The date was February 9th, 1992.
The world’s eyes were turned towards a small city in eastern France as the world’s finest athletes descended upon Albertville to participate in the 16th Olympic Winter Games. Ice hockey, consistently one of, if not the most popular sport in the event, prepared to begin round robin play today, and the country of Finland anxiously awaited not only their first matchup against the Germans, but the Olympic debut of a young phenom from the capital city of Helsinki. Teemu Selanne, only 21, was no stranger to international play. After racking up 16 points in six games as a 17-year-old on the Finnish junior team and 11 more in his first go-round with the nation’s senior club three years later, the excitement surrounding this rising star was understandable, to say the least.
Teemu’s first step in a long and storied Olympic career came with two goals and one assist as the Finns downed Germany 5-1.
Continuing through the 1992 Olympics, the Finns qualified for the eight-team knockout stage before falling to the hands at the eventual gold medalist Unified Team (the IOC's stopgap measure, while the USSR was in process of breaking up). They would finish in seventh. There was a three-way tie for the scoring lead, though, with one of those players being none other than young Teemu Selanne, who added five more goals in seven games. He finished third in the overall point race.
Selanne’s next Olympic appearance came in the 1998 Games. The latest addition to a hype train that left the station during the last Olympic Games and picked up steam with a 132-point rookie season in Winnipeg later in the same year, was Selanne’s first full season as a Mighty Duck of Anaheim. His play was everything the franchise could have hoped for, as he contributed an astonishing 107 points, and in the process, put himself on the radar of every hockey fan watching the tournament and every coach and player participating.
Once again, Teemu would not disappoint. Despite finishing round robin play with a 1-2-0 record, Finland made a respectable run through the elimination round, culminating in a bronze medal at the expense of a Canadian team who were highly favored as gold medalists. As a team improves, presumably so do the athletes who compose its makeup. When the dust settled at the end of the tournament, there was a two-way tie for leading scorer in the tournament. Teemu Selanne sat at the top of the leaderboard, adding ten more points in only five games against the world’s best to his Olympic resume. Alongside him was his team captain, some guy named Saku Koivu.
After two brilliant tournaments, Selanne came to Salt Lake City in 2002 as Finland’s captain. In his first Olympic showing as his country’s leader, the Finnish Flash showed that success, especially of his caliber, is hardly ever sustainable without a few setbacks. Three goals in four games and a disappointing seventh place finish capped off a forgettable tournament for the Finns. A year later, Teemu decided to sign with the Colorado Avalanche. However, the worst season of his career, due in part to knee problems, caused a lot of people to wonder if his career was coming to an end. Between the disaster in Denver, and another underwhelming performance for Finland in the 2004 World Championships, many believed that Selanne would not don an NHL jersey or that of his country after the 2004-05 lockout.
As a free agent when the NHL returned in the fall of 2005, Selanne received a second chance from his old Mighty Ducks, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Midway through his 90-point season, his best since the 1998-99 campaign, Teemu carried his newfound momentum back to Team Finland for the 2006 Olympic tournament in Italy. The resurgence of his career was mirrored within these couple of weeks, as Finland absolutely annihilated their opponents in group play, outscoring them 19-2 over the course of five games. After surviving a close call against the United States in the quarterfinals, Finland thundered into the gold medal game, where they would fall 3-2 against a stacked Swedish side. The offensive onslaught of the Finns resulted in five of their players finishing inside the top 10 of the tournament’s highest scorers. Just like the 1998 Olympics, though, Teemu Selanne (6-5-11) and Saku Koivu (3-8-11) shared the top spot. Teemu also earned his first spot on the Olympic all-star roster and was named the Best Forward of the Olympic Games.
Vancouver 2010 was Teemu’s least productive showing in any Olympic tournament he ever participated in, as he failed to score a single goal and only earned two helpers over the span of six games. Finland finished second in their pool; good enough to advance to the elimination stage with a first round bye, but their sole loss came against rival Sweden, making their efforts at redemption from the 2006 gold medal game unsuccessful. After eliminating the Czechs in the quarterfinal, Finland’s chances to return to the Olympic championship were soundly thwarted by a very strong United States squad to the tune of 6-1. Although Selanne wasn’t one of the main catalysts behind the Finns run for once, he still got to add another Olympic medal to his collection after his team defeated Slovakia 5-3 in the bronze medal game.
After announcing that the 2013-14 season would most definitely be his final kick at the can in the NHL, attention once again turned towards Teemu when the Olympics began in Russia. Signs began to show of his age finally catching up to him in Anaheim, and his last tournament wasn’t very impressive either. Could he still compete on this stage? Regardless, the 2014 Sochi Games marked the sixth Olympic tournament that Selanne participated in, making him only the second hockey player in the history of the Games with that kind of longevity.
With silver and bronze already adorning his neck, Teemu set out to finish his Olympic career by finishing on top, and completing the podium trifecta in the process. It looked as if his team would have a chance to do so, as they had no trouble handling Austria and Norway in round robin play before dropping a hard-fought overtime loss against a very defensively stout Canada team. Selanne’s hopes at a gold medal were dashed once again by Sweden, and Finland found themselves in yet another bronze medal game, facing the United States. In the last Olympic game of his career, the 43-year old Finnish captain beat Jonathan Quick twice, and Team Suomi routed the Americans 5-0 to give Teemu one last medal. Whether it was justifiably well-deserved, or simply a form of poetic symbolism towards his astonishing legacy, it seemed extremely fitting that Teemu Selanne was named the 2014 Olympic MVP in his last international tournament of many.
Every hockey fan knows, Ducks supporter or not, that Teemu Selanne’s NHL career was nothing short of extraordinary. Because the Winter Olympics only come around once every four years, and most of us are focused on Team USA, it’s not as evident the kind of impact that #8 had for his home country as well. Over the course of six tournaments, Teemu accumulated 24 goals and 19 assists, bringing his grand total to 43 points in his Olympic career, the most by any Men's Olympic Ice Hockey player ever. That rounds out to over a point per game, and production like that at a level where only the world’s most elite hockey players participate, a fact that we all knew from the get-go becomes even more evident from this perspective: Teemu Selanne truly is among the best of the best.