March 21, 2010- Anaheim 5, Colorado Avalanche 2.
One thing you never really realize while you're watching a lost season is that it's actually kind of fun. Yeah, your team's not making the playoffs, but it's still your team and this time there's no real pressure. You can laugh off the mistakes of your dolt of a defenseman who you'd cursed earlier in the year. You can cheer every small victory of your young winger who's only playing because, hey, why not? And, if you're a Ducks fan or even a fan of hockey last season, you're watching to see Teemu Selanne get his 600th goal.
Teemu had an odd year; he was 39 and was injured, but the injuries weren't injuries 39 year-olds get. He missed time because an errant slap shot broke his jaw, and he missed more time because an errant wrist shot hurt his hand. These were freak injuries, almost as if the hockey gods themselves were trying to prevent Teemu from reaching 600 goals.
Still, in the time Teemu did play, he played very, very well. Teemu had 27 goals in 54 games, which averages out to a goal every 2 games. He did this at 39. While also playing in the Olympics. With a hurt hand for great stretches of time. He was like Perseus, being both aided and harmed by the hockey gods in a battle larger than the man himself. (The god hurting him was probably Swedish.) Teemu persevered through tribulation after tribulation until, finally, he was 1 goal away from 600.
Just to be clear, 600 goals in hockey is a huge deal. Only 16 men had ever reached that height before and they were all (or soon will be) in the Hall of Fame... except for Dino Cicarrelli, for some reason. Anyway, the feat has been somewhat diminished in recent years by the influx of 600 goal scorers that came from the 80's when Wayne Gretzky showed players that the goaltenders kind of sucked then. Still, Teemu was no compiler; he hadn't started in the NHL until he was 22 and he had played less than 70 games four times in his career. Teemu looked like he was headed to an early end of his career in 2004 before the lockout gave him an opportunity to have knee surgery. Teemu deserved 600 goals, he was so close, and he had three games to do it in front of the home crowd.
And then... nothing. The Ducks won their next two games, with Teemu getting a great deal of the ice time, but he couldn't score. He had five shots in each game, he was a crucial part of their victories... but he couldn't score. It wasn't like he was holding his stick too tight or he wasn't getting chances; Teemu was drilling the puck and he was getting robbed over and over and over again. Like robbed in ways Teemu Selanne doesn't get robbed. It was if the hockey gods were playing one more trick on Teemu, one more test he had to overcome before he could join the pantheon of great hockey players.
The crowd itself was getting more desperate than Selanne. In the last game of the homestand the fans were rabid, holding signs pleading with Selanne to score one more goal before the team left town. They knew that the Ducks had a 3 game road trip coming up and there was no way Teemu was going six games without a goal. Teemu himself seemed kind of embarrassed by the attention. He was a player that had been expected to score his entire career, but he didn't like feeling like a sideshow, like someone who needed encouragement to score. The urgings from the fans, the feeding by his teammates, the tons of ice time dished out by his coach... these were all things Selanne was used to, but this time it felt like something he was being given, not something he deserved. I think he used that frustration in that final home game, a game in which he had eight shots on goal. It was on 1 of those shots, early in the 2nd period, that Teemu finally gave the fans what they wanted:
It wasn't a difficult goal by any means, probably one of the easiest of Teemu's career, but the goal was appropriate for Teemu's career. He didn't need attention and he didn't need encouragement; all he needed was for the puck to come to him, as it had 599 times in his career. And, of course, he made that goal look effortless.
The Ducks finished the season and missed the playoffs and that was that. Teemu potted 6 more goals that season, each one celebrated by the Anaheim fans that had nothing else to cheer for. It's kind of funny: Teemu's 600th goal, like the rest of his career, is marked by trial & tribulation before his natural ability comes through in the end. Teemu may make it look effortless but he's had to strive and struggle for everything he's earned. He may have the face of a model but you can see his commitment by the scars on his face. He has an effortless doggedness that seems oxymoronic up until the second you watch him play. And the hockey gods, nature or whatever you want to call it may test him but, like Perseus, Teemu will always come through in the end.