He’s arguably the best player ever to don a Winnipeg Jets jersey in team history, and at the ripe age of 43, Teemu Selanne was excited to make his return to the city as an Anaheim Duck to take on the the Jets Sunday night at the MTS Centre.
“This place is so nice and the fans are unbelievable,” commented Selanne to a group of reporters following a skate at the MTS Centre Sunday afternoon.
“I’m very happy to have had a chance to come back one more time. It’s been a very special place for me and it’s going to be fun.”
Selanne was last in Winnipeg on December 17, 2011, for a game in which the Jets won 5-3. He finished the game with two assists and was on the receiving end of thunderous cheers from a sold out Winnipeg crowd the entire night.
“That night was so special I almost hoped I didn’t have to come back here,” reminisced Selanne. “That was an absolutely perfect night. It was something I am always going to remember.”
With that game now in the books, he was back again for one final game — in which the Ducks edged out the Jets 3-2 — in the city where it all started.
Just like the humble and considerate man he was back then, he took the time again to sign autographs for a group of eager kids, many of which know him as an Anaheim Duck, having only watched highlights of how special he was in Winnipeg.
“I always say that’s the easiest part of hockey players or any athlete’s job is to try and sign autographs. I’ve always had a special relationship with the fans. It’s just easy.”
Selanne noted that he has had a number of special times in Winnipeg throughout his career, mentioning one moment in particular.
“When I broke Mike Bossy’s record [for most goals in a season by a rookie],” he said. “That was the night you’re always going to remember.
“[That moment] when I threw the glove in the air and shot it down. Now, when I see it, I kind of get embarrassed, but I was young and excited at the time.”
In 231 career games that spanned four seasons with the Jets, Selanne recorded 147 goals and pitched in 159 assists for a total of 306 points.
Now, entering his 21st NHL season, Selanne continues to impress in a league he first joined in 1992.
“The biggest thing that keeps guys going when they’re older is the passion to want to play,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“It has nothing to do with money or anything else. He just loves the game of hockey and you can tell every time he steps on to the ice how much he loves the game.
“You’re not going to see a man at his age in the shape that he’s in. I’ve always said this last year, that I thought he was for his age the greatest athlete in the world. Look around at any other sports. European soccer? I don’t see a guy 43. I don’t see anyone in football playing regular, doing what he does. You know Mariano Rivera did it in baseball, but it’s a relief pitcher that comes in once a day. To do what he does at his age is totally remarkable.”
After contemplating retirement for the past few years, Selanne officially announced this season would be his last.
So what about the chance of his career ending in Winnipeg?
“With the situation in my life with my family and everything back in Anaheim,” started Selanne before stopping to take a moment to think. “In the back of my mind it would be an unbelievable story, but it was not possible.”
Thus, Winnipeg fans instead got a chance to bid farewell to their beloved hero one last time as they watched their current team take on their former’s biggest star.
“They know how special they have been,” said Selanne about the fans in Winnipeg. "Not only the time when I was here, but all the years in my career. I’ve really appreciated this city. I’m so happy I started here and could create this relationship with the fans.”