Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya and a Hall of Fame friendship

Paul Kariya used to marvel at the speed of Teemu Selanne’s hands when the two were teammates in the NHL.

How appropriate, then, that Selanne’s call congratulating Kariya on making the Hockey Hall of Fame actually arrived before the one from the Hockey Hall of Fame telling him he’d made the cut for the Class of 2017.

“I don’t know how he knew before they called,” said Kariya, “but it’s very nice being inducted with Teemu. If I didn’t get the opportunity to play with him, I wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.”

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That Selanne and Kariya – boy, it’s nice saying those names again, isn’t it? – are entering the Hockey Hall of Fame together is one of the most heart-tugging cases of dual immortality in recent memory. They were the epitome of two star players discovering an unstoppable chemistry through selfless commitment, and an example of how speed and offensive creativity could elevate hockey into artistry even during the most unsightly era of defensive hockey. They magic they created on the ice was hypnotic. They were like the Sedins without the shared DNA.

They pushed each other. They challenged each other. Every bad pass had a criticism from the other. Every time one didn’t hustle, the other noted it.

‘The chemistry we had was magical. I learned so much from him as a player, and as a human being,” said Selanne. “We’re still great friends. Even though we have opposite personalities.”

Selanne was the flashy rock star from Helsinki, Finland, who burst onto the scene with 76 goals and a Calder Trophy in 1992 in Winnipeg. Kariya was the quieter star, four years younger, from Vancouver. He was an offensive standout at the University of Maine, was the fourth overall pick in 1993 and hit 50 goals in his sophomore season in 1995-96.

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim made a blockbuster move with the Jets to acquire Selanne in February 1996. Selanne had been promised by Jets ownership that he would move with the team to Phoenix. Instead, he was sent to a Ducks franchise that was in the midst of a third straight season outside the playoffs.

They needed a jolt. They got a Flash.

And Kariya had a new offensive playmate.

“We clicked right away. Just an incredible run for us. I knew from playing in Winnipeg that we would mesh well together. Teemu gets a lot of respect for his goal-scoring, but I noticed right away what a great passer he was,” said Kariya.

Sometimes, the combination of two star players doesn’t work. There’s two of them, and only one puck, after all. But the secret to their success, according to Kariya, is that it didn’t matter who scored as long as one of them did.

“That was the key to our success: We didn’t care who scored the goals. It was whoever was in the right position and had the puck,” he said. “On the ice, I felt like I always knew where he was without looking, and I think he would say the same.”

But again: They were peanut butter and jelly on the ice, and a bit of oil and water off it.

“Teemu always joked that I could read his mind. Off days, it wasn’t hard to read it. He was always watching ‘Baywatch’ shows,” joked Kariya.

They played together through March 2001, when the Ducks traded Selanne to the San Jose Sharks. But that wouldn’t be end for Selanne and Kariya: In June 2003, they reunited in Colorado for a stint with the Avalanche.

Although the less said about that failed one-year folly, the better.

Selanne would go on to play 1,451 games in the NHL through his 43rd birthday, finishing with 684 goals and winning the Stanley Cup during his second stint with the Ducks in 2007. Kariya, tragically, would leave hockey at 35 years old after just 989 games due to concussion issues, finishing out his career with stints in Nashville and St. Louis. But he was a point per game player for his career, which is why he’s now a Hall of Famer.

Kariya has been somewhat estranged from hockey since then, including a notable absence from Selanne’s number retirement ceremony in Anaheim back in 2015.

“I think time heals. There’s something that he doesn’t like to be part of hockey right now. That’s my next challenge, to get him back in hockey,” Selanne said at the time. “I think right now he doesn’t want to be a part of it and I respect that.”

Kariya said “there’s no fences to be mended” with the NHL, and that he thinks player safety – a topic on which he’s been critical of the League over the years – is trending in the right direction.

“I think it’s going in the right direction. I’m sure 10 years from now we’re going to know a lot more about concussions,” he said. “But these targeted head shots that are still in the game have no place in hockey, and I’d like to see them eliminated.”

As for a future in hockey, now that he’s a Hall of Famer?

“I don’t know what the future holds. My passion was playing the game. It’s what I loved to do. I don’t know what the future holds, if I have the skills set to coach or scout players or be a general manager. These jobs take as much commitment, if not more, than a player does,” Kariya said.

Truth is, Kariya sounds like he’s having quite a life in retirement, including with his health. “My health feels good. After retiring, it took me about a year of rehab to keep feeling normal again. But I can do whatever I want now. No headaches or anything,” he said, in perhaps the best news of the day.

“I feel really good. I love to snowboard. I love to surf. I surf maybe three or four times a week when I’m in California. Good way to stay in shape.

In fact, Kariya was surfing on Monday before learning he made the Class of 2017 cut. “I didn’t get eaten by any sharks, so that’s a positive day. There’s been a lot of Sharks sightings out here. So I was rolling the dice,” he said.

Soon he was out of the water and hearing from an old friend: Selanne and Kariya were now Hockey Hall of Famers.

“It’s going to be a very, very special group,” Selanne said on a conference call on Monday that included Kariya. “Paul, we can fly together. You can pick up the tab for the private plane.”

“We’ll be flying coach, Teemu,” quipped Kariya.

Another reminder that while careers end, chemistry is immortal.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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