Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mr. Flash - This my story on how I came to know Teemu Selanne

Back in 1997, towards the end of the NHL season and just after the Anaheim Mighty Ducks finished playing the Calgary Flames. I was standing in front of the visiting team dressing at the Calgary Olympic Saddledome.  The concourse area in front of the player’s dressing rooms is an area about 15 feet wide but it circles the whole Saddledome. Basically this is the area where you see a lot of the TV interviews of the players as they walk off the ice surface.

I was introduced to Pierre Pagé by an acquaintance of mine Don Wilson. Don was an insurance broker in Brooks, Alberta and a huge hockey fan with Flames season tickets. Don and Pierre have been friends for many years prier to this night. Pierre was head coach of the then Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

 We had received the permission to go down and talk to Pierre Pagé. With Dons introduction, the meeting between Pierre and myself turned to why I was there. My answer was, I wanted to do artwork of one particular player on the Ducks team. That player was Teemu Selanne.

After the small chat we headed down this long hallway that lead to the visiting team dressing room.  I had with me my portfolio, which was at the time a photo album full of my artwork. Then I had another album with reference photos that I purchased from Bruce Bennett Studios. I believe there were 10 and each one was a different pose of Teemu. In my pocket I had my homemade business cards. I was ready, I must have looked like a retard but I was ready! And that’s how I started my art career. I just went and tried my hardest to get introduced to the right people who in turn would hopefully introduce me to the players themselves. If that didn’t work I would wait for the Samboni driver to open the over head door to the building and run in when he had his back to me....Just kidding!
We got to the door of the dressing room and Pierre Pagé turned to us to say  “Teemu just finished having a shower so I’m not sure what dressed condition he will be in. You might have to just look the other way for a couple of minutes Ok?”
As we walked into the dressing room Pierre Pagé turned again and said “ Oh he is still talking to the press. You’ll have to wait your turn. You can have a seat right over there.”  Pierre Pagé pointed to the locker stall that had the only clothes left in the dressing room. Those clothes belonged to Teemu.
As Don and I walked over to the stall I was mesmerized by what I was seeing. It was like I was watching a scene from a movie..
There in the middle of the dressing room was Teemu perched upon a bench so that he could over look all the cameras and reporters that were waiting to ask him questions about the great game that he just finish show casing. Don and I waited for what seem like 5 minutes but I’m sure it was more like an hour.
Finally the reporters and camera crews started to leave one by one. Then there was the last scene of Teemu standing upon the make shift podium, towel wrapped around him and still smiling for the cameras. It was a pretty cool scene to view.
You know it’s funny after all these years that scene is quite vivid in my mind. From the lights going off, Teemu shaking hands with the reporter / cameraman, Teemu stepping down from the make shift podium, walking towards the stall and sitting down right beside me. That I will never forget!
Pierre Pagé was there beside Don and myself. I was sitting down taking this all in. As Teemu came near I stood up and Pierre Pagé introduced me to Teemu.
With his strong Finnish accent he said “ Hello Joe, Good to meet you! “ Very nice to meet you too Teemu! “ Was all I could mustard...
He excused himself and got dressed then he asked what was on my mind. I started to tell him about my artwork and how he needed to have my painting hanging up in his house.  The business part took over. As I showed him my portfolio his interest grew and he seem to really like the painting I did of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen of the Edmonton Oilers.
He then asked me something that I will never forget.
 He asked me “ Why do I paint hockey players? “ I looked at Don, Pierre, and back at Teemu and all I could say was this.
“ I love painting sports portraits and I love watching hockey so the two go hand in hand. But most important is the thrill to meet a player like yourself, do the artwork, and then watch the smile come onto your face when you see the final art piece of yourself.  “
Teemu looked at me and smiled to which he said,
 “ Ok, when can I see this piece?” Pointing to the art piece of Wayne Gretzky. I mentioned the next time I see him again.
The conversation turned to when the Ducks would be in Calgary again. At that the time the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics were around the corner and Teemu would be practicing with Finland.
To me, that was just too long a time to wait to get any kind of an agreement done. I needed to know when we could meet and how, where, you know all those good qestions?
Pierre said that they would be in Edmonton in two weeks. I asked Teemu how I may I get a hold of him up in Edmonton and he gave me his cell number. He gave me his freaken cell number...wow!
I then asked at what hotel they would be staying at in Edmonton and how do I page him at the front desk. Again without hesitation I got an answer from Teemu. “ Call me Mr. Flash!  The front desk will know who I am!”  The first meeting was scheduled. I didn’t get a chance to see him in Edmonton because he got hurt but we did communicate by phone.
I had to decide on my own which pose to do. I found a couple of images, some hockey equipment and proceeded to create the painting. It took about 180 hours to complete. I framed it, which by the way is the last time I do that…..It nearly broke my bank!
I got a hold of Temmu by phone and we decided to meet in Anaheim. My family planned a mini vacation to Disneyland so I took the opportunity to deliver the painting to him. He never did get to see the original of Gretzky, Kurri, and Tikkanen, perhaps some day!

