Teemu Selanne thinks he can teach kids to score just like he did, and if he does it just might keep Finland near the top of the world hockey food chain.
If you watch Patrik Laine’s goal against Team USA in Finland’s pre-tournament World Cup game Tuesday night, it might remind you a little of another Finnish scoring phenom who put the puck in the back of the net 684 times in the NHL and established himself as the greatest player in the history of the Little Engine That Could.
And if that man, Teemu Selanne, has any say in the matter, there will be a lot more where that came from. This past summer, the top 20 under-16 Finnish forwards were invited to spend four days in Helsinki at the first-ever Teemu Selanne Scoring Academy. And aside from it being the greatest breath of fresh air ever, it’s a place that pretty much lives up to its name. After all, if these Finnish kids want to get even better at scoring, there’s nobody from whom they could learn more about the art and science of it than Selanne.
And Selanne, who is at the World Cup as an advisor to the Finnish team, is doing his best to make sure Finland maintains its lofty perch near the top of the world hockey food chain. The Finns won both the World Junior Championship and the Under-18 World Championship last season and finished second to Canada at the World Championship. In the five Olympics in which the NHL has participated, the Finns have won four medals, more than any other country. “If you put all that together,” Selanne said, “I think we’re the No. 1 team in the world.”
And Selanne wants to do his best to keep it that way. And the best way he can do that is to teach young Finnish players how to score goals the way he did. And he’s doing it in a unique way. The same way most coaches pay attention to detail to help keep opponents from scoring, Selanne is using the same approach to helping them score. For four days, the most talented young Finnish players spent two on-ice sessions per day with one objective – to become even better goal scorers.
“Think about it,” Selanne said while watching Team Finland practice Thursday in preparation for their first tournament game Sunday. “I don’t think anyone has ever created a goal scoring camp and still the fact is whoever scores more goals wins the game. I always thought I wanted to do something like that. That’s my passion.”
So he started the academy this past summer and ran it along with former national team goaltender Markus Ketterer. He was amazed at the skill level he saw in the young players and wanted to enhance it by teaching them that scoring doesn’t always have to be instinctive. Selanne believes that the same way you can teach defensive hockey, you can teach a player to be a better goal scorer.
“The last part of the puzzle I think is missing is the thinking process, the way you’re going to get better as a goal scorer,” Selanne said. “And I think that’s something you can learn by talking about it, watching videos, analyzing goalies and, of course, a lot of repeats in game-type situations. In a practice like this one, forwards might shoot 20 or 25 times and half of them are warm-ups. But in a one-hour practice, each kid was shooting 200 times.”
But what’s more important is that every one of those 200 shots has a purpose. Selanne has a library of 50 shooting drills that cover every conceivable scoring situation – high tempo game action, one-timers, 2-on-1s, shooting off balance or without any time or in a bad position. It’s an extension of Selanne’s playing days, which will result in his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame the moment he’s eligible next summer. Selanne always wanted to have more opportunities to work on his shot in practice, but found coaches who were bogged down in systems work.
“Even in practice I wanted to score every time,” Selanne said. “I would always have bets with Paul Kariya on who would score more goals in practice, score more five-holes, whatever. I loved when the goalies would get frustrated and break their sticks. It was a challenge to make them mad.”
In an era when every aspect of defensive hockey is micromanaged and over-coached, it’s encouraging to see someone who’s taking the same approach to making the game more exciting. What Selanne wants to teach young players more than anything is to devote as much energy to becoming a better scorer as they do to other parts of the game, to work on shooting with a purpose and have a hunger to score. The way he did.
Selanne doesn’t see himself becoming a bench coach, but is enjoying the skill development side of the game. And who knows? If a Finnish forward gets hurt in the World Cup, he looks like he could step in and play with them now. “I could play at this level, no problem,” he said. “But I left my gear at home.”