Q&A: Teemu Selanne on his new book, life as a hockey dad

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Teemu Selanne has kept busy since retiring from the NHL in 2014 following a 21-season career. The Finnish Flash still regularly plays golf and tennis and tends to his two restaurants in Orange County. Lately, he’s been busy promoting his book, “My Life,” which released an updated English version in October.

Selanne and author Ari Mennander started writing the book in the early 2000s, and while the Hall of Fame forward continued his commitment to playing on a mostly year-by-year basis, he didn’t want the project to be finished until his playing days were over. The Finnish version came out in 2014 and the English version was updated with more stories about his life and career.

Recalling his days growing up in Espoo, Finland and representing his country at the international level, and then having a very successful NHL career helped Selanne remember some memories that had faded from his mind.

“That was the best part of it, that you could almost live through those things again,” Selanne told NBC Sports this week. “Good things and bad things and you get those flashbacks. Even your body’s [reacting.] You got those goosebumps sometimes when you talk about something great. It was a pretty cool process; a lot of work, though, but I think it was worth it.”

We spoke with Selanne about his new book, his magnificent rookie season in Winnipeg, life as a hockey dad, and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: Who gave you the ‘Teddy Flash’ nickname when you were rally racing?

SELANNE: “Early ‘90s, my best friend was driving rally cars and I went first just watching him when he practiced and then he let me drive. Then I got really itchy to start racing myself, too. Obviously, I couldn’t [race]. You’re not supposed to do anything dangerous, so we decided to come up with a name they couldn’t recognize. But it didn’t last very long. After the first race everybody knew it was me. ‘Teddy Flash’ comes from ‘Finnish Flash.’ I think it was a good idea, it just didn’t work very well.”

PHT: Players who were represented by him and general managers who dealt with him have had nothing but great things to say about the late Don Baizley. What was it like to be represented by him?

SELANNE: “I was so lucky that I had Don as my agent. He was way more than an agent, he was like a father figure as well. He lived in Winnipeg and had a lot of Finnish and Swedish players as clients. He knew the background. Such a classy guy. Even GMs, they all respected him so much. He did everything in a fair way. He always tried to make sure when he made a deal that both sides were happy. He cared so much.”

PHT: Going back to your rookie season in 1992-93… With all the attention around your arrival in Winnipeg, what helped you keep focus that season to put up those numbers on such a regular basis? After a while everyone expected you to score every night.

SELANNE: “First of all, I was lucky when I went there the table was set up for me. I got to play with the best players right away. Our team was not one of the best teams in the league so it was very easy to break in and get the big role right away. The old saying is you’re exactly as good as your coach wants you to be. They gave me a green light to be a superstar right away. I was so hungry, too, to show myself and prove to everybody that I can play well and have this kind of success. Of course, not 76 goals like that, but playing a great season. 

“The first season, guys like Phil Housley and Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhamnov, those guys made my game so much easier. It was like a snowball going down the hill with the confidence. I just wanted more and more and more. What a year that was.”

PHT: Jarmo Kekalainen was a teammate of yours on the national team, but was also a big help during your move to North America. How did he help you get comfortable?

SELANNE: “He was my teammate and wanted to make sure that when I [got] there my language, especially my hockey language, that I’m not going to have any problems. We did a little language session for four days. He gave me a bunch of papers with examples of how [media] interviews go and how to be humble. I used that same format for the first three years. It worked great.”

PHT: You were a little older when you arrived in the NHL. Nowadays it’s not rare to see 18 years old jump right in, like Kaapo Kakko and Patrik Laine. Do you think you could have handled life as an NHLer, far away from home, when you were 18?

SELANNE: “Not a chance. The time has changed. I came to [training] when I was 18 and I wasn’t ready to come here. The way the young guys get prepared now, they’re ready as an 18-year-old. It’s so impressive. Maybe on the ice I could have some success, but mentally and as a man, there’s no way. I’m still worried about the young guys, like when things go well, they don’t really need help. But when stuff goes a little bit south and you start losing the confidence, how ready are those guys really at 18? … I would never feel comfortable to come over as an 18-year-old.”

PHT: The game is so fast now, even five years after you retired. How do you think a 22-year-old Teemu would do in the NHL in 2019-20?

SELANNE: “I would do great, no question. The thing is, I think that today’s hockey is made for a guy like myself. It’s all about speed and skill. When I came to the league I was way faster than 95% of the players — the big, strong, slow defensemen. But there was so much holding and grabbing and hooking, it made the job so much tougher. I know that I would enjoy today’s hockey more than back then.”

PHT: Two of your sons are still playing hockey (Leevi with the NA3HL Texas Jr. Brahamas and Eetu with Curry College). How have you found life as a hockey dad? Are you more nervous before one of their games than you were for your own?

SELANNE: “Not really. I just watch and laugh. Going through everything again with my sons, I realize how hard it is [today]. I thought it was way easier because of my road, my journey was so smooth. But now I realize how much politics [are at play] and how much it takes and to have the coaching early. … You need that help. You need those opportunities to show what you can do. As a player, you need that confidence from a coach and to feel that I’m going to have success. Without that, I don’t care who you are, you can’t have success.”

PHT:  How often do you give them feedback or do you sit back and allow them to learn from mistakes?

SELANNE: “Well, I tried to give feedback… my three boys, two of them, they were listening very carefully. But my one doesn’t believe anything I say. I always try to remind him, ‘Hey, I know how this game works’ and he still says ‘Ah, that’s not true.’ Well, whatever. 

“That’s what my dad did. We always talked about hockey and he was very smart. When I was playing bad, he always found something very positive about my game. And when I thought I was playing unbelievable he would start finding something I could do better and I always thought he was crazy. After a while, when I got older, I realized how smart that was. When I thought I was a little high, he brought me back to my feet, and when I was a little down he’d just lift me up.”

PHT: Finally, do you want to get back into hockey in a full-time capacity?

SELANNE: “It’s funny, I’ve been waiting to see if I got any itch about going back, but so far no. It’s a big commitment. You can’t go there at 50 or 60 or 70%. You almost need the same passion like you had as a hockey player. Right now, I feel no, but you never know.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.