Selanne, Penguins kindred spirits
Teemu Selanne played in Pittsburgh for only the 12th time on Monday when his Ducks took on the Penguins.
But in some ways, Selanne and the Penguins have always been on the same team.
The Penguins have long promoted star power and the skilled, offensive facets of hockey in a league that is growing increasingly defensive.
From afar, Selanne has noticed.
“I respect the Penguins and what they do so much,” said Selanne, playing his 22nd NHL season, 15 of them in Anaheim.
“The Penguins have always done things the right way, and have always played the game the right way. Beautiful hockey.”
Selanne entered the NHL in 1992 and produced one of the great rookie seasons in the history of professional sports, registering 76 goals with the Winnipeg Jets.
During that season, Mario Lemieux authored one of his virtuoso seasons — despite missing two months because of cancer treatments, he recorded 160 points in 60 games — in what was a different time.
NHL games averaged 7.25 goals per contest that season. Now, games barely average five goals, and Selanne misses those days. He has long appreciated the Penguins' desire to win championships with an offensive-lead attack.
“Very much so,” he said. “I have always loved watching the Penguins play and watching the way they do things. In my time, in fact, they've always had the best players in the league. They've always had great players. It's really too bad we don't get to play against them more often.”
Selanne only played against Lemieux a handful of times, but cherishes those memories.
His Winnipeg Jets lost at the Civic Arena in 1992 when Selanne and Lemieux – and another hockey great, Jaromir Jagr – shared the ice for the first time. Selanne and Lemieux each scored that night.
“I was almost a fan watching him that night,” Selanne said.
“It was fun. It was an honor playing against him.”
Now, it's an honor for other NHL players to take on Selanne, who entered Monday's game with 678 career goals.
His countryman, Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, wasn't born when Selanne introduced himself to the NHL in style.
But playing against the Finnish legend will be quite a thrill.
“Everybody grew up in Finland admiring him,” Maatta said. “He's one of our most famous people ever. It's cool for me.”
Playing against Selanne, it seems, is cool for everyone.
“Maybe you're not in as much awe playing him as when you're younger,” Crosby said.
“But I definitely have a lot of respect for what he's done and what he continues to do.”
At 43, Selanne has hinted that this will be his final season.
Barring a meeting in the Stanley Cup Final between the Penguins and Ducks, this likely is his final trip to Consol Energy Center.
“It's getting harder and harder for me to play in this league,” Selanne said. “The recovery time is longer. But I still love the game, still have a passion for the game.”