Anaheim Ducks fans knew this day would come. Eventually.
They begged for “one more year”, more than once. And one more year they got. Seven times.
The knowledge of the impending arrival of April 13, 2014 didn’t make it any easier to process.
But maybe knowing it was coming, knowing the finality of it, would make it easier to celebrate the most important and most loved player the Anaheim Ducks franchise has ever known. Teemu Selanne.
And celebrate him they did, as the Ducks hosted the Colorado Avalanche in their final game of the regular season at Honda Center Sunday night.
As is customary to close out the season, it was Fan Appreciation Night. But this night was different. From the minute Selanne took the ice, it was #ThankYouTeemu Night, as he appeared in what would be the final NHL regular season game of his outstanding 21-year career.
This wasn’t a game I was going to miss. I decided to forgo my usual seat in the press box to sit in the arena so I could cheer and celebrate The Finnish Flash with the rest of the 17,000+ Ducks faithful.
But the real reason for making this choice was less about me and more about my two daughters. I wanted them to be there to witness history, to see this living legend play. One more time.
And I’m so glad they did.
In the car ride over to Honda Center, I tried to explain to my girls what they were going to see that night. I tried to explain what Teemu means to the Ducks and their fans. I tried to describe his passion for the game and how his contributions extend far beyond Orange County, how this future Hockey Hall of Famer is one of the kindest and best ambassadors the sport has ever known.
I told them that Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf would be sitting out this game and that Selanne would be wearing the “C” on his jersey, the ultimate level of respect given to the ultimate Ducks player.
“Everyone loves Teemu,” I told them. “You just can’t not like the guy. It’s impossible.”
Earlier that day, news had surfaced that it was going to be the final NHL regular season game appearance for another significant player that night, Colorado Avalanche goaltender and former Ducks goaltender, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The era of Jiggy as a Duck was a bit before my daughters’ time. They weren’t around for his 2003 heroics. They didn’t know how he carried an entire Mighty Ducks team on his back from obscurity all the way to Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final.
They were too young to watch how he battled in 2007, how in the midst of dealing with complications in the birth of his firstborn son, he helped lead the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup title.
So I told them about Giguere, how the Ducks would most likely honor him as well, and how it was pretty special that he and Selanne would be sharing the ice this night.
And I told them that without Jiggy, I wouldn’t even be following hockey and the Ducks. And how because of that, he will always be my hockey hero.
We got to the game right before puck drop, and from start to finish, it was all about Teemu. From the team, to the organization, to the fans, the celebration was done right.
And my girls soaked it all up. They loved watching all of the video tributes to the Great 8. They joined the crowd and stood on their feet to cheer Teemu each time he took the ice in the third period. And they thought it was “awesome” that he was awarded all three stars of the game.
As expected, the Ducks honored Giguere during a television time out in the first period. Even if they didn’t know the whole story, my girls understood Jiggy’s salute to the crowd as the fans cheered for him.
The game was inconsequential, for both teams, but it was good to see the Ducks come back from trailing 0-2 to beat the Avs in overtime, 3-2. The fans remained on their feet as Selanne took his final victory lap around the arena.
And being the gentleman that he is, Teemu didn’t leave the ice without recognizing Giguere, his Cup-winning teammate, as he grabbed Jiggy to join him for one last tour on the Honda Center ice.
My girls looked at me, wide-eyed, just as my own eyes were filling up with tears. Even the fans behind us who had come to cheer on the Avs could appreciate what they were seeing.
On the way home, my younger daughter asked me, “All that stuff they did for Teemu tonight, would they do that for any other Ducks player?”
My answer was simple. “No,” I said. “There will never be another like him.”
As the team shifts their focus and prepares to take on the Dallas Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, my mind is still lingering a bit on the history and the unforgettable images we were so fortunate to witness Sunday night.
I told my girls, “You may not fully understand the importance of what you saw tonight, but some day, it will make more sense, and I promise, you’ll be glad you were there.
“Thank you for buying the tickets and taking us,” they said. Maybe, in some ways, they already know.
Some players transcend the game they play. When it comes to hockey, that’s how you describe Teemu Selanne. How fortunate are we to be here in this place, at this time, to watch him play for this team. In Orange County, California. The “non-traditional” hockey market that became his “happy place.” By choice.
The night was about #ThankYouTeemu. But I think it’s safe to say, our thanks to him will never be enough.
**Photos 1, 2 and 4 via the Anaheim Ducks