HELSINKI – The stars were almost perfectly aligned on Monday night when the Anaheim Ducks played against the Colorado Avalanche. Teemu Selanne scored his 22nd goal of the season, with a wrist shot from the faceoff circle like so many times before, passing fellow countryman and childhood idol Jari Kurri on the NHL’s all-time scoring list to become the highest-scoring Finn in the history of the NHL.
The game was also Saku Koivu’s 1000th regular season game in the NHL, the 274th player in the league history to reach that point.
Between the two of them, Koivu and Selanne have been a big part of the finest moments of Finnish hockey history, both individually, and together. Koivu was an integral part of the historic 1995 World Championship team, Selanne broke records in the NHL, and together they’ve won 1998 Olympic bronze, 1999 World Championship silver, 2004 World Cup silver, 2006 Olympic silver, 2008 World Championship bronze, and 2010 Olympic bronze.
And they’ve suffered some historic losses together, too – besides final losses that gave them those silver medals – like the 2003 World Championship quarterfinal on home ice. Finland had a 5-1 lead in the game, but lost 6-5 to Sweden.
For Selanne, getting his 1399th point was special because not only was Jari Kurri his biggest hero growing up, the two have become close friends.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would pass my biggest idol in goals and points,” Selanne writes in a blog he keeps on Finnish MTV3.fi, and then rattles off Kurri’s height and weight and basic career information, as a true fan.
“In ninth grade, our teacher told us that every pupil had to make a presentation on something, and that was an assignment I liked so I gave a presentation on Jari Kurri. I had his pictures on the walls on my room, and I knew everything about him. I’m not much of a reader but I had just finished a book about him so I aced the presentation, and I think it might have been the only A I got in school,” he adds.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the hockey world to say a bad word about Selanne. The up-beat and youthful 41-year-old still has the same twinkle in his eye and the same charm he had as an 18-year-old teen sensation coming up the ranks.
“Teemu is a cheerful guy who’s done a lot of good work outside the rink as well, and who cares about the fans. He’s been a great ambassador for Finnish hockey, and for Finland in general,” says Kurri.
And he should know.
“When I then met Jari for the first time, I was impressed. The Stanley Cup champion was a friendly gentleman who treated everybody fairly and politely, and I wanted to be just like him. The world needs role models, and Jari was one of mine,” writes Selanne, who in 2006 won the Bill Masterton trophy, given to the “player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
In 2002, that trophy had been awarded to Koivu who had returned to the game after beating non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Back in 1995, few people doubted Saku Koivu’s chances of making a long, successful NHL career, but with the cancer getting in the way, his getting to a thousand games is remarkable.
The Montreal Canadiens’ second-longest serving captain, behind only Jean Beliveau, is no longer a baby-faced blonde and an offensive threat, but Koivu has made some adjustments to his game and is still an important player for the Ducks. Playing over 18 minutes a game, he leads the team in plus/minus, with +13, on a team that has only eight players with plus statistics, and only three over +3.
With another home-ice World Championship around the corner, hockey fans in Finland are holding their breath to see if Koivu and Selanne will give it another run.
In his blog, Selanne said that he calls players with 1000 games under their belt “a Sir club”.
“So now we can call Saku Sir Koivu,” he concluded.
Yes we can. Because both Saku and Teemu – they’re on first-name basis with the entire country, maybe the world – are Finnish hockey knights.