Friday, June 4, 2021

Review: Teemu Selanne (2019)

By Teemu Selanne with Ari Mennander

It's tough to know where to begin when discussing Teemu Selanne's semi-autobiography, "My Life." But that word, "semi-autobiography," seems like a good place to start.

Selanne, the veteran star of the National Hockey League, decided to come out with a book recapping his career. He was a great player for a long time, won a Stanley Cup, and performed all over the world. That works. There's plenty to admire here when it comes to hockey. 

In the introduction, Selanne explains that the book is written in the third person. "Part of the reason why is that I wanted to include quotes from my friends, family members, and former teammates, who know me better than anyone," he writes. Hmm. That's been done a few times, but it's a difficult task to make work. Let's face it - would you offer anything but praise if asked to answer questions for someone's autobiography? Me neither. 

Then there's the language barrier. Selanne is from Finland, and this book was first published over there. He spent enough time in North America to become fluent in English. Still, it's never easy to reveal someone's thoughts in a second language, as translations are difficult. The words will never be as expressive as they might be in the native tongue. 

Co-author Ari Mennander gives it a try here, but he is up against it. The finished product is something of a basic roundup of his life, told a piece at a time. Some information is presented, followed by a quote by Selanne and someone else. It's difficult to carry that off for more than 300 pages, so that this gets dry pretty quickly. Some material is repeating, so a little more editing would have been nice. It just doesn't work well.

It's too bad, because there's a good story here. Selanne took his time coming to the National Hockey League, but he took the league by storm when he arrived in 1992-93. Teemu scored a record 76 goals to set an NHL record for rookies.  He didn't stay at that level - who could? - but was still a star. Even so, the Jets traded him to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for prospects during the 1995-96 season. He had some success there, scoring more than 50 goals two more times, and had a nice run in Anaheim on some good teams. After a trade to San Jose and a free agent signing with Colorado, Selanne returned to Anaheim on a year-to-year basis. He ended up staying for eight seasons, finishing with 684 goals and 773 assists for 1,457. Yes, he skated smoothly into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

There's all sorts of praise handed out to Selanne for his play and his personality, which is fine. It's his book. Sometimes Mennander goes over the top in his descriptions about just how good he is. His career was terrific without exaggeration, thank you, and some sentences published here are a little tough to take seriously. There's a little complaining about some coaches Selanne had along the way, particularly about how they didn't play the forward enough in the later stages of his career. Does he have a legitimate gripe, or is it simply a case of a star player being the last to know he's at the end of the line? Tough to say.

A couple of issues about Selanne come up as well. He's always been fond of fast cars, even if he tells the story about how he almost killed some people in an accident on a test track. There's a matter-of-fact edge to some driving adventures, such as the time Teemu drove from Anaheim to San Jose - a distance of 400 miles - in about four hours. Jeez, isn't that rather - OK, very - dangerous?

Teemu also admits that he wants to have people with him who engage in his every whim, particularly now that he's retired. If he feels like playing golf in the afternoon, he calls people who are willing to do that. If they aren't, they fall out of his life. This sure comes off as someone who wants friends to give up their own lives at times to keep Selanne happy. It's not a good look for anyone.

 "Teemu Selanne," then, comes off as a boring book. I suppose his biggest fans will find this to have some behind-the-scenes stories about his life and be satisfied with it. That's fine. Others, though, will want to move along.

Two stars

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