With that answer to how you pronounce his first name, future NHL Hall of Famer Teemu Selänne proved to me that ESPN SportsCenter anchors do not know everything as for years I've aped their sounding out "Teeee-moo."
The Anaheim Ducks alternate captain threw down that knowledge when asked by photographer John Gilhooley, who shot today's inaugural OC Weekly OC People 2013 photos of the skater not in a studio but against backdrops deep in the bowels of the Honda Center.
Gilhooley, as the photographer, and yours truly, as the profile writer, were working on tight schedules, in small part because we did not even know we were doing a special peeps Issue until a few weeks before and in larger part because of the NHL lockout.
We'd dangled before the Anaheim Ducks our desire to include Selänne on the cover of our first-ever people issue, and at least the arena/franchise's media liaison Lauren O'Gorman seemed truly excited by that prospect. She worked like a trooper to accommodate the schedules of everyone involved, something that was complicated by a shortened season spurred by that damn lockout.
This was first evident late morning/early afternoon Feb. 1, the day I interviewed Selänne. I was to be granted my audience in between practice at the Honda Center and a post-practice physical therapy session nearby for the league's oldest skater (at 42). And sandwiched between that was a shower and the signing of memorabilia for charity–to be clear, by the hockey player, not me.
Under the current contract between the players and the league, teams must tightly control non-game/non-practice time, which is why so much was being done at once at the Honda Center. Under normal circumstances, O'Gorman explained, something like autographing memorabilia would be done on an otherwise off-day while they players were in town. This season, everything is squished together like a panini, including my promised 15 minutes with Selänne in the gooey center.
Because of the tight schedule, I would not arrive late lest it cut into my allotted minutes. As a result of leaving early and somehow encountering no Orange County freeway traffic, I got there early enough to watch practice from any seat in the Honda Center.
At what I figured to be about the halfway point, some of the generally
much-younger guys looked more winded than my interview subject.
"Over here, boys," Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau barked out before
soon being surrounded by players in different color jerseys to designate
defenders or those on individual scoring lines, including the last
active NHL player drafted in the 1980s, in his gray top with black trim.
He crouched with one knee on the ice, front and center, to intently
follow his leader scratching something on a chalkboard.
Moments later, "The Finnish
Flash" glided across the iced pond with the Ducks' second
line, skating in a natural way comparable to European slalom skiers who
seem born on their slats, in stark contrast to the boxy-survival way
of schussing employed by most Yanks. Selänne on one run was fed the puck, made a
nice spin move around two defenders as he bore down on the goal and
then dumped a sweet pass to a teammate who buried the biscuit into the
back of the net.
Watching all these guys, I was overcome with the same realization that hits me any time I attend a Ducks or Kings game: Damn, these guys skate
fast. And, at least at the practice I attended, no one dogged it. Later, I spied Selänne crouched forward during a break at center ice to catch his breath. He needed to save something for what would be a full ice
Boudreau would hold this practice over long past its original end time. I finally left as players were doing the equivalent of basketball wind-sprints, darting back and forth across the ice, touching each marked line. By then, Selänne's jersey was totally sweat-drenched, his Phil Lynott-like chin jutting in and out with each deep breath he took, his wet hairs strands glistening under the lights. He was the only Duck not wearing a helmet late in the session.
I would wait for practice and showers to end from the hallway in front of the locker room door, which was abuzz with activity from a TV crew set up for an interview in a corner and the walls in the entire passageway lined with memorabilia for players to sign after practice.
Eventually, I was moved to the locker room after a few players had left the ice to get athletic tape removed from their limbs. Standing in the room surrounded by other reporters and game-worn gear, I realized I could retire if I got everything out of there and sold it on eBay. Only a couple players actually entered the area while I was there, one of whom was goalie Jonas Hiller, who looks about 18 out of uniform. (He's actually 31.)
Finally, a Ducks media employee who was not Lauren O'Gorman–in fact, he was a he–led me and a KTLA cameraman back to the hallway. O'Gorman was there to join us, and she explained to Selänne, who was now in street clothes in front of the locker room door, that the television newsman would get 5 minutes followed by my 15, perhaps with me asking questions as he autographed stuff. Selänne explained he'd do the 5 with Channel 5 but then he'd be off to make a therapy appointment and reconnect with me in about 35 minutes.
So off to Starbucks I went for my therapy session.
We both arrived back in the hallway around the same time, then Selänne led me to a table not too far from where that future cover photo would be shot and where he would sit down to eat a buffet lunch provided by the team. On the way, he exchanged warm greetings with Duck staffers who genuinely seemed to love him.
Here's the story that came out of it:
On the next page are some things that I don't think made the final cut . . .
-Given Southern California barely supported one pro hockey team, the Los Angeles Kings, back when he joined the then-Mighty Ducks (the first time, in 1996; he'd later go to the Sharks and Avalanche before rejoining Anaheim in 2005), was he hesitant to come here: "Not really. I did wonder whether we have enough rinks, for children more than anyone. The Ducks and Kings have done a good job of opening new rinks. There are a lot of good hockey players and teams coming from here. Really, it's been that way the last few years, and then when both of us won the Stanley Cup it has just exploded here. For juniors, too. But, obviously, we need more rinks."
-On his sons Eemil, Eetu and Leevi
playing hockey: "All three of my boys play. They are OK players."
-On why he's opening Teemu's Tavern and Grill in Laguna Beach: "I love Laguna Beach. Laguna is the place." [It's set to open April 1 in the old French 75 space across from the Surf and Sand resort.]
-On whether the business school education he received for two years in
Finland is helping him in the restaurant business, he said experience is
more relevant, that he and his
business partner did much investigation before acquiring the space
and that he plans to be hands on. Even if it's a huge success, he
take the concept to back to Helsinki. "I try not to be in a
business I can't be involved in. My home is here."
-On whether he surfs: "I've done a little surfing in the off season. But I'm so busy. I've done it with my boys."
-On whether his family, who he'd described as "typical Californians," enjoy their yearly trips with him to his native Finland: "So far, no one has complained. . . . They are very excited when we go." He did wonder out loud how long that will last.
-On whether he would have
retired had the lockout killed the current season: "It's
a hard question that I get asked a lot. I try to avoid thinking about it. The idea of
retiring was almost impossible to think about, it felt so far away.
I let him finish his lunch alone but then saw him again about a week later, when Gilhooley recruited me to help him and Weekly art director Laila Derakhshanian with the shoot, which was held in a dusty, overhead-pipe-filled section of the Honda Center that, had Disney still owned the team, would have been referred to as "backstage."
The team had also granted 15 minutes for the photo shoot–or was it 10?–after practice, which again ran long and, again, Selänne did oblige us with more than our allotted time while only rolling his eyes once or twice at O'Gorman with a "help me" look. Ah, well, as one once deemed the sexiest man in Finland, he should be used to being a slave to the camera by now.
As for my assisting duties, I got to shoot some video, stay out of the way and, in what I truly consider an honor, hold a future National Hockey League Hall of Famer's helmet, gloves and, uh, stick. This time, I didn't think once about how much they'd fetch on eBay.
OK, maybe once.