TORONTO — They are, even in retirement, the oddest of couples.
Paul Kariya seeks refuge in the swells of Southern California. Since retiring from the NHL in 2010, Kariya, a native of Vancouver, spends most mornings surfing. He is learning how to speak Japanese through an app on his phone. He has attended only one NHL game in the past seven years: On May 16, 2014, Kariya and his girlfriend inconspicuously arrived at the Honda Center. They sat in a suite and watched Teemu Selanne‘s NHL finale. They then snuck out without fanfare.
Selanne, a native of Helsinki, proudly owns a Laguna Beach steakhouse called Selanne Steak Tavern. He recently jumped a car over a fiery explosion in a stunt for a Finnish reality TV show. The Finnish Flash frequently attends Anaheim Ducks games. Last March, Selanne posed as a mannequin in the Ducks’ team store in a promotion honoring the 10-year anniversary of Anaheim’s Stanley Cup.
Kariya goes to bed at 10 every night. Selanne … does not. Selanne would tape his stick in 20 seconds; it took Kariya 10 minutes. “He measures it like five times,” Selanne, now 47, said on the eve of both being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. “It has to be absolutely perfect.”
“It’s 180 degrees, personality-wise,” said Kariya, now 43. “But it’s funny, we’re a lot more alike in the way we think, and the way we perceive the world, than different. He’s a very outgoing personality, I’m a more quiet and private person, but we’ve gotten along since the first time we met and have been friends ever since.”
The Ducks selected Kariya at No. 4 in the 1993 draft, their first pick in franchise history. A Hobey Baker winner at Maine, Kariya finished his NHL career with 989 points (402 goals, 587 assists) in 989 games with the Ducks, Avalanche, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. Selanne played 21 seasons with the Winnipeg Jets — who drafted him 10th overall in 1988 — Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Avalanche. He tallied 1,457 points (684 goals, 773 assists) in 1,451 career games, including 76 goals as a rookie with the Jets in 1992-93.
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As different as they are from each other, they formed arguably one of the best duos of all time and the NHL’s first free agency super pairing. In a model more frequently seen in today’s NBA, in 2003 both Kariya and Selanne took less money to sign together with the Colorado Avalanche. After all, the duo dazzled in 308 career games together with the Mighty Ducks, accounting for 35 percent of the team’s goals from 1995-96 to 2000-01. “They were good individually,” said fellow inductee Mark Recchi, a contemporary. “But they were so, so good together.”
And so it seems fitting Kariya and Selanne will enter the Hall together; they even traveled in Toronto together, walking into the introductory Hall of Fame news conference Friday stride-by-stride; Selanne whispered something into Kariya’s ear, which made his friend and former linemate laugh.
“There are great duos in sports over the years,” said Lanny McDonald, chairman of the Hall of Fame. “Lemaire and Lafleur in Montreal, that’s what comes to mind when you think of Selanne and Kariya. They hang out together, they fly in together. I think they’re both like little kids. They love the game. You see a sparkle in their eyes when they talk about their friendship.”
Kariya is still passionate about the game; he said he watches many games at home. “I don’t feel like I disappeared,” Kariya said. “Ninety-five percent of my friends are hockey players, coaching hockey, in hockey. When those guys are in town, we go to dinner and all we do is talk about hockey. I’ve never felt separated from the game for one bit. … It’s more been me being a private person and being out of the spotlight.”
But his absence has been conspicuous. Kariya was forced into retirement in 2010 after his sixth diagnosed concussion. He has had memory loss, which he said is mitigated by working on brain puzzles and taking ballroom dancing lessons, at his doctor’s recommendation.
Kariya has said previously he wishes the NHL would do more to protect its players but does not plan to address concussions in his Hall of Fame speech (he said he has made his stance clear in previous comments). “There’s definitely more knowledge in terms of concussions,” Kariya said. “And I like to think 10 years from now we’ll be in a better spot.”
Selanne, however, has seen a change in his friend since Kariya walked away. At first, Selanne said, Kariya was “bitter,” though that has softened. Selanne wants Kariya to become involved in a more formal role in the game — not something he would have to do every day, Selanne said, but a foot in the door.
“The way his career ended. He didn’t really have closure, that’s how I feel,” Selanne said. “The way how he has been the last three, four months — he’s like a totally different person. He’s so happy, he’s so excited about everything.”
And once again, here is how they are alike and not alike. Kariya is clearly honored to be part of the Hall. It was Selanne who broke the news to Kariya — Kariya was out surfing at the time — and Kariya was at a loss for words. “I didn’t even know it was possible,” he said. “This isn’t something I ever dreamed could happen.” But closure?
“I never looked for closure or ever felt like that,” Kariya said. “I never needed closure.”