Jets fans give warm welcome to Selanne

Jets fans give warm welcome to Selanne

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Reuters
Jets fans give warm welcome to Selanne

Winnipeg Jets fans greet the team’s former hero Teemu Selanne, who now plays for the Anaheim Ducks, during warm-up prior to the two teams’ NHL game. REUTERS photo

Teemu Selanne skated onto Winnipeg ice for the first time in 15 years to a hero’s welcome from Jets fans on Dec. 17, as the Finnish Flash returned to the city where he started his National Hockey League career.

The Helsinki native played his first four NHL seasons in Winnipeg, setting rookie goal and point-scoring records that still stand. The Jets traded the right winger to the Anaheim Ducks in a lopsided deal during the team’s final 1995-96 season in Winnipeg before the money-losing club moved to Phoenix.

The Western Canadian city got an NHL team back this season in the shape of the relocated Atlanta Thrashers and Selanne eagerly anticipated the lone trip to Winnipeg in what could be his last season.
“Sometimes I’m just shaking my head thinking about how much passion people have for hockey here, and all over in Canada,” Selanne, 41, said. “It’s almost like the people live their lives through the hockey.”

The Jets won 5-3 over the Ducks. Five different players - Alexander Burmistrov, Kyle Wellwood, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Zach Bogosian - scored for Winnipeg.

For Ducks, Selanne notched two assists, including a slick alley-oop pass, to the fans’ delight.
Jeff Thompson, 37, was among the fans who waited outside the Ducks hotel for their team bus to arrive just before 3 a.m. on Dec. 17.

“There’s only one Teemu,” Thompson said. “Back in the day, being a younger hockey fan, that was your idol.”

In Winnipeg’s first season back to the NHL, their fans have gained a reputation as being the toughest on opposing players. But the fans gave Selanne several standing ovations and cheered whenever he touched the puck.

At the end of the game, Selanne tossed two sticks into the crowd and pumped his fist to his heart as the fans stood and cheered. “I tried to stay focused, I was very emotional,” Selanne said after the game. “It’s a dream come true to come back and play here one more time.”