“I didn’t cry, but it was close,” Selanne said. “The toughest part to keep the emotions was when I was walking down the stairs (for his entrance onto the stage). I think the whole thing just hit so hard. Plus, I have to concentrate that I don’t fall down. But what a night. I never stop wondering the impact with the people. It’s all around me. It’s very special.”
The highest scoring Finnish player to ever lace the skates in the National Hockey League played for 21 seasons. Born in Helsinki, Finland, Selanne spent three years with the development program of Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League or Liiga. He caught the attention of Winnipeg Jets scouts and was subsequently drafted into the NHL as their first round pick (10th overall) in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft.
Military service in Finland kept him from joining the Jets immediately, but by the time his time did come to debut in North America he was already a restricted free agent. The Calgary Flames tabled an offer sheet to give him $1.5 million more than the Jets were offering, but Winnipeg matched and Selanne debuted in October of 1992. He had two assists in that first game against Detroit.
Several firsts followed, as they do. He scored his first goal against Jeff Hackett of the San Jose Sharks two nights after his debut. By his fifth game, he’d put up a hat trick and had 11 goals in a dozen games. By the time the dust settled on the first season, Selanne had 16 multi-point games and was an attraction for the Jets. He even had a four-goal game and finished his rookie season with a mind-blowing 76 goals.
It was, however, impossible to maintain such a pace. Selanne nevertheless tried, putting in his 100th career goal in January of 1994. Only Mike Bossy hit the mark faster.
Selanne’s time in Winnipeg came to an end midway through the 1995-1996 season he was traded to the Ducks, then the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim of course. The Jets picked up Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky along with a third round draft pick for 1996 in exchange for the Finnish Flash. Selanne was reportedly not happy with being traded.
He soon adjusted to time with Anaheim, however, and together with Paul Kariya became a potent offensive force. The Kariya/Selanne combination bumped the Ducks into the post-season for the first time in franchise history and Selanne put up 109 points in 78 games in the 1996-1997 season.
While the Ducks were often knocked for being a one-line team, there was no question that Selanne was among the most impactful players the franchise had and has ever known. Still, the club suffered and he was traded to the San Jose Sharks in March of 2001. He led the team in goals for the 2001-2002 season but things never quite panned out over parts of three seasons.
Eventually, Selanne took a pay cut to reunite with Kariya in Colorado. That one season proved a failed experiment for the team and the player, as he only put up 32 points in 78 games. Selanne wound up on the fourth line through parts of the season and he was even scratched for a playoff game. Knee problems were partially to blame, but he never made excuses.
Following that disastrous year, it was time for a return to Anaheim. And that’s where he would remain for the rest of his career. He would win a Stanley Cup in 2007, knocking off the Ottawa Senators in five games for the most remarkable prize in pro sports.
Selanne continued his time with the Ducks by putting up solid numbers and leading the team in the locker room and on the ice alike. He made his final playoff appearance in 2014, playing his final game on May 16 against the Los Angeles Kings.
And now, one of Finland’s finest ambassadors and one of the finest men to ever play the glorious game has had his time and dedication honoured by the Ducks. Fans from Winnipeg attended the event as well, never forgetting what Selanne meant to their city and their franchise. And fans from around the league will never forget either, as he embodied everything a true athlete should be.