Starting the season in Europe is certainly a tough way to start the season. Between adjusting to ridiculous time changes, language barriers, and jet lag, it’s a difficult way to kick start a new year. The good thing is that each team and just about every player faces the same set of challenges overseas as they try to prepare themselves for the 82 game grind.
Then there’s someone like Teemu Selanne. For Selanne, starting his (probable) final season in Finland would be like Wayne Gretzky returning and starting the season in Toronto—only if Gretzky hadn’t played a season there in twenty years. From the moment the NHL Premiere was announced and the Ducks found out they were headed to Helsinki, Selanne knew the 2011-12 season was going to be unlike anything else he’s ever experienced.
Before the Ducks left for Europe, Selanne was asked about starting the season in Finland for the first time in his career.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” Selanne said. “Obviously, it was 2003 [World Championships] the last time we played there. It’s going to be fun. Obviously, they sold out the game so quickly and people are telling me that’s what they’re really talking about there. They’re pretty spoiled. This is the third or fourth time when an NHL team has started the season there; so they’ve seen a lot of NHL games there. But I think this is going to be a little more special.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” Selanne continued. “Obviously, it’s a very special place for me. That’s my hometown and we’re going to play against my home team, so it’s going to be very exciting. It’s going to be like a zoo too. It’s going to be a lot of people, [people] trying to take a piece of that week. But I think it’s going to be a great experience, I’m very excited.”
Selanne also acknowledged that there would be challenges for the team starting in Europe. Yet he saw the silver lining of the team traveling together as a bonding experience to start the season.
“Obviously, the trip is going to be a little tough,” Selanne said. “We’re going there, 10 hours time difference, and coming back. But I really believe that’s going to be really good for our team to start the season right away—with hanging around together for four or five days before the first game and get the team feeling again. I think that’s going to be very important process for us. I’m looking forward to going there. I know it’s going to be a great experience for my teammates.”
For Selanne personally, it’s going to be tougher for him than his teammates. He’s revered in Finland and dealing with an entire new set of circumstances.
“People need tickets and people ask if I can come there,” Selanne said. “Obviously, I have to be tough with that. There’s no time to do too much. We are there to win the games and start focusing on the season… Obviously we need to stay focused there.
“It’s going to be tough. I already heard that my PR guy back home has 150 interviews ready. I said, you know what, forget it… They come here and they always expect you to have time. It’s just funny—it works though.”
The trip got off to a good start as the Ducks won their final preseason game against Jokerit in overtime. Now, the real heavy lifting gets started when the regular season kicks off against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday in Helsinki. Selanne and the Ducks will try to navigate all of the external distractions and put their best game on the ice—because at the end of the crazy circus, there are two important regular season games to be played.