The day that I was to deliver the painting, my family went off to Disneyland. We had caught up with my wife’s parents who were Snowbirds traveling throughout the southern States. So that filled my void in the picture.  Grandpa had to take my spot on the Space Mountain ride. I heard he did well!
Teemu wanted to meet at the Disney Ice complex, which was the Mighty Ducks training facility.
I remember getting asked by the security folks what I was doing inside the arena while the Ducks were practicing, as soon as I mention the word “ Mr. Flash “, it was like I said the magic words. They left me alone…too cool
I got the opportunity to watch practice and after that Teemu came up to the area where I was sitting and motioned to me to go down stairs.
While waiting for the team to clear the dressing room and to get my chance to talk to Teemu, again security approached me. But this time the fellow was a little bit more interested in what I had to show Teemu. So I opened the container the painting was in and proceeded to show him. Soon after we had a crowd around. One of those in the crows was Paul Kariya. He never really said anything but  “ That’s awesome, I know he’ll like it “ then turned and walked away. There was all these people talking to me but for some odd reason his conversation stuck with me.
I got the opportunity to show Teemu the painting and the surprise look and that huge smile sure made my day, I tell you what!
He said his wife was going to love this!
Teemu question to me was  “ Would you be interested in doing a painting of me and Paul?”
Hey what can I say?...” Of course!”
I had mentioned that Paul already seen the painting out in the hallway. That didn’t matter, Teemu wanted to talk to Paul himself.
He brought Paul back into the dressing room and told Paul the idea of a painting of the two of them. Paul agreed and left again. He said,
“ Sure that sounds great!” then Paul turned and left the room. He mentioned something about needing to be somewhere else.
After the business part was done, we packaged up the painting and I followed Teemu out to the player’s parking lot. He shook my hand and I watched him drive away.
The security person in the parking lot looked at me and said,
“ He looked very happy!”  All I could say was,
“ Did that just happened?”
To which he replied, “ He is such a great person, that Mr. Selanne “

Back home in Canada, Teemu and I scheduled another meeting. The day of the meeting and driving on the QE-2 ( back then was just Highway #2 later changed to the Queen Elizabeth #2) to Edmonton in the middle of winter is not an easy task. But hey I was on a mission. To meet Mr. Flash himself again the "The Finnish Flash". Very cool... I was pumped... 
Hotel Macdonald was hotel where our meeting was to take place.  Once I inside.. I was just in awe at the beautiful site of this magnificent hotel. I went straight to the front desk and ask if they could page Mr.Flash...The girl looked at me asked my name and said yes please wait a minute I will get a hold of Mr.Flash for you. Those are the magic words..
I sat down in one of the many leather sofas by the grand fire place. I waited ....and waited  and then I saw Pierre Pagé walking towards me from a distance. 
Pierre shouts out " Joey! How was your trip?"  of course I said great! Then Pierre proceed "Teemu isn't here we had to send him home because of an injury!"...." Oh man!"  Was all that came out of my mouth..." He then asked me how long a drive was it. I told him that the 5 hours of driving went by pretty fast because of what I was going to be doing. But the 5 hours of driving back are going to feel like 10 hours. Pierre said just wait a little bit I'll have a quick meeting with the other players and tell them about your work...
Well it was a show and tell for the players. But they were the ones who got to see the Wayne Gretzky painting.
Teemu, a friend of mine Lloyd Butt ( Brother to Brent Butt, Canadian TV sitcom – Corner Gas )  myself and my family met in Calgary in the fall of 1998.  We were sitting in the lobby of the Westin and waiting for Paul to come down and talk to us. As soon Paul came down and sat with us, there was a bunch of people that just seem to come out of the woodwork to get autographs from these two gentlemen.  That was a little disturbing to witness.
We couldn’t agree to a pose or anything. Paul just got up and left without saying a word. We all just looked at each other confused.
That’s when Teemu said something that to this day I still preach to our kids.
He looked at each one of our kids and said “ If you want people to respect you, you first must respect them!”
After that day, we couldn’t get together to talk about the painting of Teemu and Paul. It just fell through.
But the memories will be forever cherished in my heart!
Thank you Don Wilson, Pierre Page, and of course Mr. Flash

Joe Versikaitis - Sport Artist

“ Mr. Flash ” 
Teemu Selanne - 22” x 30” - Acrylics on Canvas - 1998

By Joe Versikaitis - www.versikaitis.com