Selanne a great player, even a better man

You knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time. His nickname is "The Finnish Flash," after all.

He’d fly down the right side, get a step on a defender and fire a wrister or uncork a slap shot that would hit some minuscule spot in an upper corner or a tiny gap in a goaltenders equipment.

Or he’d be floating around the front of the net, looking for that soft spot in a team’s defense and in a flash the puck would be on his stick and gone, a one-timer headed for the back of the net.

So it was a little anti-climactic when Teemu Selanne’s 600th career goal came on what was virtually a wide open net after a furious scramble in front of goaltender Craig Anderson early in the second period of tonight's game at Honda Center against the Colorado Avalanche. A loose puck, Scott Niedermayer corrals it and passes to Teemu, who gently slides it into the net and the history books.

The goal was Selanne's 18th of his injury-marred season and he became the 18th player in the history of the NHL to join the 600-goal club. Selanne is the fourth player to reach the milestone in the last four seasons, along with Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, and Joe Sakic.

In the weeks leading up to this milestone he had given dozens of interviews and always said the same, gracious thing every time: I’m not much of a numbers guy. I’ve had great teammates. I’m a lucky guy. I never thought I’d play this long.

Of course, we are the lucky ones—not only to have been able to watch him play all these years, but to have also gotten to have known him, if only a little bit. He is truly one of the nicest, most genuine human beings—never mind professional athletes—that you could ever hope to meet.

And this year, of all the years in his great career, has been so cruel: There was first a broken hand, then a broken jaw, 26 missed games, doubts about whether he’d be able to play in his 5th Olympic Games for Finland.

And of course he made it back. Of course he not only played, but he excelled, becoming the all time leading scorer in Olympic hockey history and leading Finland to a bronze medal.

“I’ve been lucky over the years,” he’s always said, “and I’m very happy I’ve been able to play so many years. The most important thing is that I’ve really enjoying to play this game. I’m 39, 40 in December and I still come here with a smile on my face and that’s huge."

And then he talked about growing up in Finland, the posters that hung in his room of Wayne Gretzky and Selanne’s countryman Jarri Kurri.

“I have got more than I ever dreamed,” he said. “You know, when I was a young guy playing back home, my biggest dream was to play in the top league in Finland and maybe, maybe if everything goes perfect, some national teams and maybe the World Championships.”

Instead, he went on to become one of the great scorers in the history of the NHL: a record-shattering 76 as a rookie in 1992-93. The first of his career that year came against the San Jose Sharks and Jeff Hackett.

There have been 133 different goalies that he's scored on since then, 599 more goals, one Stanley Cup and a well deserved reputation as a guy who is always ready with an autograph for a fan, a thoughtful answer for a reporter and a smile for anyone who crosses his path.

And the next goal he scores will be a milestone too: Number 601 will tie him with his idol Kurri as the highest-scoring Finn in NHL history. The only other European-born player in the 600-goal club is Jagr, with 646.

“He’s a special player and he’s a special human being,” said his coach Randy Carlyle, who was Teemu’s teammate in Winnipeg in that remarkable rookie system. “He’s the face of our franchise and I think what really stands out the most is that he enjoys the game.”

Yes, he sure does. And we enjoy it more because of him.

This may be the last hurrah for Teemu. He jokes that he’s said “one more time” way too often and the challenges of this season—the injuries, the Ducks struggles, that looming 40th birthday—it probably means that this last dozen games or so may be the last time we’ll see him.

“It has been like a dream,” he’s always said. “I’m very thankful for what I have accomplished so far and how long I’ve been able to play so it’s perfect situation when your hobby turms out to be your……I can’t even say this is my job because I just enjoy it so much and every time when we get the paycheck I’m saying I can’t believe we get paid for this!”

Enjoy him while you can and for as long as you can. For his like will not pass this way again anytime soon.