It all began when 22-year-old leftwinger Paul Kariya, the lone
superstar of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, returned from last
season's NHL All-Star Game raving about Teemu Selanne's
sleight-of-hand game and ebullient personality. Kariya had no
idea, but he was jogging the memory of Anaheim general manager
Jack Ferreira, who suddenly recalled a newspaper report that
suggested the Winnipeg Jets (soon to be the Phoenix Coyotes)
were dangling Selanne in trade talks. The next thought that rose
in Ferreira's mind was Selanne's 76-goal rookie season in
1992-93. Ferreira picked up the phone.
Selanne had gone out of his way to make Kariya feel welcome at
his first NHL All-Star Game. They were introduced one after the
other during pregame ceremonies, and they stood side by side on
the blue line chattering and nudging each other like awestruck
schoolboys as the Eastern Conference stars were introduced. "We
were saying, 'Oh, god, there goes Jagr. He's so unbelievable!
And Lemieux--oh, there's Lemieux! He's so great!'" Kariya says
now, laughing heartily. Selanne and Kariya played the game, went
their separate ways, and that was it. Or so Kariya thought.
Nothing indicated that the trajectory of Anaheim's four-year-old
franchise was about to dramatically change--until a few weeks
later when Ducks coach Ron Wilson walked into the dressing room
and curled a finger in the direction of the team's last two No.
1 draft picks, 19-year-old forward Chad Kilger and 19-year-old
defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky. Once he had them in his office,
Wilson said, "Guys, I'm going to cut right to the chase: You've
both been traded to Winnipeg for Teemu Selanne."
And? "They thought I was pulling their leg," Wilson says of the
highly regarded youngsters. "I said, 'Seriously, guys, this is
serious.'" Wilson laughs at the retelling. "The problem was, the
whole time...I've got a stupid smile on my face because, you
know, it's Teemu. Teemu Selanne! And I can't help it. Inside,
what I'm really thinking is, Hoo, god! My prayers have been
January 27, 1997
It did sound preposterous. Selanne--then just 25 and one of the
most skilled players in the league--available? For two
peach-fuzzed kids? As the news raced through the Ducks' dressing
room, the reaction was the same: We got Teemu Selanne?
It would be enough even if all Selanne did for Anaheim was score
goals--which he has, 41 in his first 60 games with the Ducks.
But he's more than a gunner; he's an antidote to the workaday
blues, a comic foil who can temper Kariya's smoldering intensity
or Wilson's tough-talking style with a well-timed joke, a gently
needling remark. Selanne is one of those rare sweet souls who
make people smile--even laugh out loud--at the mere mention of
For a team that's seeking its first postseason berth and that
suffers by comparison with the Florida Panthers, its expansion
cousins, who went to the Stanley Cup finals last season,
Selanne's sunny disposition has been crucial. "I think the
epitaph on Teemu's tombstone is going to read, 'I had a million
friends and not one enemy,'" Wilson says. "He's a guy you just
love being around."
If Selanne's wit doesn't charm someone first, his unebbing
enthusiasm, his slack-jawed smile or wide-eyed look of wonder
probably will. His game has all the bells and whistles. At times
he's pure magic. He has blazing speed and the power to shrug off
defenders; he's a natural scorer and he can shrewdly read a
game; his passes are creative, sly, even prescient. Off the ice
Selanne's worldview is so unabashedly straightforward and
buoyant--he says things like, "If you're good to people, it'll
be good for you"--that he sometimes sounds almost corn pone.
Selanne will make $2.75 million this year--easily the highest
salary on the Ducks. Yet there is no practiced aloofness, no
feigned boredom or ugly glances when a swarm of fans approach.
Shortly after he was traded to the Ducks, Selanne watched the
notoriously reticent Kariya bolt past autograph hounds, then
asked another new teammate, "Why does he run?"
Selanne has never met an autograph seeker he won't oblige. If
anything, he seems delighted by attention and kind words,
turning toward people the way a flower turns to face the warming
"Teemu always says that without fans there would be no game of
hockey," says his wife, Sirpa. "So he always signs." He has a
deep sentimental streak too. At the slightest nudge, Selanne
will expound on what he misses about his native Finland--Finnish
licorices, Finnish black bread, a good reindeer steak. Nearly
five years after he left his homeland for the NHL, Selanne still
calls Finland daily to speak to family members or friends. When
the Ducks pulled into Phoenix for the first time this season, he
was touched when many of his former Jets teammates flocked to
see him. "My buddies," Selanne says. "They still miss me."
Before leaving Finland, Selanne attended business college,
dabbled in guitar, studied magic tricks with a performer friend,
played for the Finnish junior national soccer team and rose to
squad leader during his mandatory one-year stint in the army.
Selanne may be the only inductee--other than Forrest Gump--who
enjoyed boot camp and life in his crowded, 85-man barracks.
"What a great bunch of guys," he recalls fondly.
