The Jets still matter

Ducks forward Teemu Selanne looks on against the Canucks at the Honda Center in Anaheim on October...

Ducks forward Teemu Selanne looks on against the Canucks at the Honda Center in Anaheim on October 13, 2010. (JEFF GROSS/Getty Images)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:57 PM ET

I’ll admit, I wasn’t thrilled when the boss approached me with this latest assignment.

Drudging up tattered memories of the Winnipeg Jets just didn’t interest me any more than shovelling my walk in shorts and a pair of sandals.

That’s ancient history, after all.

Who cares anymore?

When push came to shove, though, I put up about as much resistance as the Edmonton Eskimos offensive line. Column ideas are hard enough to find at this time of year, so what the hell.

Then I discovered something that surprised me.

People do still care.

Everybody I tracked down — the four former Jets still playing in the NHL, plus four other ex-Jets from the team’s final season, 1995-96 — said Winnipeg’s old NHL team is still near and dear to their hearts.

And they weren’t just paying lip service.

The Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne, said he thinks about his first team almost every day.

He’s also kept almost all his Jets memorabilia from 15 years ago.

“I knew they were going to be great one day,” Selanne said.

“Nothing is for sale.”

Nikolai Khabibulin, the Russian goalie, still has Jets T-shirts in packages that he won’t let anybody wear, not even his own kids.

Ditto Shane Doan, the team’s final first-round draft pick, whose prized possessions include jerseys, hats — and a T-shirt from that last season.

“With all three emblems on the front,” Doan said. “And on the back it says, ‘United we stand, and divided we get our butts kicked.’ ”

Doan, who followed the team to Phoenix and has been there ever since, says he’s still asked to autograph as much Jets paraphernalia as he is Coyotes.

And when he bumps into Selanne or Khabibulin, the conversation inevitably turns to Winnipeg.

“We always talk about it,” Doan said.

Players long since retired keep reliving those days, too, and I suppose that’s a little more understandable. You often hear athletes say they won’t really begin reflecting on their careers until they hang ’em up.

But for Kris King, who’s the NHL’s vice-president of hockey operations, to have a Jets Christmas ornament in his Toronto office, when he also played for the Leafs, Chicago, Detroit and the New York Rangers?

“That was probably, of my 15 years, four years that I enjoyed the most,” King said.

Then he went on to tell stories about ice fishing trips and tobogganing excursions with his Jets teammates, and you realize he’s not just snowing you.

Seems those were close teams the last few years, with players who actually enjoyed each other and this small-market popsicle stand in the middle of nowhere.

A place where a member of the professional hockey team could count on a neighbour to shovel his driveway while he was on a road trip.

“That’s what I remember about Winnipeg, was the people and how much they cared,” King said. “How much they cheered for a team that wasn’t overly talented, but worked hard. That, to me, is what Winnipeg is still all about.”

The more you talked to these guys, the more stories they’d tell you.

About how Dave Manson would go water-skiing, barefoot, along the Red River in summer.

How Keith Tkachuk didn’t really like his first fishing trip with the boys, at least, not until he got a small plane to fly in a boatload of beer.

How Dean Kennedy got so mad he almost beat the living daylights out of Sheldon Kennedy and Neil Wilkinson after they carelessly fired their rifles during a duck hunting trip.

Priceless stories, from a priceless piece of history.

Oh, and one more thing.

Thanks, boss.


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