Immediately after the clock ran down in the third period, cementing Finland's bronze-medal victory over the U.S., Teemu Selanne found himself in familiar territory. The Finnish Flash was back on the world's largest stage and flourishing on the expanded dimensions of international ice. Hanging from his neck, the weight of Olympic glory one last time -- certainly a welcome prize just months after trading in his golf clubs for a farewell tour, a meager remittance that will pay dividends to both player and homeland.
Selanne had netted two in a lopsided shutout. His side buried three. And the Leijonat are taking home their hardware.
With a five-goal lead Finland was on the cusp of winning its sixth medal in Olympic history Saturday afternoon, four of which had come with the help of No. 8 on the wing. Only minutes remaining in the third period, sportscasting icon Mike Emrick recited a recent quote from the Captain as the game clock expired.
"I'd do anything to win a medal for my country. Including losing six teeth."
Winning a medal may have been in the cards that afternoon, but it wasn't enough for the forward just 24 hours earlier when the team fell to Sweden in a semifinal matchup trying for that elusive gold in Sochi. Via the L.A. Times, Selanne said during a post-game interview on Friday:
It is tough. Our goal was to play our best game and whatever happens, you can always live with that. I felt we couldn't do it. I don't know if the Russian game [a day earlier] just took a little extra energy from us. I felt we were one step behind many times.
The bronze is hardly anything but a consolation prize, and the Anaheim Ducks star was well-aware of that following the 5-0 thrashing of the United States in Sochi. Surely the win tasted sweeter since the team's 2010 appearance in Vancouver, which saw the squad fall to the U.S. during the semifinals in a 6-1 blowout.
Perhaps most surprising was the veteran's chemistry with 21-year-old Mikael Granlund, a second-year center for the Minnestoa Wild, who appeared to blossom playing on the top line alongside the 10-time NHL All-Star. Granlund, who is 22 years his junior, had been in diapers when Selanne began his professional career -- much like the rest of the national roster. (In fact, rookie forward Alexander Barkov was born in 1995 during Selanne's fifth season in the NHL -- a brief stint with the Phoenix Coyotes.) What's more, the veteran has led his team in shots on every Finnish squad in the tournament since 1998.
Ask Teemu what moments stand out among the 1400-plus games throughout his years in professional hockey and this is bound to be one of them. It had been the sixth Olympic tournament for the 43-year-old (a record-tying appearance matched only by fellow countryman Raimo Helminen, who spent just four subpar seasons in the National Hockey League) beginning with 1992 in Albertville, France -- still six years before the NHL would allow its own players to suit up for the Winter Games, Selanne at the time had been skating in the Finnish Elite League. Just a few months later, the speedy right wing would make his rookie debut in North America with the Winnipeg Jets -- shortly before a Democrat by the name of William Jefferson Clinton won the 1992 U.S. presidential election.
I'm so happy that the game was pretty much over in the third, so I could enjoy every second. Twenty-six years ago I played my first national team game, and it's been a great journey so far, and this is a great ending.
Watching the seasoned superstar in the final international contest of his career was the silver lining for this American hockey fan. Working his way down the bench, Selanne hugged each coach, trainer and equipment manager knowing full well that he was done. It was over. And now after the thrill of the Olympic spirit winds down, he will head back to Anaheim for his final curtain call.