Selanne loves kids, too. After his army discharge he taught
morning kindergarten classes for three years and played hockey
in the evenings for Jokerit, a Helsinki club team. When he and
his wife return to Finland each summer, he competes in road
rally races under the nom de guerre Teddy Flash, a takeoff on
his hockey nickname, the Finnish Flash. Selanne sounds like TV
toolman Tim Allen as he volunteers the particulars about his
Mitsubishi racing machine: "It's four-wheel drive. Turbo. Roll
bar. The whole package."
Selanne also owns a speedboat. And four JetSkis, four go-karts
and five classic cars--all convertibles. Not long ago he bought
an old Mercedes school bus and converted it into what he calls a
"party bus." Before he and Sirpa were married, on July 19, 1996,
the bus came in handy: More than 20 of Selanne's pals
commandeered the vehicle after they "kidnapped" him and embarked
on a bachelor party to end all bachelor parties--a
round-the-clock romp that lasted two days. "They just showed up
and handcuffed me and blindfolded me and took me away," Selanne
Before the odyssey was over, Selanne had been paraded around
town dressed like Elvis. Still blindfolded, he was sat down in
what he presumed to be a dentist's chair--until he felt a
pricking sensation just above his right ankle and realized he
was being tattooed. "It didn't hurt that bad," he laughs, hiking
up his pant leg to reveal a two-by-two-inch rendering of a
yellow lightning bolt over a Finnish flag. Later, he was
blindfolded again, given another change of clothes and driven
around town for more than an hour. "They gave me earplugs and
turned up the car music so loud I couldn't tell where I was,"
The car finally stopped, and when Selanne's blindfold was
removed, he was standing on the field of a soccer stadium before
10,000 screaming fans. He was wearing the home uniform of
Helsinki Finnpa, a team in Finland's leading soccer league.
"Within 10 seconds someone dropped the ball and yelled, 'Play!'"
Selanne says. "So I played. I even shot once and hit the post.
It was great."
Selanne loves hockey, but he says, "It's important to do more
than just play hockey." He can pinpoint the watershed experience
that shaped his thinking: He was 18, already a hockey star, and
he made his first goodwill visit to a Helsinki children's
hospital. The experience moved Selanne so deeply that it wasn't
long before he enlisted a Finnish friend's help and created the
Godfathers Foundation, a program that enlists celebrities to
raise money for ailing children. He donates most of his
endorsement earnings to the cause. When he scores a hat trick,
he collects the caps the fans toss onto the ice and ships them
to Finnish orphanages. He does charity work in North America, too.
"Athletes are so lucky, and it doesn't take so much for us to do
these things," Selanne says. "Once a nurse at the hospital told
me that after we visit, the kids don't need painkillers for a
week. That made me feel so, so good, you know?"
At one time Selanne needed some of the same coping skills he
admired in the stricken children. When he was 19 and playing for
Jokerit, Selanne snapped the tibia and fibula in his left leg.
Though he's had other serious injuries since, including a
severed Achilles tendon in '93-94, he says, "To me, the broken
leg was the worst time of my career. It took more than a year to
heal. I was so worried. I was afraid I'd never know if I
could've made it in the NHL."
When he finally got his chance with Winnipeg in '92-93, he
scored goals by the bushelful--33 by the All-Star break. He blew
past Mike Bossy's rookie record of 53 with nearly six weeks left
in the season. Says Selanne, "I'm sure that when I scored 30
goals, [opponents] said, 'Who is Selanne?' When I scored 50, it
was, 'What's going on?' And then 60...I was just rolling. After
games I'd come in our dressing room and laugh and say, 'I can't
believe I scored a goal on that shot.'"
No one expected Selanne to score 76 goals every year. But some
Jets officials grumbled that he had lost a bit of his magic
after his debut season. His production, in fact, dropped off,
and he averaged about a goal every two games. A year ago the
trade rumors started. Sirpa was due to deliver their first child
(a boy, Eemil) in mid-February. Jets co-owner Richard Burke
called Selanne and assured him that he wasn't getting shipped
out. Selanne believed him.
"Ten days later I was traded to the Ducks," Selanne says. "Every
organization I play in, I always try to help, to do what they
want. After the trade I thought, Management doesn't care. They
use players. I told myself, From now on I'm going to change my
So did he? "Nahhh," Selanne chuckles. "This is me."
In Selanne and Kariya, the Ducks think they have a younger
version of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, a one-two punch to
rival Colorado's dynamic Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Through
Sunday, Selanne had 25 goals and 31 assists to rank fifth in the
NHL in scoring. Last Saturday he played in his fourth All-Star
Despite a 1-10-2 start while Kariya was sidelined because of an
abdominal strain, Anaheim is in the hunt for the playoffs. In
Kariya's second game back Selanne notched his first hat trick of
the season in the Ducks' 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks,
snapping an eight-game losing streak. Afterward a joyous Selanne
told reporters, "It's time to smile again."
The muckers and grinders still outnumber the superstars on the
Ducks' roster, but NHL teams should recognize Selanne's smile
for what it really is: a sniper's grin. The man lights the goal
lamp as deftly as he lights up a room.