Jae C. Hong,File
January 09, 2015

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) Teemu Selanne still wakes up early while his four children are heading to school, and he plays golf or tennis almost every day after they leave. He still drives fast cars, enjoys fancy dinners and makes time for any hockey fan who approaches him.

For the first time in his adult life, Selanne no longer has to do any of it. He retired from the Anaheim Ducks last summer, wrapping up his 21-season NHL career with the team that will retire his No. 8 jersey on Sunday in a gala tribute.

Selanne knows how many athletes struggle to find direction in their lives when their lifelong goals are gone.

Not the Finnish Flash. He's always moving forward.

''I haven't really missed the game as much as I thought,'' Selanne said this week. ''I miss the boys, the locker room, maybe some good dinners on the road. But I played enough. It was a perfect time to retire.''

These days, Selanne can while away an afternoon sitting at an Irish pub in this upscale Orange County enclave. Around the corner, a theater will present a special screening of a documentary about his life that evening, part of a week's festivities thrown by the Ducks.

''I've been enjoying every day,'' he said while knocking back a Guinness before attending the show. ''Living without any schedule is fun. That slot between 8 and 3 every day, it's fun. ... When you wake up, you don't have to do anything. I always do, but it's nice to have (the option).''

Selanne just might be the most beloved athlete in Orange County, where he spent 15 of his 21 NHL seasons as the biggest cold-weather sports star in a sun-kissed area. His jersey will be the first ever retired by the Ducks, who came into existence one year after Selanne's career began.

Tickets to Sunday's game against the Winnipeg Jets - his employer for his first four seasons - are incredibly difficult to acquire. About 60 friends and family members from Finland will be in the stands, including his parents.

The milestone has compelled the 44-year-old Selanne to reflect on his career, and he remains stunned by his own longevity.

''At the time when I came into this league, if you were a 32-year-old hockey player, you were older,'' Selanne said. ''I thought I was going to play three, four years. Maybe if I was lucky, I could play to 30.''

Selanne can scarcely list every way pro hockey changed during his quarter-century in the sport, starting in Finland with Jokerit in 1989. Almost every change has improved players' lives, from chartered flights and safety technology to major lifestyle changes.

''We'd go out, and some guys would have two beers, and some would have 20,'' he said. ''After the game, you'd take the helmet off and get beers, first thing. Now, it's protein shakes. I don't think guys knew what was good food for you. When I came into the league, guys were still smoking. Now, I don't even know one guy off the ice who smokes.''

Selanne also watched the NHL's evolution from a league of freewheeling fun to a defense-first grind. He scored a jaw-dropping 76 goals in his first season in Winnipeg in 1992, a rookie record that's unlikely ever to be touched.

''After that, it was all downhill,'' he said with a grin. ''But hockey started changing after New Jersey won the Cup with a different style (in 1995). When I came in, there was no scouting. My third or fourth year, the coach got VHS tapes of the next team. These days, there's no secrets.''

Selanne can now watch the game's evolution from a hockey dad's perspective: His teenage sons, Eemil and Eetu, are prospects.

Selanne drove an RV to San Jose for a recent tournament - although the trip mostly reminded him how much he enjoys hotels. And though he tries to avoid it, he can't help thinking sometimes about how he would have scored on chances that his kids missed.

Selanne Steak Tavern, his 15-month-old Laguna Beach restaurant located one block from the Pacific, is packed most weekends with a lively crowd eating $52 rib eyes and checking out Selanne's Olympic medals and the replica of the Stanley Cup won by the Ducks in 2007. Selanne drops by a few times a week, and he has been surprised to learn how the dynamics in a kitchen are familiar.

''It's really like a hockey team in some ways,'' Selanne said. ''I want it to be a place people love to come to work.''

Selanne has attended a few Ducks games this season, sitting with fellow Finnish retiree Saku Koivu. His children avidly watch every game at home, so he knows when the Ducks score a goal ''because they're screaming.''

After several more months of relaxation, Selanne plans to return to hockey in some capacity, likely with the Ducks or the Finnish national team. He has high hopes for the current Anaheim team, which has led the overall NHL standings for much of the season, and he'll be paying attention when the playoffs roll around.

''They look so good, and they have so much depth again,'' he said. ''It's going to be different watching them. But it was time.''

You May Like