SOCHI, Russia -- A quarter century later, he still remembers the sense of the menace lurking in Russia's darkness.
Teemu Selanne was just 18 when he made his first trip to Russia, then the Soviet Union, to play for Finland in the 1989 Izvestia tournament in Moscow.
"The city was very different than it was now," Selanne recalled. "It was scary. It was dark and there were all the soldiers with the machine guns in the street. It started a little scary. But when we went to the hockey rink it wasn't scary anymore. It was just a place to play and enjoy."
A place where Selanne, his imagination and speed both unbound, would skate into the light, convinced the game had no limits for him or his country.
Through parts of four decades on Olympic and international ice, both big and small, Selanne has not only rewritten the Olympic record book but changed the way the hockey world views Finland and, in turn, changed the way its sees itself; a belief and staying power that Finland belongs among the game's global superpowers. Since NHL players were first included in the Olympics in 1998, the nation with the most medals is not Canada, Russia or the U.S., but Selanne's Finland.
"Countries respect us now," said Jari Kurri, the former NHL superstar and now the Finnish team's general manager. "I don't think too many countries like to play against us now because they know the Finns are tough to play against."
This week Selanne, now 43, competes in a sixth and final Olympic Games, still believing that another Russian sheet of ice offers endless possibilities.
"Every Olympics is a new story," the Ducks forward said, "and a new adventure."
And Selanne insists that the final chapter in his record-breaking Olympic career can end atop the medal podium on Feb. 23, a fourth medal, this time gold, around his neck.
"I can't see any reason why we couldn't do it," he said.
Selanne and his Finnish teammates also know few share his vision. Selanne was asked about conventional wisdom in the Russian media that the host nation will meet defending Olympic champion Canada in the Games' final.
"Hopefully, I'll get some tickets to that Games," he joked. "Obviously everyone has their own dreams. But my dream is to be in the final, also. So you never know. It's a big ice surface. It's 10 days. So whoever is going to be hot at the right time is going to have success. I'm expecting there's going to be some surprises in this tournament too. And hopefully I'm right."
The Helsinki native grew up with posters of Wayne Gretzky and Kurri on his bedroom walls. "Does he still have them up?" Kurri cracked. Because of key injuries, Selanne will skate in Finland's Olympic opener against Austria on Thursday on a line centered by Aleksander Barkov, an 18-year-old for the Florida Panthers, who grew up worshipping his new linemate.
"My idol," Barkov said. "I've always watched him play."
Joining Selanne and Barkov on the Finn's first line is Mikael Granlund, a 21-year-old with Minnesota Wild. That's right -- Selanne is four years older than the combined age of his two baby-faced linemates, an age difference Selanne shrugged off.
"I'm a little kid still," he said.
Selanne was younger than Barkov when he first gained international attention, playing in a series of games in Finland in the late '80s against the renowned Soviet Union national team and CSKA Moscow KLM line of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov that had mesmerized him as a young boy.
"That KLM line was probably the best line I've ever seen," Selanne said. "It was almost too impossible to realize I had been watching these guys for so many years and now I was playing against them."
Selanne was only 21 when he made his Olympic debut in Albertville in 1992, leading the tournament in goals (seven). Eighteen years later in Vancouver, Selanne broke the Olympic all-time scoring record (37). With is first shift this week, Selanne will join countryman Raimo Helminen as the only hockey players to play in six Olympic tournaments. But his finest moments on Olympic ice came in 2006 when he led Finland to the final, picking up six goals and 11 assists and being named the tournament's top forward. "It's difficult to compare anyone else to him in that tournament," Finland coach Ekka Westerlund said. But a loss to Sweden in the gold-medal game revealed that not everyone shared Selanne's unshaken belief.
"We had played so well but then we made the finals and in the finals we played the worst game of the tournament," Kurri said. "What happened with us? Now if make a final we don't celebrate as much. Now we have a 'one-game left' attitude. Now we believe in ourselves that we can beat Russia, we can beat Canada, beat U.S., the Swedes."
That change in mindset was evident, Kurri said, in Finland winning the World Junior Championships last month. And Selanne insists Finland is ready for a similar triumph in Russia.
"The gap between the No. 1 team and the No. 5 team is not very big," he said. "Anybody can beat anybody on any day and that's the beauty of this tournament. If somebody's going to take us lightly they're going to be in trouble."
Despite his age and more than 1,400 NHL games, he remains a major threat on the wing, especially on the big ice of the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
"That's the key," Kurri said. "With his speed it's a great chance for him and now we have to get the puck to him."
"He's still fast," Westerlund added, his eyes lighting up. "He's still really fast."
Selanne certainly doesn't see himself slowing down.
"When you're 43 and you play on the same line as guys who are 19 (sic) and twentysomething, it's a good thing," he said. "Obviously they're just numbers. Mentally, I think we're the same age. I'm very proud of being able for so many years. The passion for the game is the biggest reason I'm still playing."
A passion and belief shared by a new generation as they play on Finland's rinks and frozen ponds, chasing him through their imaginations, just as he once did Kurri and Gretzky and the KLM line.
"He's always been everywhere in Finland, so big," said Finnish forward Leo Komarov. "On the rink every kid that is playing is either talking about Teemu or thinking about him."
Komarov paused and nodded before continuing.
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