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Selanne Adds Another Dimension to Ducks

February 12, 1996|MIKE PENNER

Teemu & the Ducks, an early stock-taking:

Games played: 2.

Games won: 1.

Goals by Teemu: 2.

Goals by Ducks: 7.

Eight-game unbeaten streaks of defending Stanley Cup champions snapped by Ducks: 1.

At this pace, the Ducks will play .500 hockey for the last 28 games of the regular season; Teemu Selanne will eclipse Chad Kilger's Mighty Duck goal total by next Wednesday; Selanne will record his 50th goal of the season on April 8; Ron Wilson will record his 500th "Thank you, Jack" of the season on April 10; the Ducks will clinch the playoffs on April 12; and in the Stanley Cup finals, the Ducks will sweep the New Jersey Devils, four games to none.

As for the other half of the trade, new Winnipeg residents Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky, personal bests in trashing their former coach have already been established. These kids today. As soon as they leave the country, they forget all respect for their elders and begin attacking Wilson for not being patient with young players.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

Selanne is 25, Paul Kariya is 21 and I have a feeling Wilson will be very, very patient with both of them.

Selanne scored 20 minutes 47 seconds into his Mighty Duck career. On a team that used to go more than a week between goals, this is akin to a UFO sighting in the Pond parking lot.

Among Ducks, Selanne undeniably qualifies as an alien presence. When, in the annals of sport, has something so big and so purple moved so fast? Kariya is quick, but he's a gnat on the ice. When Kariya collides with an opposing defenseman, Todd Ewen hops over the boards and starts dropping gloves. Selanne is just as swift, a blur down the right flank, but when he runs into a defenseman, he plows him over and sends him to the trainer's room, as he did Saturday against the Islanders.

Selanne also possesses the very un-Duck-like ability to create something out of nothing. Take his first goal as a Duck--Saturday, Feb. 10, 1996, Uniondale, N.Y. The buildup was something we have seen a million times: Duck defenseman clears out the puck with a well-intentioned long feed that, of course, is intercepted by the opposition at the red line.

This time, Islander Dan Plante gets his stick on the puck, but fails to control it. He deflects it toward the right boards, seemingly out of harm's path. A blink later, Selanne swoops in to tap the puck to teammate Steve Rucchin, who, thinking quickly, taps the puck back to Selanne.

Selanne cuts a sharp diagonal toward the right post and pounds a shot into the pads of Islander goalie Eric Fichaud. Fichaud blocks the puck, but can't hold it.

Rebound, Selanne.

Score, Selanne.

It was a rousing start for Selanne, bringing the Ducks even with the Islanders at 1-1 early in the second period. Unfortunately for Wilson, it failed to inspire Duck defenders to back-check, stay with their men and clean out the crease. Within 12 minutes of Selanne's goal, the Ducks trailed, 4-1, and unless Selanne could bring forth a hat trick, the Ducks were going down to defeat.

He didn't, so the Ducks did, 4-3.

Sunday in New Jersey, Selanne played again and scored again. This goal was not absolutely necessary (the Ducks were leading, 3-2, in the final minute) and, stylistically, it won't crack the Teemu Top 100 (long skimmer into an empty net), but it was an indication that things will be different with him around.

As is their custom with one-goal leads on the road, the Ducks were clinging on for dear life. The Devils had scored once late in the third period, were whizzing pucks past both of Guy Hebert's ears, and the Ducks, unable to blunt the assault long enough to change lines, were withering on defense.

Finally, the puck is poked out of danger, if only for a moment. Selanne collects it calmly along the right boards, glances over his shoulder, sidesteps two Devils and creates an opening to fire the puck across two lines into the vacated net.

From the brink of a 3-3 tie and the despair of overtime to a looks-great-in-the-papers 4-2 triumph that ended the Devils' unbeaten streak at eight games--in case anyone was still wondering, that is what Selanne means to the Ducks.

At this pace, the adults at Duck home games could conceivably one day outnumber the children.

The kids still have Wild Wing, and will have him, in some bedraggled shape or form, for years to come.

The klutz with the smoldering feathers is for them.

Teemu, finally, is something for the grown-ups.

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