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New Hall-of-Famer Teemu Selanne Brought Unity to Otherwise Hostile Kings-Ducks Rivalry

It may not be on the same echelon as the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Capulets and the Montagues or, heck, even the lion and the zebra, but the rivalry between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings is nonetheless a classic one. Then again, depending on who you ask, said rivalry might be just on the same level after all. Regardless, said rivalry has been what has separated hockey allegiances in southern California for nearly a quarter of a century — one which only intensified in recent years. Yet, while fans or both teams will be on opposite sides of multiple arguments — involving success or loyalty to name just two topics — the most die-hard of the Kings and Ducks can all agree about the character of one Teemu Selanne.

Photo credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

While it may not necessarily the prime focus of one’s livelihood, enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame certainly is the cherry on top, if you will, of a wonderful career. This year, Teemu Selanne has been recognized with the prestigious honour along with a group of other deserving members including Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi and Selanne’s former Anaheim teammate, Paul Kariya. But, with all due respect to the aforementioned, there was just something very special about Selanne as a player, and still as a person.

In the risk of sounding melodramatic, 2007 was a dark time for fans of the Los Angeles Kings.

14 years removed from their own team’s inaugural appearance, Kings had to watch, for the second time in four years, the hated Ducks make the Stanley Cup Final only to do one better than the silver-and-black and win hockey’s Holiest prize. Many names from that team — Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, even the retired Chris Pronger — are ones that continue to be met with scorn from Kings fans. Teemu Selanne, however, was not one of those names.

Photo credit: Kevin Sullivan / The Orange County Register

Despite registering 15 points in 21 playoff games that spring, Teemu Selanne wasn’t met with the same resentment. Those who bleed silver-and-black may have been frustrated with him during a game — and a hematologist during a hospital visit — but between whistles, Mr. Selanne was admired by all SoCal-based fans, regardless of allegiance.

As per tradition, the ring ceremony kicked off the Induction Weekend festivities in Toronto. Selanne and Kariya, unfortunately, were held up due to a flight delay. Yet, while the ceremony was delayed, as a result, no one in attendance seemed to mind and the festivities went ahead as normal.

Shortly following the ring ceremony, I had a chance to catch up with Mr. Selanne who touched on his thoughts on the Ducks-Kings rivalry.

“When the Ducks came into the league, obviously the Kings were a little better,” said Selanne. “They were always like a bigger brother and we wanted to beat them. Then, little by little, [the rivalry] started becoming a 50-50 situation. But, later in my career, it started becoming bigger and bigger and it just needed a playoff series against them.”

Photo credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Selanne also had some kind words for the Kings organization and their fans, especially reflecting on when his career was reaching its conclusion.

“My last game and how the Kings stayed on the ice, the respect that they showed was just unbelievable,” the former 76-goal-scorer continued. “And during the year when I played the one game [in Los Angeles] and Luc Robitaille wanted to honour me at STAPLES Center, those are the things that are just unbelievable. Unbelievable respect. Even with a lot of rivalries and a lot of love-hate relationships but we still have so much respect for each other. [The respect shown by the Kings] was just so memorable and I’m very thankful for that.”

To suggest that Anaheim and the Ducks were a significant part of his career would probably be the understatement of the weekend. After all, Teemu Selanne spent 15 of his 20 NHL seasons with the organization, spanning two separate tenures along the way. So, Selanne definitely had a wealth of experience suiting up against the Kings. In fact, of all the teams he played against during his two decades in the NHL, the 47-year-old enjoyed the most success against the Kings, registering 119 points in 105 career games, also the most versus any opponent.

Yet, being a longtime member of their crosstown rivals has never deterred most fans of the Los Angeles Kings as they cannot help but be objective and give the Finnish Flash the admiration he has consistently earned for so many years.

As a rookie in 1992-93, Selanne, then 23 and a member of the Winnipeg Jets, wasted no time in making his mark in the NHL, scoring a rookie-record 76 goals. His efforts that season may have won him the Calder for the league’s top freshman but the accolades did not stop there for Selanne.

Over the course of his career, Selanne was a 10-time All-Star and won individual awards such as the inaugural Rocket Richard Trophy in 1999 and the Bill Masterson Trophy for perseverance in 2006. Additionally, Selanne holds or is tied for 18 different NHL records. His 684 career goals are good enough for 11th all-time while holding a unique distinction of being a point-per-game player, notching 1457 in 1451 career games. These feats, in addition to much more, warranted the Helsinki native to be named as one of the NHL’s 100 best players as part of last season’s centennial festivities.

Photo credit: Mark Blinch

To boot, the newest Hall-of-Famer even made a name for himself on the international stage, representing his native Finland at six different Olympiads, becoming the all-time leading scorer at the Games. In fact, his contributions to the international game earned Selanne induction into the IIHF Hall of Fame this year.

Among his plethora of accomplishments, though, enough cannot be said about the impact Teemu Selanne had on the state of hockey in California.

While Wayne Gretzky may be given the most credit for the sport’s popularity surge in the Golden State — and even the southwest United States in general — there were those who helped keep hockey relevant in California. Teemu Selanne is among them, if you will, cream of the crop of that list.

So, whenever fans in SoCal catch a game at STAPLES Center, Honda Center or attend a watch party in or around Los Angeles or Orange County, they can be sure to thank Mr. Selanne for helping to make it all possible. You can bet that Mr. Selanne’s impact on the game in California and even as a whole is something that accomplishes the rare feat of uniting Kings and Ducks fans — even just for a moment. And that, ladies and gentleman, like 76 goals in a season, over a point-per-game career for 20 years and, quintessentially, induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, is no easy feat.

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