Selanne teaches us a lesson
Before he was the "Finnish Flash," Teemu Selanne was a school teacher who dreamed of playing professional hockey.
In this edition of Facing Off, one of the NHL's craftiest snipers tells David Amber why he's not a threat to Brad Pitt's sexiest man alive title, where he came up with the nickname for best friend Paul Kariya and how he ruined his twin brother's hockey career.
Question from David Amber: Before you came to the NHL, you taught kindergarten for three years. How did that happen?
Answer from Teemu Selanne: When I started with the Army Service in Finland, I didn't want to start studying for a little while. So I thought it was a good idea to start working in the kindergarten. It was a fun time. We played all sorts of games. I wasn't a tough teacher. I tried to be a fun teacher.
Q: What was the worst thing about teaching six-year-olds?
|Fast Facts -- Teemu Selanne|
• Set an NHL record by scoring 76 goals as a rookie in 1992-93.
• In 1999, he won the inaugural Maurice "The Rocket" Richard Trophy, awarded to the top goal scorer.
• He has represented Finland at the World Junior Championships, World Championships (four times), the Winter Olympics (four times) and the World Cup (two times).
• On Jan. 30, 2006, he became the 70th player and seventh European player to record 1,000 points in the NHL.
• He was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2006.
• A six-time 40-goal scorer in the NHL.
• Teemu and his wife, Sirpa, have three sons (Eemil, Eetu and Leevi).
A: There wasn't anything really bad. Six-year-olds have a lot of energy, so you have to make sure they always have activities planned, because when that energy goes to the wrong spot, it's a disaster [laughs]. But everything went smoothly. We played a lot of sports, it was great.
Q: You started your NHL career playing in Winnipeg, but you have spent most of your career in California. What do you like better, playing in a traditional hockey town, or playing in a city where you can wear shorts in the middle of January?
A: I was so lucky because I started my career in a place where hockey is a religion. Winnipeg has such loyal fans, it was a cool experience. The fans there live the sport with you. It was the same back in Finland. Right now, living in a place where people don't recognize you when you go to the movies, I like that, too, because you can feel like a normal person. Sometimes in Canada or back home in Finland, when you feel like just being a normal guy, it's impossible to do.
Q: It must be hard to live a normal life when you're selected as the sexiest man in Finland. A Finnish magazine Eeva gave you that distinction. So are you the Brad Pitt of Finland?
A: [Laughs.] Oh no, no, no, no. I don't know what I am. Obviously in Finland, there aren't so many big stars, so [the media] tries to always make big stories of everything. I'm no Brad Pitt [laughs].
Q: You have a twin brother, Paavo. How competitive were the two of you as kids?
A: You know, it was pretty tough. When we played sports, he was usually a goalie, so we never had to compete on the ice or soccer field. I was always quicker and faster. He was always bigger and stronger. He was a pretty good goalie, but I always joke that I took his confidence because I scored on him so much. Then, when I came to the NHL, he said to me, "I was stupid. I thought I couldn't stop the puck, but now I see you score on everyone else, too. Maybe I wasn't that bad after all." [Laughs.]
Q: You ruined his career!
A: I know. [Laughs.] Don't worry, he's doing OK. He's a school teacher back home, so he is happy, too. He never had the same drive and that fire in his eyes that I had. It was fun for him, but his passion wasn't there.
Q: I read he was actually a pretty big field hockey star?
A: Yeah, after he stopped playing hockey, he started playing field hockey as a goalie and they won all sorts of European championships and seven or eight Finnish championships. So, he always tells me he has more Finnish championships than I do.
Q: True, but you almost had an Olympic gold medal. For hockey fans in North America, explain what the rivalry is like between Sweden and Finland?
A: It goes way back. I think individually Finns and Swedes always have been really good friends and get along well, but as countries, there is a huge rivalry. We always think that Swedes are luckier than us, and we have the bad luck. So, it is pretty intense in sports.
Q: So, what was that Olympic gold-medal game against Sweden like for you?
