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Bond between Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri endures

Selanne is poised to pass Kurri on the NHL’s career goals list, and the Ducks forward’s childhood idol is cheering him on.

March 28, 2010|By Robyn Norwood

Teemu Selanne was a teenager who already had a need for speed when he first got to know Jari Kurri, the first great Finnish NHL star.

"I remember he was really interested in my car," said Kurri, who handed the keys to his Saab to the 17-year-old phenom who was helping out with his hockey school in Finland. "I was kind of worried. I said, ‘Take it easy with that car. Don't spoil my tires.' "

Selanne, a racing enthusiast, laughed at the memory.

"I said, ‘Jari, can I borrow the car? I'll be right back,' " Selanne said. "I didn't have a driver's license yet. You have to be 18. But I was already driving and racing cars on private roads."

The car returned intact, but Kurri's place on the NHL's career goals list remains to be seen.

Kurri, 49, now Selanne's close friend and his teammate for one season with the Ducks in 1996-97, is in Anaheim after flying from Finland to honor Selanne's 600th NHL goal in a ceremony before the Ducks play Dallas on Monday night at the Honda Center.

After the tribute, Selanne, 39, will try to put the pedal down and pass Kurri's career total of 601 goals, 17th in NHL history, with his role model in the stands.

"Six hundred was by far the bigger goal — 601 or 606 doesn't really matter — but if you can pass your idol, that would be very special," Selanne said, calling Kurri's decision to make the long trip and his enthusiasm for the milestone "awesome."

"I'm so happy for him," said Kurri, a Hockey Hall of Famer who last month served as the general manager for Finland in Selanne's fifth Olympic Games. "Why wouldn't I be happy for him? It's great."

As a youngster, Selanne had a picture of Kurri and Wayne Gretzky on his bedroom wall. He wore a replica of Kurri's No. 17 Edmonton Oilers jersey so often that, one year, he posed for a school picture in it.

"I've learned a lot from him," Selanne said. "Things like how smart he was out there, the decisions he made about where he found the open spots and also where he shoots," Selanne said. "His release and his shot, they were deadly."

One lesson he might have skipped: defense.

"You know what? I forgot that part," Selanne said, laughing. "Defensively, he took a lot of responsibility, obviously, playing with Wayne. … What a career he had. Unbelievable."

Kurri has five Stanley Cup rings to Selanne's one, but Selanne has been the more productive player after age 35. His career, which began with 76 goals — a record for an NHL rookie — in 1992-93, appeared to be in decline after he scored 16 goals, a career low for a full season, with Colorado in 2003-04.

"I went through the same situation and retired very quick," Kurri said. "He had a different mission."

The NHL skipped the 2004-05 season because of a labor dispute. Selanne had knee surgery and signed a modest one-year contract to return to the Ducks. He scored 40 goals in 2005-06 and 48 the season after that, helping the Ducks to the Stanley Cup championship in 2007.

"It didn't just happen," Kurri said. "He lost a lot of weight and worked very hard.

"Those years left him so much angry. He knew he could still play and do well. That was his motivation.

"He's in great shape. He still is. It's not easy. I don't think anybody knows all he does."

It is partly the work required to stay on top of his game at almost 40 that makes Selanne think this might be his final season.

Some days, he said, he tells himself, "That's it. It's too hard to get ready and prepare.

"Next day, I feel, 'Why I should retire? This is so much fun.' "

This season has been more difficult because of injuries. A broken hand, a broken jaw and a brief illness cost him 26 games.

Even so, Selanne has 21 goals — a 35-goal pace over a full season — and the speed that earned him the nickname "the Finnish Flash" is still there.

"That's why I'm still here. I'm healthy. I feel good, and I'm just having so much fun," Selanne said. "I can have passion for the game. I know I can play and compete with guys."

Selanne predicted that he will take at least a couple of weeks to make a decision after the Ducks' season ends.

Kurri seems to suspect that retirement is near.

"It sounds like it's not going to be hard," Kurri said. "He feels like he has given everything. Sometimes, you know yourself, the situation."

They will have at least one more moment together on the public stage Monday night. Privately, there figure to be many more. In town for the ceremony, Kurri was to sleep Sunday night at the home Selanne and his wife, Sirpa, share with their four children.

"I'll try to find some corner for him," Selanne joked. "I'll kick one of my boys to the floor."

robynnorwood@verizon.net

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