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His Happiest Place on Earth

After 41/2 years away, Teemu Selanne returns to Ducks and recaptures his game

January 04, 2006|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Through good times and bad -- and he's seen his share of both over his NHL career -- it is only a matter of time before Teemu Selanne has a smile on his face.

Little gets the affable Mighty Duck forward down, and whatever does rarely keeps him down for long. Even if it's one of the more embarrassing moments he's had on the ice. "There's no use in being negative," said Selanne, who two days before had put the puck in his own net and so gave the Columbus Blue Jackets a 1-0 victory over the Ducks. "It takes too much out of you. Positive energy can help you so much.

"Besides, I just love coming to the rink."

These days, Selanne is simply enjoying hockey again. The decision to return to the Ducks -- after a 4 1/2 -year sabbatical that took him through San Jose and Colorado -- has brought him nothing but happiness.

Being 35 years of age with a surgically repaired left knee would ordinarily be a bad combination for a hockey player whose game is built on speed. Instead, Selanne is showing that he still has some horsepower left in his engine.

The right wing is again the high-scoring threat who dominated the NHL for more than a decade, as he leads the Ducks with 18 goals and 33 points. The seven-time All-Star has evoked images of the freewheeling fan favorite who helped legitimize the franchise during his first stop in Anaheim, which lasted 5 1/2 years.

You can go home again.

"I'm just so excited about hockey again," Selanne said. "I'd say it would work somewhere else, but with the Ducks, we have a home here and my family thinks it's great. Anaheim has always been a happy place for me."

Selanne's offensive production carried the reconstituted Ducks early and kept them afloat as they have battled though inconsistency this season. His scoring was especially crucial while the Ducks had an injured Sergei Fedorov, who played in only five games before being traded Nov. 15.

"It's very important," captain Scott Niedermayer said of the 13-year veteran's contribution. "He's obviously been around and has scored a lot of goals. Teams are going to give him attention, and that's going to maybe free up other guys and let us do other things.

"He's a threat. He wants the puck, and he wants the opportunity to score."

General Manager Brian Burke signed him to a one-year, $1-million contract in August after Selanne had expressed a desire to return to the area and jump-start his career in a comfortable setting. Despite being traded to the San Jose Sharks in 2001, Selanne hung on to his home in the exclusive Orange County enclave of Coto de Caza.

The fact that he was coming off major knee surgery last summer did not deter Burke. The thought was that if Selanne returned to health, he would provide offensive depth in new Coach Randy Carlyle's attacking system and possibly benefit from the league's crackdown on obstruction.

The Ducks are getting more than they expected.

"He certainly has that look in his eye," St. Louis center Doug Weight said. "Around the net, he's looking for the puck and shooting everything. With his talent, with his hunger and with these new rules, I think he's realizing that he still has a lot to offer in this game."

At his current pace, Selanne would finish with 40 goals and 71 points. It would be the most goals he has scored in a season since leading the NHL with 47 in 1998-99 and the most points since 1999-2000 when he totaled 85 points.

The numbers would surpass anything that he has done since going to San Jose. With nearly half the season completed, he has already surpassed his career-low totals of 16 goals and 32 points in the 2003-04 season with the Avalanche.

"I know that he's a proud guy," Burke said. "He didn't want that last season in Colorado to be his last NHL year. I thought he'd bounce back."

Selanne had to meet only one mandate with the new coach: Deliver an all-around game. As long as he did that, he would have an opportunity to play on a scoring line, which has happened with Selanne teaming up with Andy McDonald and Petr Sykora.

"The one thing is, he has worked extremely hard here and you cannot say that he hasn't given us an honest effort every night," Carlyle said. "One of the conversations we had was that he wasn't going to be just a scorer. He's got to be a complete player.

"For us to have success and for him to be part of that and fit into what we're trying to build, when it's time for him to be first on the backcheck, he has to be first. When it's time for him to be first on the forecheck, he has to do that. If he did those things, we felt we could provide him with an opportunity to get back to where he was as a player."

But there has been a bonus. Selanne's ebullient personality has rubbed off in the locker room. While the Ducks endured an eight-game losing streak in November that nearly wiped out their high hopes, the Finland native unfailingly held to the belief that the Ducks would turn it around.

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