Selanne leads big list of Olympic hockey veterans
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Teemu Selanne can only chuckle when he realizes his two linemates had yet to be born the first time he played hockey at the Olympics.
That’s what happens when somebody travels as far beyond the normal endpoints of a hockey career as has Selanne, who is heading into his record-tying sixth Olympics in Sochi.
Yet the 43-year-old “Finnish Flash” has no qualms about the generation gap while he skates at the Bolshoy Ice Dome alongside 21-year-old Mikael Granlund and 18-year-old Alexander Barkov, the youngest player in Sochi.
“Maybe that’s because mentally, we are the same age,” Selanne said.
Selanne isn’t the only old-timer in Sochi hoping for one last trip to the medal stand. The Olympic field is dotted with famous names who are temporarily turning back time.
There’s Jaromir Jagr, who will turn 42 when the Czech Republic plays Switzerland on Saturday, and his 42-year-old teammate Petr Nedved, who is back at the games after an Olympic-record 20-year absence — playing for a different nation, to boot.
Finland’s Kimmo Timonen will turn 39 next month, joining fellow defenseman Sami Salo. Austria defenseman Gerhard Unterluggauer is a spring chicken of 37, but has 239 games of international experience.
Latvia has 41-year-old Sandis Ozolinsh in its defense again, and Sweden is counting on strong play from 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, who speaks for most of his fellow veterans when he emphasizes the importance of enjoying this moment.
“I definitely thought, after the last Olympics, that that would be it,” Alfredsson said. “It definitely feels great to be part of another one. It’s a special experience. Even just being in the Olympic dining area and sitting where everyone sits and looking at people from around the world, I’m going to remember that.”
None of them has been around as long as Selanne, who first skated for Finland at the Albertville Games in 1992. When Finland begins play in Sochi on Thursday, he’ll match the record six Olympic games of fellow Finn Raimo Helminen.
Selanne isn’t just here for a farewell tour, either.
For the first time, the Anaheim Ducks forward is the team captain. It’s a position befitting the top scorer in Olympic hockey history, with 20 goals and 17 assists over 31 games in his five previous appearances. He’s twice led an Olympic Games in scoring and has three medals at his home on the California coast: a silver from Turin in 2006 to go with bronze from Nagano and Vancouver.
“To be honest, I’m expecting a way bigger role than I have in Anaheim,” said Selanne, whose ice time has been compressed with the NHL-leading Ducks. “That’s a big thing in my motivation this year. I know I’m going to play way more here and I’m going to be ready. I’m in a situation in my career where if I play 15 minutes, I try to do that as good as I can. I can play 28 minutes on the first line if I need to.”
Nedved’s Olympic return is perhaps the most improbable. Although he hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2006-07 season, he was amazed to be picked for the Czech team for the first time.
In 1989, a 17-year-old Nedved didn’t even tell his parents before he defected from Czechoslovakia to Canada, walking into a police station in Calgary after a midget tournament. With his new citizenship, he was eligible to play for Canada at Lillehammer in 1994, winning a silver medal.
“It’s been 20 years, a long time ago,” said Nedved, who is still a point-per-game scorer in the Czech domestic league. “I thought it was a great opportunity to be a part of this again and I didn’t want to miss it.”
Nedved has a few more lines in his face and many more white hairs on his chin since he last played in the NHL, but Olympic thoughts are fresh in his mind. Canada lost to Sweden on Peter Forsberg’s historic shootout goal in the finals of the Lillehammer tournament.
“I still have a bitter memory of that, of Forsberg,” Nedved said with a grin Tuesday. “No, it was a great experience for me. It was a really good tournament. It’s tough when you decide a gold medal with penalty shots, but that’s the way it is. I think about that game almost every month.”