VANCOUVER – Age is only a number – at least for Finns on the Anaheim Ducks. That was the story on opening night in the NHL, as Teemu Selänne’s four points led the visiting Ducks to a 7-3 romp over the Vancouver Canucks on January 19.
With typical Finnish modesty, the 42-year-old winger said: “Physically I feel great, but I know I need at least four or five games to get my legs back. To be honest, I can’t wait till I start feeling good, because it’s going to be way more fun than this.”
“If you can have an off night and have four points, that’s pretty good,” Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf said with a smile of the Finnish Flash’s two goals and two assists.
When informed that he was temporarily tied for the NHL scoring lead with Czech legend Jaromir Jagr of the Dallas Stars, as if it were still the 1990s, Selänne chuckled: “Really? That’s a surprise! Way to go, old boys! I’m happy for Jagr. I’ve played against him since probably 1986 on the junior national teams.”
Selänne’s fellow Finnish national team hero Saku Koivu also shone, setting up two nice Daniel Winnik goals.
Three out of Anaheim’s four oldest players are Finns: Selänne, Koivu (38), and Toni Lydman (35). While Lydman was packing up his gear in the dressing room, 36-year-old Sheldon Souray quipped: “You looked like the young Toni Lydman out there.” Lydman was +2 and chipped in an assist.
That’s a lot of veteran Suomi talent in one spot, considering that only 20-odd Finns have been NHL regulars in any given year recently. (It is a slight reduction for Anaheim in that Niklas Hagman was also there in 2011-12 before the 33-year-old moved to the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl this season. That said, blueline prospect Sami Vatanen will likely suit up for the Ducks in 2013.)
Will this be the final NHL hurrah for Selänne, Koivu, and Lydman? Or will we see them not only continuing their pro careers beyond this season, but perhaps even representing their native country at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Helsinki and the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia?
None of the three has an NHL contract beyond this season, which naturally prompts speculation about their future.
"I still feel that I have something to give and that I can still play on this high level," Selänne said when announcing his return for another season back in July. Considering he passed Dale Hawerchuk for 18th place in all-time NHL scoring (1,410 points) in his first 2013 game and became the first 42-year-old to tally four points in one outing since Gordie Howe in 1971, he wasn’t kidding.
Both physical fitness and mental drive determine whether aging pros can carry on. In terms of durability, all three Finns are looking good.
Selänne played all 82 games last year while recording a team-best 66 points.
“Teemu, it doesn’t matter how old he is,” said Koivu. “Everybody keeps talking about that, but he keeps pushing himself. He’s very dangerous around the net, like we all know.”
Koivu has missed just 15 games in the last two seasons, although his production has gradually declined. The playmaking centre’s 38 points last year were the least he’s recorded in a full NHL campaign.
Lydman took a while to recover from off-season shoulder surgery back in May, but still suited up for 74 games in 2011-12. He may have gone goalless for the first time in his NHL career, and fell from a team-best +32 plus-minus rating in 2010-11 to merely even last year, but was still a solid presence on the Ducks blueline.
Barring injury or a huge drop in performance, each of these men would be welcomed by Finnish national team general manager Jari Kurri at the Worlds and Olympics.
It would be particularly hard for this small Nordic nation to replace the scoring of Selänne and Koivu, regardless of how the likes of Koivu’s younger brother Mikko, Valtteri Filppula, and Mikael Granlund are doing.
But equally important are the leadership and experience that the two Anaheim assistant captains and Lydman bring to the table.
With 37 career Olympic points, Selänne is the all-time scoring leader in Winter Games history. If he suits up in Sochi, he’ll tie fellow Finn Raimo Helminen’s record for the most Olympics for a hockey player (six). The Helsinki native previously played in 1992 (Albertville), 1998 (Nagano), 2002 (Salt Lake City), 2006 (Turin), and 2010 (Vancouver), amassing one silver medal and two bronzes.
Sochi would be Koivu’s fifth Olympics. He’s been an athlete member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 2006. His Olympic medal record matches that of Selänne, but he also has a bronze from Lillehammer (1994).
While Koivu has four World Championship medals (including gold from 1995) to Selänne’s two, Lydman’s only IIHF hardware comes from the Olympics: silver (2006) and bronze (2010).
Is it too early to start speculating about the Finnish national team’s makeup? Well, the first World Championship puck drops in Helsinki in less than four months. And it’s just over a year until the opening Olympic faceoff in Sochi. The international evaluations are already underway.