TAMPA — The Finnish Flash burst on to the NHL scene at the age of 22 with the Winnipeg Jets.
Teemu Selanne was a brash rookie in 1992-93 who made a name for himself with his goal celebration, tossing his glove into the air and using his stick as a makeshift rifle while “shooting’’ the glove out of the air when he would register a hat trick.
Oh, and those 76 goals he scored as a rookie didn’t hurt either, an NHL rookie record that still stands, and perhaps may never be broken.
More than 21 years later, Selanne continues to amaze even at the age of 43 as one of the top offensive talents in NHL history.
Tonight the future Hall of Famer comes to the Forum for what figures to be his final visit when the Anaheim Ducks play the Tampa Bay Lightning for the only scheduled time this year. When Selanne announced over the summer he was returning for one more year, he also said it would be his final season.
Selanne enters tonight ranked 11th on the NHL all-time goals list (678), 15th all time in points (1,437), third in power-play goals (252), sixth in all-time game-winning goals (108) and 40th all-time in assists (759). He is one of only three European players to appear in at least 1,400 games, joining Jaromir Jagr and Nicklas Lidstrom.
“He’s always been one of the great players and to get the chance to play against him, and when I came into the league you didn’t know how many more years he was going to play, was pretty cool,’’ said injured Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who will miss both of Tampa Bay’s meetings with Anaheim as he recovers from a broken leg. “I actually have a signed stick from him, which is something I wanted to do, get some of that stuff from future Hall of Famers and other unbelievable players you watched as a kid. So to be able to get a stick from him not knowing how many years he had left, and obviously he had a ton, and he could probably keep playing. So it’s pretty special to see what he has done at his age.’’
To a pre-teen Valtteri Filppula growing up in Finland during the early to mid-1990s, Selanne was a national hero. Without the same sort of access to viewing NHL games back then as there is now, Filppula remembers having to wait to see highlights on television to see what sort of a show Selanne was putting on in North America.
“He is one of the players I grew up watching, and now we have a hockey camp together in the summer, so it’s nice to still be able to get the chance to play against him,’’ Filppula said. “For people my age, he has to be the No. 1 guy (Finnish kids idolized). It’s tough to put in words because he’s had an amazing career.’’
It was at a hockey school in Finland when Filppula first had the opportunity to meet Selanne. Filppula was not into many collectibles, so there were no posters or trading cards floating around his bedroom. But somewhere, there was an autograph he received from that day Selanne came to visit.
“That was big. You really cherish those moments when you are a kid,’’ Filppula said. “That was definitely a highlight of my year at that time.’’
In addition to the mark he has set in the NHL, Selanne has been a mainstay with the Finnish national team, appearing in five Olympics (1992, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010), two World Cups and four World Championships. He will likely land a spot on the 2014 Olympic team in Sochi, Russia, in February as well.
“I don’t think there are enough words to say what he has meant to Finnish national hockey. He’s basically been the face of the national team for so long,’’ said Lightning defenseman Sami Salo, who played alongside Selanne on many of those international events. “He’s done so much with the talent he has, and to play in 1,400 games, it’s just remarkable.’’