HELSINKI — Teemu Selanne has put on the blue and white of Finland’s national jersey one last time.
Selanne skated around the ice at Hartwall Arena in full Olympic gear and waved to cheering fans on Wednesday as his No. 8 jersey was retired by the national team during a pre-game ceremony before Finland faced Slovakia at the world junior hockey championship.
"It was really special to me," said Selanne of the ceremony. "The national team has been a very important of my life. I had a chance to play 30 years for the national team. I’ve been very proud to put that jersey on every time when I’ve played.
"Tonight was a great honour. Sharing that with the important people in my life and the fans was very special."
The 30-minute ceremony began with the phrase "Sel8nne Forever" projected onto the ice, followed by childhood photos flashing across the rink. Loud cheers and applause spread through the stands as the video screen showed him driving up to Hartwall Arena — where he once played for Helsinki-based club Jokerit.
After family and friends assembled on the ice, Selanne skated out in his national team uniform to the theme from "Back to the Future," and was greeted with a standing ovation.
Kalervi Kummola, chairman of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association and vice-president of the International Ice hockey Federation, addressed the crowd and then Selanne spoke.
"I told the fans that there’s no words to thank them," said Selanne. "The crowd was great. I’ve always had great relations with the fans and they’ve been supporting me so well over the years, there’s no words for that."
A banner bearing Finland’s coat of arms and Selanne’s name and the No. 8 was raised to the rafters of the arena as Selanne, his wife Sirpa Vuorinen, and two of their children looked on. He then took another lap around the ice, again waving to the adoring crowd.
Although No. 8 is synonymous with Selanne in Finland, he came to the number by chance.
"It just came to me randomly," said Selanne. "When I was a little kid and the coach gave the jerseys out I got the No. 8. The funny thing is the No. 8 has always followed me.
"Our first address was No. 8, my first motorcycle the licence plate was UC 8, it’s weird how it works like that but it’s always been my favourite."
Selanne, who set an NHL rookie record with 76 goals in his debut season for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-’93, said he was excited to watch the world junior tournament in his hometown of Helsinki. He believes that the level of competition of junior hockey around the world is drastically better than when he played for Jokerit’s junior and senior teams.
"What they do these days in the junior hockey, the players are so much more ready at an early age as when I played," Selanne said during the first intermission of the Finland-Slovakia game. "They play almost as many games in junior as they do in the NHL.
"I think that’s one of the reasons they’re so much more ready than we (were). It’s great to see young guys coming and being so ready right away."
Selanne completed his NHL career with 684 goals and 773 assists over 22 seasons with Winnipeg, Anaheim, San Jose and Colorado.