ANAHEIM, Calif. — Teemu Selanne sat on the bench with tears in his eyes, remembering the days when the Anaheim Ducks were mighty in name only.
After 14 seasons and various stops around the Western Conference, the Finnish Flash and the rest of his Ducks teammates are first-time Stanley Cup champions. Well, all except Scott Niedermayer, now a four-time winner of hockey’s most cherished prize.
“It was heavier than I thought,” Selanne said Wednesday night, referring to the 35-pound trophy.
He broke into the NHL by scoring a league rookie-record 76 goals with the former Winnipeg Jets. Selanne came to Anaheim for his first stint with the Ducks in February 1996 when the team was 3 years old and nowhere close to competing for the Stanley Cup.
Not even the Disney movie that gave the team its original name could think of something so far-fetched.
But when the Ducks were on their way to a 6-2 victory in Game 5, Selanne recalled the rough days when he thought this moment might never come.
Suddenly the horn sounded, fireworks exploded overhead and streamers and confetti fell from the rafters to signify Anaheim’s win over the Ottawa Senators and mark the Stanley Cup’s first deliverance to a California champion.
“Unbelievable,” said Selanne, the 36-year-old forward, the oldest player in the series. “There were so many times that I wasn’t sure if this was ever going to happen. It’s been 15 years and over 1,000 games. That’s why the last two or three minutes in the game, I was crying on the bench because I was so happy.
“I’ve been waiting for this for such a long time.”
Now he knows how Canada feels. The nation considers itself the hockey home office, yet none of its teams have won the Cup since Montreal in 1993, the same year the-then Mighty Ducks entered the league.
They missed the playoffs their first three seasons, totaling only 47 wins, one fewer than they won this season, before reaching the second round in 1997 with Selanne.
After another season outside the playoffs, the Ducks exited in the first round in 1999.
It took until 2003 when Anaheim got within one win of the title to win another playoff series. The Ducks’ championship hopes were squashed when they fell to Niedermayer and the New Jersey Devils.
Selanne toiled in San Jose then, and would move on to Colorado before returning to the Ducks after the NHL lockout ended in 2005.
He wouldn’t say whether this would be the end of his career, but if it is, he picked a great way to go out.
“The last two years has been the best time in my life,” Selanne said. “We knew we were going to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, but still, you never know if it’s going to happen because there’s so many things you have to do well.”
And that’s where the Senators fell short. Despite having the NHL’s most potent forward line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, they couldn’t muster an attack against Anaheim’s checkers and Norris Trophy finalists Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.
Pronger was the missing piece after last year’s Ducks lost in the semifinals to the Edmonton Oilers. Shortly after, Pronger demanded a trade from those Oilers and was sent to Anaheim.
It worked out well for both sides, even though Pronger separated a shoulder in the first period of the finale and played through it.
Alfredsson can be absolved from some blame since he netted four goals, two in the last game, and an assist in the series. Heatley hit the 50-goal mark the past two seasons, but managed one in the finals. That came in Game 4 when Ottawa lost despite Pronger sitting out a suspension for an elbow to the head of Dean McAmmond that knocked the forward out of the series.
“They were just the better team,” said Alfredsson, who topped Selanne when Sweden beat Finland for the gold medal in the 2006 Turin Olympics. Ottawa won its first three playoff series in five games each, losing by one goal once in each matchup. The Senators dropped three more one-goal defeats to Anaheim in the finals before getting blown out in the clincher.
They could look back to 5-on-3 advantages in each of the first two games in Anaheim they failed to convert.
“It just seemed like it was meant for them to win it,” forward Mike Fisher said. “They just got the breaks.”
The Ducks tied the postseason mark they already shared by winning 12 one-goal playoff games. When the Senators got two goals in the second period from Alfredsson, it looked as though Game 5 might also go down to the wire.
But when defenseman Chris Phillips put the puck in his own net off the skates of goalie Ray Emery, it did seem nothing would derail the Ducks. After all, at the Honda Center they are 6-0 in finals games and 8-0 in clinching contests.
Travis Moen got credit for the Cup clincher and added another for good measure.
Emery had his worst game of the playoffs in allowing six goals on 18 shots. Ducks counterpart Jean-Sebastien Giguere didn’t have to be perfect, like he nearly was in claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy back in 2003 when the Ducks fell just short.
He made 11 saves and passed on the MVP mantle to Niedermayer, who had the chance to hand the Cup to brother and teammate Rob.
“I can’t believe how fortunate that I’ve been just to poke my nose in the right door and end up in the spots I’ve been in to be able to do this,” said Scott Niedermayer, who left New Jersey before last season to have a chance to play with his brother. “I remember what it was like when I won the first one and just how excited you are.”
Anaheim is the first West Coast city to win the Stanley Cup since Victoria, of the Western Canada Hockey League, defeated Montreal in 1925. The Ducks won the Cup by winning 16 times in 21 games, needing more than five games only against Detroit in the Western Conference finals.
“I’ve been so close to winning an Olympic gold medal, and world championship gold medal, and it’s never happened,” Selanne said. “I’m so happy that I finally won something.”