Teemu Selanne probably wondered if this day would ever come, and now, after 21 years, he has played in his final regular season game. The Anaheim Ducks star and Hall of Fame shoe-in made his final regular season appearance before a standing room only Honda Center on Sunday. It may have been Fan Appreciation Night, but it was more like Teemu Appreciation Night.
At the opposite end of the ice, also loved by the fans, was Jean-Sebastien Giguere, in net for the Colorado Avalanche it what was also likely to be his final regular season game. How fitting that he got his last start in Anaheim, where he gave so much and earned a Stanley Cup.
“It worked out great,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “I was really happy because we knew the game itself wasn’t going to be worth anything in the standings for either team. That’s where it worked out best. We could honor (Selanne), honor Jiggy, and do it without having to worry about points.”
From the very start, it was all about Teemu. Even in the warm ups. Signs. Tributes. Special guests, including long time friends who flew in from Finland to surprise him. Even former Duck and linemate, Paul Kariya, showed up, after a bit of coaxing by Selanne. Family. And of course the fans, who love him as much as he loves them.
Despite his teammates trying to get him that final goal (or goals), the Ducks continued their trend of falling behind in a game.
Brad Malone tipped in a shot at 12:11 of the first period that just barely slipped in behind John Gibson, getting his third nod in net for the Ducks. Gibson earned the NHL second star of the week for his cumulative efforts – three wins, one of them a shutout, a 1.33 goals against average and .954 save percentage.
Stefan Elliott made it 2-0 late in the second period, giving the Avalanche a nice lead.
Without their top players (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin sat out to rest up for the playoff push), it seemed like Anaheim was a little flat. And then the third period arrived.
Social media, being what it is, had started a campaign to give Selanne a standing ovation every time he had a shift in the third period. The majority of the crowd did so, providing much needed energy in the building.
At 1:41, with Selanne on the ice, Patrick Maroon finally got a puck past Giguere, who made 33 saves in a solid performance.
Just a little over three minutes later, Anaheim did it again, with the other Finn, Saku Koivu, getting his 11th of the year to tie things up.
Despite good chances by both teams, the game headed to overtime. Just a little extra time for Selanne, who did not manage to put the puck in the net. Instead, it was Nick Bonino who got the overtime game winner at 1:33 of the extra period.
“That’s going to be the most forgotten-about overtime goal in the history of the Ducks,” said Bonino, laughing. “It was a great play by Sami Vatanen and Devante Smith-Pelly, and I’m happy it went in. But it was T’s night, and we’re all happy for him.”
When it was all over both teams remained on the ice. The Avs were honoring and congratulating Giguere and Selanne was named the first, second and third star of the game. You could not deny that he had earned it.
Selanne took a victory lap of the Honda Center, waving to the crowd, hugging the referees and linesmen, getting handshakes from the Avalanche players. And then in a gesture that truly is Selanne, he got to Jiggy and grabbed his hand and took him out to the middle of the ice as well.
At that point, it was deafening and there were few dry eyes in the house.
“Oh man, I’m glad there were no cameras on me because I was crying,” said . How could I not?” Boudreau confessed. “That was as great a scene as you’re going to see in sports. Two well-deserved heroes of hockey hugging each other after doing battle. To me, that’s what it’s all about. It was great.”
The 36-year-old Giguere, who also had his family flown in for the game, was touched by gesture, but not surprised.
“Teemu’s such a class act and he’s known for a while that this possibly could be my last game,” said Giguere. “It just comes natural for him to do nice things to people. That’s why everybody loves Teemu. I’ll be forever grateful for what he did. I almost felt guilty, because this is his night.”
It was definitely his night as well as early morning. After a late supper with his surprise Finnish guests, there was still nearly 100 fans waiting outside for Selanne. At 1:30am!
He stayed and signed for every last one of them. “How could I not?!” he said at practice on Monday morning.
“What a great ending,” Selanne said. “It was really special. The fans are unbelievable for me. All through the years, this franchise, and the fans, has treated me great. It was a big honor. It’s almost overwhelming. It felt great.”
This is not it, though. The postseason remains and now the real work begins on Wednesday against the Dallas Stars.
“It wasn’t really the last game because we still have games remaining, so it would’ve been way harder if that was the last time playing,” said Selanne. “But I’ll remember this night forever.”
Here’s to his last memories on ice are holding the Stanley Cup once more.