Squinting into the Florida sun, Teemu Selanne put the pedal to the metal. Within seconds Selanne, the NHL's top first-year player, who has already smashed the rookie goal-scoring record, was driving faster than the law allowed, skeptically evaluating the performance of the rented Chrysler LeBaron convertible, on busy 1-4 east of Tampa.
Taking his eye off the road for a nerve-racking moment, Selanne turned to his white-knuckled passenger, laughed and shook his head. "It's O.K.," he called out over the rush of the wind. "It's a regular car. Nothing special."
That's not really good enough for Selanne, the Winnipeg Jets' 22-year-old right wing, for whom hockey is a job but driving is an adventure. He has competed—with little success—in off-road rallies near his home just outside Helsinki, roaring through the forests in souped-up Fords and Mitsubishis. "Those cars go like bullets," he said. "In races, I drive maybe 140 kilometers per hour [84 mph]."
Selanne owns a bevy of muscle cars: a '61 Lincoln Continental, a '67 Mercedes 250 SL and a '68 Corvette. He has had them all painted candy-apple red, a few shades darker than the faces of the defensemen who hopelessly struggle to slow him down on the ice.
Sorry, Eric Lindros, but you're simply going to have to give the Calder Trophy back. The rookie of the year award, ceded to Lindros, the Philadelphia Flyers' prodigy, before this season even began, can't go to anyone but Selanne. With 65 goals and 43 assists for 108 points at week's end, Selanne had not only surpassed the rookie goal-scoring mark set by Mike Bossy, who had 53 for the New York Islanders in 1977-78, but also stood on the verge of breaking Peter Stastny's rookie scoring record of 109 points set in 1980-81.
Rather than call him by his mellifluous name (pronounced Tay-MOO SEH-lahn-nay), fans in Winnipeg refer to him instead as the Finnish Flash. He's quick to attack, quick to shoot, quick to sign autographs and even quicker to smile. "He's been well worth waiting for," says Barry Shenkarow, the owner of the Jets, whose team drafted Selanne in 1988. Since then, Selanne completed his 11-month military commitment in Finland—"real-man school," he calls it—became an ace marksman, taught kindergarten, and starred on the ice for Finland in the '92 Olympics. Last August it was time for him to earn real-man bread, signing a three-year, $2.7 million deal with the Jets.
It has been money well spent because the 6-foot, 200-pound Selanne has quickly established himself as the team's franchise player. "He's going to put Winnipeg back on the hockey map," says Jet coach John Paddock.
Selanne has already attracted an influx of tourists from Finland, including his girlfriend, Sirpa Vuorinen, and his twin brother, Paavo, a former goalie in Finland. Selanne seems genuinely bemused by all the attention his exploits have received back home. "He's like a rock star," says Alpo Suhonen, the former coach of the Finland team and now an assistant coach with the Jets. "I don't know if he can get any more popular in Finland than he is right now."
Sure he can. Someday in the not-too-distant future, Selanne wants to load the Stanley Cup into his bright-red Lincoln, along with eight or 10 kids from his old kindergarten class, and triumphantly cruise the boulevards of Helsinki. That would really stop traffic.
B. WINKLER/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
The Finnish Flash (13) has already broken the NHL rookie goal-scoring record and is on the verge of greater feats.