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DUCKS' FLASHBACK NEW NHL RULES ARE HELPING VETERAN SELANNE THRIVE AGAIN.

Byline: ELLIOTT TEAFORD Staff Writer

The game was all but won, but Teemu Selanne wanted more.

The Ducks' right wing had already scored two goals, but he had promised an ill friend back home in Finland that he would try for three that night against the Dallas Stars.

Selanne skated into the attacking zone along the left wing, stopping on a dime and then faked out a befuddled defenseman when he suddenly rocketed away again. He shifted the puck to his backhand and waited until the goaltender made the first move. Almost casually, he slipped the puck into the back of the net.

Later, he would tell reporters he only scored the third goal as a gift to an unnamed friend dying from cancer. He said he did not wish to appear greedy.

Selanne's performance Jan. 11 in Dallas was merely another reminder of his uncommon grace on and off the ice. His hat trick also was the 19th of his career and cemented his selection for the 10th time to the NHL All-Star Game.

In the days that followed the Ducks' 5-1 victory over Dallas, as the tale of Selanne's promise to a friend spread like wildfire around the league, his selection to the Western Conference team seemed all the more fitting.

``It's always a big honor to be selected,'' the 36-year-old Selanne said. ``It's not the first time, but it could be the last one. You never know. It is a nice compliment.''

It's also a no-brainer.

Selanne is tied with four others for the league lead with 30 goals going into the All-Star Game tonight in Dallas. He is on pace to top last season's total of 40 and might even surpass 50 for the first time since he had an NHL-leading 52 during his first stint with the Ducks in 1997-98.

``In my opinion, he's one of the best, most powerful skaters out there,'' St.Louis Blues forward Bill Guerin said of Selanne. ``He's great on the power play. He's got a great shot. And it's all because of his legs. He had a stop-and-go move the other night in Anaheim, and it was like he was 22 years old again.''

Not to be overlooked, Selanne also has the Ducks parked in first place in the Pacific Division and second overall in the Western Conference with a 30-12-8 record, the franchise's best mark at the All-Star break.

What's more, although no one keeps an official tally of such things, he might just lead the league in autographs, smiles and pats on the back. Certainly, he keeps the Ducks smiling because of his good humor.

``It's just the way he enjoys the game, the way he goes about his business, his work ethic,'' said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, a teammate when Selanne scored 76 goals with the Winnipeg Jets and earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1992-93. ``The most important thing is that our young players watch him.''

Alex Gilchrist, the Ducks' media relations director, is the unofficial team historian, which means he keeps tracks of Selanne's wisecracks as well as his goals, assists and off-ice good deeds.

``He's always the last guy on the bus because he has friends in every city,'' Gilchrist said. ``He signs autographs for everyone who wants one. Forty-five minutes later, it's me grabbing him and telling him we have to go.''

Selanne's best humor is often reserved for teammates, coaches and staff members as the club travels from city to city during the NHL's 82-game grind. Gilchrist recalls story after story, but twostand out above the rest.

Once, after a dispiriting loss on the road, Selanne broke the silence during what seemed to him to be an extraordinarily long bus ride to the airport.

``OK, the joke's over,'' he said. ``Let's go back to the hotel.''

Frowns turned to smiles, silence to laughter.

Another time, when informed the team might have to fly through a hurricane to get from Tampa, Fla., to Fort Lauderdale, Selanne protested.

``I'm not going,'' he said. ``Let's rent cars and drive. Who's with me?''

The storm passed and the Ducks arrived safely.

And to think, all this might just be ancient history if the longest labor impasse in sports history hadn't forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, giving Selanne a chance to undergo reconstructive knee surgery and his peers the opportunity to devise several new rule changes to open up the game after nearly a decade of defensive drudgery.

In 2003-04 while with the Colorado Avalanche, the Finnish Flash looked, well, finished. It was clear to even the most casual observer that Selanne's speed was gone as he slumped to a career-low 16 goals.

His skills had seemed to be on the decline since the Ducks had traded him to the San Jose Sharks late in the 2000-01 season, but this was rock bottom.

Surgery and a crackdown on hooking, holding and interference gave Selanne a chance to prolong his career after the lockout was settled in the summer of 2005. All he needed was a new place to play.

As it turned out, he found an old place to play.

``We gambled on him, but it was a good gamble,'' Ducks general manager Brian Burke said of signing Selanne to a one-season, $1 million contract for 2005-06.

Selanne rewarded Burke's faith in him by scoring 40 goals, adding 50 assists and leading the Ducks to the Western Conference finals, where they lost to eventual Stanley Cup Finals runner-up Edmonton.

Selanne then accepted a one-year contract for a modest $3.75 million for this season, enabling Burke to trade for All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger last July and giving the Ducks the look of a genuine Stanley Cup contender.

``(Getting another chance to win the Stanley Cup) is the only reason I came back,'' Selanne said. ``The individual stats don't mean anything to me. The first 10 games I had a tough time. I got a little bit of a slow start. I wanted to go to the playoffs right away. The playoffs were so much fun last year.''

For his part, Pronger said he is pleased to be on Selanne's side for once instead of chasing after him for so many seasons with the Oilers and St. Louis Blues. Fierce rivals on the ice as opponents, they have become friends as teammates.

``He's enjoying the team we have here,'' Pronger said. ``It wasn't always like this when he was here the first time (with the mediocre Ducks from 1996 to 2001). I know a lot of the guys I've talked to around the league have been saying he is pushing himself to higher levels.''

Ask Selanne for the reason behind his late-career resurgence, and he sounds baffled. A healthy knee is part of it, and so are the new rules that fit his game perfectly, but Selanne can't pinpoint just one reason.

``I don't know, honestly,'' he said. ``I don't think about it. It just feels good to skate. When you play with such good players and the team is winning, everything feels quite easy. When you feel healthy, you feel so young. When you're hurting, you feel so beaten down. It's only how you feel that is most important.

``Obviously, these last two years are the most fun I've had in my career.''

elliot.teaford@dailybreeze.com

(310) 540-4201

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, 3 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- color) The Ducks' Teemu Selanne, known as the `Finnish Flash,' is tied with four others for the league lead with 30 goals going into the All-Star Game tonight in Dallas. He is on pace to top last season's total of 40.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

(2 -- 3) To pay homage to a sick friend, Teemu Selanne scored three goals against Dallas on Jan. 11, much to the chagrin of Stars goaltender Marty Turco, below. Selanne's play has helped the Ducks to a 30-12-8 record at the All-Star break.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Box:

(1) ALL-STAR ROSTERS

(2) MOST GOALS IN AN ALL-STAR GAME

(3) NHL
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 24, 2007
Words:1343
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