By Scott Billeck
Teemu Selanne spent four seasons in a Winnipeg Jets sweater before being traded just weeks before the Jets left for Phoenix. In those four short years, however, the “Finnish Flash” endeared himself to the City of Winnipeg in a way no other did before him.
The Winnipeg Jets have had some pretty good players wear the red, blue and white jersey in their history, with the likes of Bobby Hull, Dale Hawerchuk and Thomas Steen just to name a few. But it is arguable that none have had the lasting impact that Selanne has had on the past and present Jets. If anything, it is a case of temporal precedence.
The new Winnipeg Jets having nothing to do with the Teemu Selanne that broke Mike Bossy’s rookie goal scoring record on March 2, 1993. They have equally nothing to do with man who broke Peter Stastny’s point’s record that very same year.
Yet, Selanne is ingrained in Winnipeg folklore, in the fabric of the city, one that transcends franchises and sports as a whole. Even though the new franchise is the old Atlanta Thrashers, it makes little difference to the fans of the city when Selanne comes to play in his old stomping grounds. He is a Winnipegger and always will be.
Never had sports seen such a strange fan response as the one they did when Selanne first came back to Winnipeg back in 2011. It was December 17th and Selanne’s Anaheim Ducks were in town. The emotions of the Jets being back in Winnipeg were hit by the emotions of seeing Selanne back in town, the first time since February 4th, 1996. An eruption occurred unlike any other.
Fans cheered Selanne’s every possession on the ice. This, after giving him a standing ovation during the pre-game skate. When Selanne didn’t have the puck, Jets fans booed, yet instantaneously changed to a chorus of cheers whenever Selanne was on the prowl with the puck.
It was strange dichotomy, but one that Selanne appreciated immensely.
“That reception was unbelievable,” Selanne said. “That was so special that I almost hope that I didn’t have to come back here anymore, it was such a perfect night. Obviously we lost but it is something that I can always remember. This place is so nice, and the fans are unbelievable so I am very happy that I get a chance to come back one more time.”
“It all happened so quickly, the next day I was gone,” said Selanne of the trade that sent him to the Ducks back in 1996. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to all the fans and people who were important here, so it was tough to leave that way. So when I came back here back in 2011 it was really, really special.
Selanne had the game penciled in on his calendar, both back in 2011 and now in 2013.
“You don’t get this kind of chance very often and at that time I marked that game in my calendar right away and couldn’t wait to get here and pretty much the same thing again,” said Selanne. “It is a very special place for me and it is going to be fun.”
Olli Jokinen earlier this week was skeptical about the chances of Selanne’s impending retirement at the end of this season saying he could see him play another four or five seasons. Selanne, however, reiterated this this 2013-14 season — his 25th in his professional playing career — would be his last.
“No, no, no,” Selanne said with a laugh. “Tell Olli no.”
“I just felt that the time is now, there was a big relief right when I said it would be my final (year). Everybody knows, my family, my friends, teammates so you can enjoy every day.”
The thought of coming back to Winnipeg to play one last season with the Jets has always been in the back of Selanne’s mind — a place where it has always stayed.
“Obviously with my situation in my life with my family and everything back in Anaheim….in the back of my mind it would be unbelievable story, but it was not possible,” said Selanne.
Selanne will make his last impact on the ice when his Ducks invade the MTS Centre Sunday night. But maybe these parting words from him will be the ones that make the final imprint on his storied legacy in Winnipeg.
“They know how special they have been, not only the time that I was here, but all the years of my career,” said Selanne. “When I came here I was a young boy, they really took care of me like their own and treated me so well.
“I am so happy that I could start here and create this relationship with the fans.”