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Teemu Selanne keeps the fun in the game

Whether he's firing up teammates or chiding referees, the Ducks' senior star just loves hockey. Oh, and he can still score.

April 12, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne may be the team's all-time leading scorer, but the 40-year-old the Finnish standout also brings a lot of character to the Ducks' dressing room.
Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne may be the team's all-time leading… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S.…)

Teemu Selanne charmed a media throng, while teammates handled a post-practice meal Monday.

He strolled through the Ducks' lobby, stopping to chat with those working the front desk.

He stepped into the Southern California sun, where more than a dozen fans waited, ranging from a 5-year-old boy to a woman in her 60s, who squealed, "Teemu!" In the group, pen and camera ready, was Karl Hedlin, a 59-year-old man wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey who came from Edmonton to see Selanne.

"Teemu, he's a great player," Hedlin said as Selanne signed and posed until everyone was satisfied. "But he is a better person."

Put that on the plaque in the Hall of Fame whenever Selanne finally decides to call it quits.

Kings and Ducks coaches are two quick reads

The Ducks may have a Hart Trophy candidate in Corey Perry, but the team's heart is a 40-year-old man with a Tom Sawyer-ish quality —a mixture of camaraderie and mischief, which is valued as much as his 31 goals this season, bringing his career total to 637.

"I always talk to younger guys about our love of hockey compared to the real world," Selanne said. "There are people who have jobs. We get to have fun."

And that keeps Selanne playing when there seems nothing left to achieve but joy, whether that's bantering with teammates or the occasional chiding of referees.

"Whenever there is a bad call, you know he is going to put his two cents in," Ducks forward Bobby Ryan said.

During a game last season, Selanne asked a referee, "How much do you make? How about I buy you out and don't have to see you again," a line he delivered with the usual grin.

The talk about referee patter makes Selanne chuckle nervously — "Sometimes you get frustrated and you can't yell at teammates."

But, he said, the bottom line is, "I want this room to be a happy place for everybody."

That has a trickle-down effect.

Perry, Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf are the spotlight trio who pushed the Ducks into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Selanne claims, "They don't need any help from me." Ryan disagrees, saying, "We all pick his brain."

It can be tricky terrain.

What rolls out of Selanne's mouth always has tape recorders poised. A Finnish film crew followed him around last week, prompting Selanne to say, "I feel like Kim Kardashian. I'm keeping up with the Kardashians."

At times, there is purpose to his hockey shtick.

After a game in 2001, then-San Jose Sharks Coach Darryl Sutter was irritated and reportedly told the recently acquired Selanne, "You can drive your Ferrari back to Anaheim." Selanne defused the situation by admonishing the media, "He said, 'drive my Porsche back to Anaheim.' Besides, my new Porsche isn't ready yet. It's still in Finland."

Other times, there is just stream of consciousness, like the December day after practice years ago when he said, "You know that Santa Claus is from Finland. It's true, look it up."

Selanne said that his outlook, often offbeat, is a product of his upbringing by "parents who were positive and raised us to treat people like we wanted to be treated." As a result, "the fun he has at the rink, that's even more present than his goals," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said.

Others watch and learn.

"You see how he carries himself and if you don't try to replicate it, there is something wrong with you," Ryan said.

Exhibit A was Paul Kariya, who was as guarded as he was talented before Selanne came to the Ducks the first time in 1996. "When I saw him the first time, my goal was to get him to enjoy life," Selanne said.

Selanne's tutoring included the day he asked to test-drive Kariya's new sedan around the arena's empty parking lot. He did several doughnuts and, "I was never allowed to drive Paul's car again."

But the payoff came last summer, when Kariya told Selanne he was going to buy a sports car.

"I said, 'Paul, you are now officially a normal guy,' " Selanne said.

Of course, the give-and-take often makes Selanne an open target for boys-will-be-boys teammates. His fight with the Kings' Brad Richardson on Saturday was still being kicked around Monday.

"Getz and I were talking about getting out the Beta and VHS tapes the other night to see his last hit," Perry said jokingly of Selanne. "Then he goes out and fights somebody."

Yet, when Selanne was out injured last season, the strategy list on the chalk board before one game started with, "win for Teemu."

Said Selanne: "I don't think I could ever be an individual athlete, playing an individual sport, because this feeds me. It would be easy to look out for yourself, but your spirit has to be with the team. It's not about you."

chris.foster@latimes.com

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