Numminen's heart remains with Jets

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 PM ET

Having open heart surgery didn’t force him out of the game, but looking back, Teppo Numminen says his health issues were probably a factor in his retirement.

The all-time leader in games played for the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes, Numminen was felled by a heart murmur that required surgery and kept him out of all but one game during the 2007-08 NHL season.

And while he came back to play one final season with the Buffalo Sabres, his fourth with the team, he retired following the ’08-’09 season, at the age of 41.

“I came back, played a year, no issues,” Numminen said. “I felt great. I got my health back. So it wasn’t really that I couldn’t play, but it was part of the decision.”

Healthy as ever, Numminen has settled in Buffalo, along with his wife and three kids, the youngest a four-year-old boy who’s just starting to skate.

While he’s thrilled to be able to take his son out skating and his older girls to school and ballet, there’s a part of Numminen that misses the game.

So he’s kept one skate in it, helping the Finnish national team in the lead-up to and during last winter’s Olympics, something he’ll do again for next spring’s World Championship.

“You try to get away from the game, but the game still pulls back,” Numminen said. “It’s still a big interest of mine. One option is to be a coach. It interests me, but there’s still the time issue. You retire to get rid of that hectic time, going every day, being at the rink. I’m not ready to jump in, yet. Maybe I never will.

“Right now it’s an option. With the national team it’s good to get a feel of it, and see if I can help the young players.”

Numminen played eight seasons in Winnipeg and seven more in Phoenix, hitting double digits in goals five times while becoming one of the steadiest defencemen in the NHL.

After a trade to Dallas that lasted a year, he finished his career in Buffalo.

But his heart remains attached to the franchise that gave him his start.

“It’s still my team,” he said. “They retired my jersey. My teams are Winnipeg and Phoenix. A big part of it was Winnipeg.

“It was an easy place to start. A smaller town, hockey was the main thing. People were happy and helpful. It really helped me from the first year. After that it was just a simple, good place to live and play.”

Seeing the franchise uprooted, though, in 1996 was anything but easy for the native of Tampere, Finland.

Numminen says he experienced a Jets hangover that lasted well into the following season.

“It really hit me when we went to Phoenix and we started the next season,” he said. “Really, I was struggling there for a good couple of months, just figuring it out. Who do I really play for? You’ve got to have something to play for. You play for the people, and it wasn’t really there. I was kind of lost there for a couple of months.”

All the people he’d met over the years, who’d cared so much and who’d tried to save the team, were no longer around.

Some players might not have been affected by it, but Numminen was.

“There was a time that you try to find your game and your life again, after everything you put in in Winnipeg. It’s an emotional game ... and then bang, it’s gone. So you’ve got to regroup and build yourself up again.”

That he did, not only becoming a mainstay on the Coyotes blue-line, but winning three Olympic medals with the Finns.

These days, he looks at his old franchise and wonders: why did the Coyotes ever move from Phoenix to far-away Glendale?

And will Winnipeg ever get another team?

“It was a business first, and then the game,” Numminen said. “Until that changes, it’s not going to happen. I think it can happen. But I don’t know if it will. It’s still a business. Like we learned back then.”

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788

Twitter@friesensunmedia


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