Last night just might have been Teemu Selanne‘s last hockey game in Anaheim.
Problem is, it didn’t take place at the Honda Center in front of 17,000 fans. Instead, it was a few miles away at Anaheim Ice – where the Ducks normally conduct their in-season practices.
With the NHL locked out though, over a dozen NHL players were playing in a game for charity. Two squads, made up primarily from the LA Kings (Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis, Dustin Penner, etc) and Anaheim Ducks (Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonas Hiller, etc) thrilled the sold out crowd with bunches of goals.
When it was over and the players returned to the locker room, Selanne sat there – soaking in every last minute with his teammates – and the elephant in the room was omnipresent.
He’s already made it clear that he’s not likely to return if the current battle between the NHL and NHLPA forces a cancellation of the entire season.
So, at 42 years old, playing another game in Anaheim isn’t guaranteed.
Having already been through similar drama in 1994-95 and again in 2004-05, Selanne isn’t sure if he could physically and mentally ramp back up again after taking a year off. But not only is he dealing with what it might mean for him personally, he’s also been processing how the work stoppage is damaging the game’s popularity.
“A lot of our cities are going to be hurt,” said Selanne. “They’ll need so much work to get hockey at the same level that it was before in many, many cities. This is really something we never wanted to face again. But it is what it is. Obviously we just have to try to stay optimistic and hope for the best, but at the same time I’m expecting the worst.”
While it’s nearly impossible to be around NHLPA members these days and not talk about the lockout, last night was about something more important for most of the guys involved.
“Anytime you can help some people it’s a very important thing for us, especially CHOC hospital,” Selanne explained. “You feel good when you can help people who really need some help. Playing a game and raising money for a good cause is priceless.”
He also enjoyed it quite a bit, even if it wasn’t up the standards he’s used to for a mid-December game.
“Obviously, even though I’ve been skating three, four, five times a week, getting this crowd to come watch our scrimmage was so much fun,” he explained. “I’m so happy so many people came even with the bad weather and stuff and how terrible the traffic can be here. I’m so happy people found this event.”
Although NHL fans still seem to carry a lot of anger over the lockout – and rightfully so – Selanne sounded like somebody who’s a little more at peace with where things stand at the moment.
“I’ve been able to spend more time with my family, my boys hockey and my daughter’s hobbies also,” he said, as he explained what he’s been doing to keep busy lately. “To be honest, I’ve been enjoying this time.”
Just don’t think for a minute that he wouldn’t rather be on the ice though, going the grind of his 21st NHL season.
“I would rather play hockey right now because that would be in our schedule, but it’s impossible. So, I’m really taking advantage of this time with my family and their hobbies which I’m not normally able to do at this time (of year).”
After 1,341 games played and 663 goals scored, it’s hard to image that Selanne’s wonderful career might have come to an end in a front of a few hundred people watching hockey in a modern-day barn next to a Jack-in-the-Box at a strip mall in Anaheim. But, hey, not many legends go out with a true storybook ending.
[UPDATE: Full photo gallery from the charity game is now available. Click here to view.]
– Special thanks to Amy Gist of Gongshow Gear for assisting with this article –