Teemu Selanne, the grand old man of the Sochi Olympics and the tournament’s all-time leading scorer, just keeps proving the critics wrong.
Coming into the 2014 Winter Games, the naysayers were out in full force, saying the “Flying Finn” had finally been grounded.
Because of his diminished role with the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks this season the doubters said he was “washed up” or “on his last legs.”
But Selanne, who turns 44 in July, is Finland’s third highest scorer at the Sochi Games with two goals and four points in four games.
Selanne was a leading offensive force in Finland’s 3-1 shock upset over Russian in Wednesday’s quarter-finals.
“I wouldn’t be around if I didn’t believe I could play,” said Selanne, who will lead Finland into Friday’s semi-final match against Scandinavian rival Sweden.
Selanne scored Finland’s eventual winning goal to make it 2-1 in the first and then set up rising star Mikael Granlund for the insurance goal in the second.
“I am hungrier than ever,” Selanne said. “Maybe I don’t have the same legs I had when I was younger but mentally I am a better player.
“And the enjoyment level is my highest ever. I am just like a little kid here. I am 43 and playing on the first line and first powerplay.”
Selanne says this is his last Olympics so he wants to go out with a bang by winning a gold medal.
This season with the Ducks he has had his ice time slashed and he no longer anchors the powerplay unit.
But he’s not the type to whine especially with the Ducks owning the best record in the league with 87 points in 60 games and looking like they could make a run at a Stanley Cup title.
“It is tough back home when you only play 12 minutes a game,” said Selanne. “I don’t care who you are you can’t play well.
– I’ve had tough nights in the NHL’ –
“But I do the best 12 minutes I can and we have a good team and I am not really complaining.
“I knew when I came here that I would be on the first line. I have a smile on my face the whole tournament. I had a lot of tough nights in the NHL but this is what kept me going.”
Selanne is competing in his sixth Winter Games, a record he holds with fellow Finn Raimo Helminen.
He has a silver medal from Turin Olympics and two bronze from the 2010 Vancouver Games and 1998 in Nagano.
Selanne said he took a long daytime walk before the sudden death quarter-final against Russia to do some soul searching.
“Even before I went to bed I was thinking about how this might be my last game in the Finnish national team and it was a weird feeling,” he said.
“Nobody really believes we can do this.”
In a strange twist, Selanne at 43 is healthier in Sochi than he has been for his last two Olympics, 2006 in Turin and 2010 in Vancouver.
Selanne, who is considered one of the NHL’s fiercest warriors, had to play with a facemask four years ago because of a broken jaw he suffered prior to arriving in Vancouver.
In Turin, he lost three teeth when he took a stick to the mouth but he didn’t miss a game.
Moscow was a dark and intimidating place in December 1989 the first time a 19-year-old Selanne travelled to the Soviet Union to play hockey.
In a quarter century he has seen the ups and downs of Russian hockey and says he felt sorry for the Alex Ovechkin-led team they beat in the quarters.
“To be honest I am little bit sad for them,” Selanne said. “They had a big dream to win the gold medal and then it doesn’t work.
“They were feeling the pressure. They had more than us to lose and I could see it on their faces that they were getting frustrated.
“That is tough to see. Believe me I have been in that position too.”