THN in Sochi: Teemu Selanne’s brilliance shines once more on Olympic stage

In what was surely his last Olympic hockey game, Teemu Selanne scored twice and led Finland to its fourth medal in five Games. In fact, for a lot of Finnish players, it was the end of an era.

SOCHI – The danger in setting a goal of winning something just for one guy is that sometimes you get so focused on the challenge that you forget there are a bunch of other guys on the team as well. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche. They traded for Ray Bourque in 2000 and put so much pressure on themselves to win the Cup that they lost. But they managed to win it the next year, as much for themselves as they did for Bourque.

That danger existed for Finland. Because their captain, Teemu Selanne, is so universally loved, everyone short of the American team was looking for the storybook ending. That can create an awful lot of undue pressure. But none to worry, the storybook ending unfolded. And the best thing about it was that it wasn’t because Selanne rode the coattails of his teammates. In true Selanne form, he was as big a part of his team’s 5-0 win over USA as anyone.

Not only did Selanne give a memorable, inspirational speech to his teammates before the game, he went out and scored the 86th and 87th goals of his international career for his country. It was a truly special ending for a player who deserved it. Not many athletes get to leave the game with that kind of send-off, but Selanne wanted it and made it happen himself. Among forwards for the Finns, only Lauri Korpikoski logged more ice time than Selanne did.

This is not the last we will ever see of Teemu Selanne. But it is the last we will probably see of his brilliance. This is his last season in the NHL and truth be told, things are not exactly going all that great at the NHL level. Selanne’s role with the Anaheim Ducks has been minimal this season and if you read between the lines, the proud Selanne doesn’t sound too thrilled about it. There is speculation that if the talented Ducks go deep into the playoffs, Selanne’s role will be even further reduced.

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When asked whether his performance in the Olympics, 4-2-6 in six games, might be the springboard he needs when he gets back to Anaheim, his response was telling.

“You need the tools,” he said. “We have a great team in Anaheim and my role has been getting smaller and smaller, which is kind of disappointing. But I’m not complaining at all. I’m just trying to do what I can control and play well when I have the chance. I’m so thankful that our coaching staff believed in me. I came here and I had a chance to play on the first line, first power play and I know I can do it.”

Does that sound to you like someone who’s happy about the way he’s being deployed in the NHL?

But this was not a night for controversy. It was a night to celebrate one of the greatest talents and most enduring gentlemen the game has ever known. And it was a night to marvel at the way a 43-year-old could summon another spectacular performance out of his aging body. Sami Salo, Kimmo Timonen and Olli Jokinen were almost certainly playing their last games for Finland as well. All have been wonderful, terrific players for their home country. But there is only one Selanne.

“He was my idol when I was growing up,” Jussi Jokinen said. “He is just a great human being, great hockey player and great leader. Everyone on this team is honored to play with him in his last Olympics and win a medal with him.”