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The Anaheim Ducks finished in fifth place and out of the playoffs in the National Hockey League's Pacific Division last season, but eternal optimist Teemu Selänne took away something positive.
"For the second half of the season, we were the third-best team in the league," the NHL's oldest skater says after a grueling, early-season practice at the Honda Center. "We want to be the team we were in the second half of last season. It takes everybody pushing this. This is the time to be pushing."
By March 1, the Ducks led the Pacific with an 14-3-1 record. And yet, after a practice at which coach Bruce Boudreau barked out commands as though his team were facing a clinching playoff game, Selänne remarked, "We can't be satisfied with our lead."
That same day, three different media sources, including the Los Angeles Times, posted on the 42-year-old's work ethic. So as Selänne ate lunch at a corner table long after his teammates had left the building, he was asked if his regimen is due to his age or just the way he's always done it.
"It's a little of both, but mostly it's about age," he confides. "The recovery time is so short anyway. It's tough; even the young players have to do the right things to recover as fast as they can. I know it helps" to work hard.
"It's a tough sport, you have to enjoy it. And I do," he says later. "Keeping up with the young guys, earning a spot—you cannot come back if you don't think you can play."
That he can. The future Hall-of-Famer is on the Ducks' second line this season with Bobby Ryan and Saku Koivu, but early in the season, they have often played like the first, taking over games, bringing the team back from behind and leaving the rink credited with wins.
Despite leaving everything he physically can on the ice, what Selänne loves most about Orange County, what's convinced him that this'll be home for years to come, is he can truly kick back. Other than Disneyland, he knew nothing of this area while growing up in Helsinki. Though their names may confound their Coto de Caza mailman—his wife is Sirpa Vuorinen, and their children are sons Eemil, Eetu and Leevi and daughter Veera—they are now, according to the patriarch, "typical Californians."
"We love it," Selänne says. "I think this is the best place. The lifestyle, even if it is busy, it does not look busy. The warmer environment, the sun, it makes you happy, more relaxed."
He also likes that the few people who recognize him on the street respect his privacy. In Finland, he's a rock star. That gets trying at times, although his children "so far" still enjoy their yearly vacations to his homeland.
Despite a lockout-shortened season that has compacted everything in Selänne's life, in April, he plans to open Teemu's Tavern & Grill in the old French 75 space across from the Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach. Having owned and operated four restaurants in Finland that were later sold to a chain, he has always wanted to open a place of his own here, to have something to look forward to once he puts down the stick, though he won't say when—and the way Selänne is currently playing, it might not be for a few more seasons.
"I might stay involved in hockey," he qualifies, "but I think the restaurant business will be exciting."