December 13, 2011
Selanne's Finnish flashbackWinnipeg holds special place in heart of ex-Jets superstar
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Teemu Selanne has heard all about the new hockey atmosphere at his old stomping grounds, and can’t wait to see it for himself.
As long as it doesn’t include the usual reception for the visiting team’s best player.
In case you haven’t heard, they’ll boo anybody, here — even former Jets like Phoenix captain, Shane Doan.
“That’s funny,” Selanne said, hearing Doan got the Bronx cheer during the Coyotes’ recent visit. “Hopefully they’re not going to boo for me.”
If there’s one Jets opponent who might be spared the wrath of the Winnipeg faithful, you’d think it’d be Selanne.
I don’t know if he’s the most popular Jet of them all — Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull come to mind — but the Finish Flash is close, even though he only played parts of four seasons here, beginning as an electrifying rookie in 1992-93.
And with his imminent return to Winnipeg for his first game in nearly 16 years, the Finnish Flash has been one of the most popular players in the NHL this week, with enough media requests to make a guy’s head spin.
Anaheim Ducks media man Alex Gilchrist was so inundated — CBC and TSN sent reporters to Anaheim for sit-down interviews, while several writers “and every radio station in Canada” requested him by phone — he set up a conference call for Selanne, Tuesday.
For his part, Selanne says he circled Dec. 17 on his calendar as soon as the schedule came out.
“Obviously I knew it’s going to be very special to have a chance to come back there and play,” he said. “But I don’t really know what to expect. It’s a long time when I played there last time. All the memories I have, I’m very excited. I heard that building is rocking, the people, the fans are so excited about their team. It’s going to be a very, very special day there. I can’t wait.”
Selanne won over the hearts of the hockey masses here as quickly as he flew down the ice, his record-setting, 76-goal campaign and enthusiasm complimenting his Finnish humility — and a star was born.
“It’s funny, when I go to visit teams’ buildings there’s a lot of Winnipeg Jets 13 jerseys there, still,” he said. “That makes me feel really good.”
Wildly popular with teammates, coaches, even the media, I don’t know a hockey writer who has a bad thing to say about the guy. Or a fan, for that matter.
“Pretty much every place where I’ve played I’ve always had special relationship with the fans. And Obviously Winnipeg was really, really special,” Selanne said. “There’s a reason why their plates on their cars have Friendly Manitoba — because it’s a really friendly city and unbelievable fans. It was just a great four and a half years there.”
But it ended ugly, with Selanne getting a rude introduction to the business side of the game when he was traded during that final Jets season.
Two weeks before the deal, incoming owner Richard Burke had called to reassure him nothing would happen.
“You almost feel that you have failed,” Selanne said. “The first couple days I was just totally shocked about what happened. It was a weird business to realize and face — there’s no feelings, you can get traded at anytime, and there’s no control. That was a big adjustment.”
Selanne played his last game with the Jets on Feb. 4, ’96, at home against Vancouver. The trade to Anaheim happened three days later.
“The next day I’m gone,” he said. “It’s pretty tough when you’re traded. Everything is rushing.”
He hasn’t slowed down, since.
At 41, and all but sure to hang ’em up after this season, Selanne is not only the Ducks all-time leader in everything that matters, he leads the team in current scoring, with 29 points in 29 games.
But since that abrupt departure from the ’Peg, he’s come to realize a loose end remains.
One that’s taken nearly 16 years to tie up.
“I didn’t really have a chance to say goodbye,” he said.
Saturday, he gets the chance.