SOCHI, Russia — The problem in placing 43-year-old Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne alongside 18-year-old Aleksander Barkov and 21-year-old Mikael Granlund on Team Finland's top line isn't that Selanne won't be able to keep up with the two youngsters.
"I think it's going to be the other way around," forward Lauri Korpikoski said.
Selanne, eternally young, is also the eternal Olympian. He became the top scorer in Games history four years ago in Vancouver and he will tie an Olympic hockey record by playing in his sixth tournament when Finland faces Austria at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Thursday.
The swift-skating winger with sure hands and ready smile played in the 1992 Olympics at Albertville, France, three years before Barkov was born. Granlund entered the world three days after those Games ended.
"I always said that the young guys keep me young too," Selanne said Tuesday. "The funny thing, I think mentally we are the same age."
Does that make them older or him younger?
"I'm younger. I'm a little kid still. That's why I'm still playing," he said. "I don't consider this as a job. It's a game that I love to play."
He has played it remarkably well for incredibly long at the NHL and international levels. He has three Olympic medals — bronze from 1998 and 2010, and silver from 2006 — in a collection that includes the 2007 Stanley Cup championship. He ranks 11th on the NHL career goal scoring list with 682, and 15th in scoring with 1,450 points. In Olympic play he has 37 points in 31 games.
"He's a great player and he can still play at the top level," said Granlund, a top prospect of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. "It's just unbelievable."
Barkov is equally in awe. "He's always been one of my idols," said Barkov, who plays for the NHL's Florida Panthers. "I have been always watching him play and he's a legend. So I will enjoy every moment to play with him."
Enjoy Selanne while you can, for even he can't outskate time.
He returned to the Ducks this season because he wanted one more Olympic adventure and because he thought the Ducks could go far, but his role and production have been reduced. He has seven goals and 20 points in 47 games and rarely plays both games in back-to-back sequences. His ice time has been cut.
But if anything can inspire him it's being at the Olympics again, flying on the big ice while matching his still-considerable skills against those of the best players in the world.
"He's still got some good wheels," said Korpikoski, who plays for the Phoenix Coyotes. "It's going to be fun to see two young kids playing with the old guy, and it looks like they have some good chemistry."
Selanne's only concession to time is that he accepted the captain's "C," an honor that's more meaningful in hockey than any other sport. He had declined when offered it in the past, not needing the affirmation of a letter sewn on his jersey.
"But now I know it's my last one," he said, "and this time I felt you know, maybe it's time to be the captain."
If this were a movie script, these Games would end with Selanne leading Finland to a gold medal. Reality is harsh, especially since injured forwards Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula withdrew from the roster last week. Finland has a strong team ethic and probably the best goaltending in the 12-team tournament, but its scoring probably won't be plentiful and its defense is suspect.
Still, it's never wise to count Selanne out, as he has proved in the NHL and in the Olympics.
"I don't think you can replace those guys but we know we can play good team games," he said. "We are not favorites in this tournament but if somebody is going to take us lightly they're going to be in trouble for sure. I think that's our strength.
"It's 10 days. Who is going to be hot at the right time. And you know what, I'm expecting some surprises in this tournament too."
That he's here, rejuvenated and feisty as ever, is no surprise at all.
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