu was out there, a Finnish pioneer representing the small country in the Great White North, just like Kurri, Matti Hagman, Mikko Leinonen, Reijo Ruotsalainen, and Risto Siltanen had been. But unlike the players a generation before him, Teemu was doing it in front of our eyes.
And he was doing it in style.
A style very unlike the Finnish stereotype of Finns themselves. No, Teemu wasn’t quiet. No, he didn’t only talk when drunk. No, he wasn’t a macho man, out of touch with his feelings. He worked part time at a kindergarten and enjoyed visiting hospitals and making sick kids feel better. He laughed and joked, he was confident, he was a man of the world – and he was having fun all the way.
In addition, as a hockey player, he was something Finns had never been. He scored goals. (True, Kurri did too, but at the same time, Kurri was known as the best two-way player in the world, always making sure he carried his weight in the defensive zone as well). Teemu is a sniper who loves to score goals. He wants to be on the ice with eight seconds remaining, looking for that big goal.
And here’s the difference, he seemed to always get it, too.
There’s only one but in this great story. Besides a Finnish Elite League title, Teemu has never won “anything.”
Sure, he was great in Nagano when Finland won – yes, won – Olympic bronze. He was excellent in Turin last year, a key player on the World Cup team in 2004, and got a hat trick in the classic game against Sweden in the Helsinki World Championships in 2003.
But Finland lost the Turin final, the World Cup final, and the game in the 2003 tournament is a classic because Sweden rallied back from a 5-1 deficit to win 6-5.
The last time a Finnish player was on the Stanley Cup winning team was in 2001, when Ville Nieminen was plowing snow on Peter Forsberg’s driveway in Colorado. Before that, it was Jere Lehtinen in 1999 and before that, Esa Tikkanen with the Rangers in 1994. Three Finnish Stanley Cup winners in the last 13 years, and five in total: Nieminen, Lehtinen, Tikkanen, Kurri, and Ruotsalainen.
This year, Teemu is the lone Finn chasing his dream. And with that, mine. If Teemu can’t bring the Cup to Finland, who can? If the most un-Finnish finisher falls on the finish line, too, what hope is left for the rest of us?
Teemu, bring it home.