A: I was really disappointed to lose, but what can you do? We played our best. What a tournament we played; it was an unbelievable feeling, we were really a team. That was the only game we lost. We shut out Canada, we shut out Russia. Finnish hockey is always the underdog in international tournaments, but we got to the final at the World Cup and the Olympics, so I think people are starting to realize that there are a lot of good hockey programs and good players in Finland.
Q: What do you remember most from that magical rookie season you had?
A: Just about how hungry I was and how badly I wanted to prove myself to everyone. The whole year was unbelievable, my teammates were great. Phil Housley and those guys made such great passes to me, it was like a snowball going downhill, things just kept getting bigger and bigger. I didn't realize what I was doing until the season was over.
Q: Why didn't you get more attention as a rookie, even though you scored 76 goals in your first season?
A: I think, first of all, when I was a rookie, there were so many other guys who were in the spotlight. Eric Lindros was a rookie, too, and the media was following him, not me. Joe Juneau was also a great rookie getting lots of attention. So, I think people didn't recognize right away what I was doing. Obviously, when I came into the league, not that many people knew who I was, and that was perfect; I didn't have to worry about coming into the league and doing anything, it helped a lot.
Q: Who is your best friend in the NHL?
A: [Pauses.] I think Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya are my best buddies. Of course, many of my teammates are good friends, too. But if you don't count those guys, then Joe and Paul.
Q: What is something you know about Paul Kariya that the fans should know?
A: There are lots of things, but I don't know what I should say [laughs]. I'm just glad Paul has found some hobbies. He is a die-hard surfing fan and Texas Hold'em fan. Those are the two things he is definitely passionate about. I think it's great, because it used to be all about hockey for him.
Q: Is he a pretty good poker player?
A: Actually, he is pretty good, yeah. If you ask him, [he'd say] he is the best, but I would say he is pretty good.
Q: You have lost money to him, I guess?
A: Yeah some, but I have taken his money, too [laughs].
Q: Who gave you the nickname the "Finnish Flash"?
A: I think it was the media in Winnipeg. Ken Campbell was writing for the Winnipeg Free Press and I think he gave me the nickname.
Q: Here's your chance to create a nickname. What should we call Paul Kariya?
A: I call him 9-iron [laughs]. I was No. 8, so they started calling me 8-ball. Paul was 9, so I started calling him 9-iron. I thought it was so funny. So that's his nickname, 9-iron.
Q: You're closing in on 500 goals. What will that milestone mean to you? How will you celebrate?
A: I haven't really thought about that too much. I'm not a huge numbers guy. But when my career is over, I'm sure I will look back at it and that's when I'll appreciate it. Obviously, 500 goals or 1,000 games or 1,000 points, those are the milestones that are very special, so it will feel great when it happens, but it has never been my ultimate goal.
Q: Of all the goals you've already scored, which one stands out as the most memorable?
A: I think when I broke Mike Bossy's rookie record with my 54th goal. That was really, really special. But hopefully the biggest goal for me is still coming.
A: [Pauses.] They're both so good. They're both so smart. They play totally different styles, but they are both smart. Beating either of these guys one-on-one is tough because they are always in position. Pronger has a huge reach and maybe Scotty is a little better skater, but with Pronger's positioning and his reach and smartness, it's very tough to go around him. And Scotty can go as fast skating backwards as most guys going forward. We are lucky to have both because those guys are No. 1 and No. 2 in the league. Again, who's better? It's like comparing apples and oranges. It's just whatever you like. They both get their job done and that's what really matters.
Q: How do you respond to those experts who have picked the Ducks to win the Stanley Cup this year?
A: You know, that's the one thing I don't worry about. It doesn't mean anything. We are excited about our team, but I haven't heard one guy talk about that in the dressing room this year, I think it's more the media. We know we had a good season last year and we could do better this year. I'm glad to hear it, but it doesn't mean anything to me.
Q: Aside from the Ducks, is there another team you could pick as a team to keep an eye on this season?
A: In our conference, I would say San Jose is a really, really strong team. But what I love about the NHL right now is that if you look back over the last three or four years, who could have predicted the teams that met in the final? Who would have picked Edmonton and Carolina last year? If you said that before last season, everyone would have thought you're crazy. But you never know and that's why I love the game.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.