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Finland celebrates as time runs out against the USA during the third period of the men's Bronze Medal hockey game at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, February 22, 2014. Finland defeated USA 5-0 to capture the Bronze Medal. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Teemu Selanne leads Finland's beatdown of US men's hockey team

ADLER, Russia -- Since they were small boys he had always been there.

On their televisions.

On their bedroom and locker-room walls.

In their dreams.

"Ever since I can remember," Finland forward Lauri Kopikoski said, "I can see Teemu playing for Team Finland in the Olympics."

And now here they were, having spent most of their lives chasing him across Finland's ponds and small rinks, through their imaginations, still trying to catch up to Teemu Selanne as he led them around the Bolshoy Ice Dome ice, bronze medals around their necks, for one more, one last victory lap at the Olympic Games.

Selanne scored two goals in Finland's 5-0 romp against the United States in the bronze-medal game Saturday, writing the final chapter to an Olympic career in which he rewrote the record-book through six Games.

"Twenty-six years ago I played my first national team game," the Ducks forward said, "and it's been a great journey so far, and this is a great ending."

And in his Olympic finale, Selanne, 43, might have saved his best for last, even in a career that has seen him lead Olympic tournaments in scoring and own the all-time Olympic scoring record.

"This has been a great journey," Selanne said. "It gives me a very proud feeling, but it's sad also because it just creates unbelievable memories, great memories. Some huge disappointments, too. But that's how life goes. Those disappointments make you make sure that when you get some good moments you appreciate those and you can enjoy. What a great ending."

Selanne's first goal in the second period energized Finland in what had been to that point a lifeless game for two teams coming off disappointing losses only a day earlier in the tournament semifinal, Finland to Sweden, the U.S. to Canada. His second goal in the third period put an exclamation point on a dominant performance by the Finns and Olympic hockey's greatest career.

"A dream come true," Selanne said.

And a nightmare for a U.S. team that scored 20 goals in its first four games only to finish these Games on the wrong end of back-to-back shutouts. Not even a pair of penalty shots could get Team USA on track or the scoreboard. U.S. forward Patrick Kane was stopped by Finland goaltender Tuukka Rask on a penalty shot in the first period, and then shot high on another penalty shot in the second period.

"It was pretty demoralizing," U.S. captain Zach Parise said. "We had to turn around and realize that there was actually a bronze medal on the line which is still a pretty big deal. But those two efforts were just not acceptable at this point."

Saturday's victory over the U.S., one of the pre-tournament gold medal favorites, was especially satisfying for Selanne and the Finns, who seemed to be alone in seeing themselves as medal contenders.

"It's always that way," said Rask, who returned to make 27 saves Saturday after missing the semifinal loss because of the flu. "Nobody ever picks us to do anything and somehow we always find a way."

And as usual it was Selanne leading the way. Although Selanne has played a diminished role in Anaheim this season, Finland coach Erkka Westerlund put him on a first line anchored by 18-year-old center Aleksander Barkov with Mikael Granlund, 21, on the other wing. The combined age of the pair was four years younger than Selanne, and at times the kids seemed to be in awe of their veteran linemate.

"I grew up a big fan of Teemu's," said Granlund, who plays for Minnesota. "I still am."

The grouping, however, also seemed to rejuvenate Selanne.

"I'm a little kid still," Selanne said.

"I think he's easily able to play for a few more years," Granlund said then paused, trying to keep a straight face. "Maybe 10."

Selanne played throughout the tournament with a youthful exuberance, and less than two minutes into the second period he also rediscovered a youthful burst of speed, surging up the left wing onto a puck knocked up the middle, then cutting toward the goal, backhanding a shot past U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick.

Selanne's goal hadn't even been announced on the public-address system when a goal by Jussi Jokinen gave the Finns a 2-0 lead 11 seconds later.

"When they got the two goals a lot of frustration set in for us," Parise said.

The rest of the night was a celebration for the Finns, Selanne joining in the piling on with a third period goal that made it 4-0.

Before the game, Selanne gathered his teammates for a pregame talk, telling them to appreciate the moment.

"This is a very unique situation," he recalled saying. "To be able to win the medal in these kinds of tournaments when the best players are involved."

And has been the case in his previous five Olympic Games, Selanne was among the best players on the ice in this tournament. He finished his final Games tied for third in both goals (4) and points (6). Selanne scored as many goals in Russia as the home team's trio of superstars (Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin) combined. Or four more than Canada captain Sidney Crosby. Selanne finishes his Olympic career with a record 43 points, and four medals, a silver in 2010 and bronzes in 1998, 2010 and now Saturday.

"He's had a great tournament," Granlund said.

Granlund was reminded that Selanne also played in his first Olympics at 21. Granlund was asked: Couldn't he see himself playing in six Games and winning four medals?

Granlund shook his head no.

"But he's different," he said. "I can tell you he's different."

Selanne heads back to the Ducks and the final leg of his bid to wrap up his career by winning a second Stanley Cup.

"We have a great team in Anaheim and my role has been getting smaller and smaller, which is kind of disappointing, but you know I'm not complaining at all," he said. "I just try to do what I can control and play well when I have a chance. I understand the Stanley Cup is the next goal for myself. And playing (in my) last season would be a dream come true again. But that's a long to go. I'm going to try and enjoy this as much as I can. Dreams come true for me."

And for those small Finnish boys who now even as men were still trying to keep up with him.

(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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FINLAND


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