In 1988 the Winnipeg Jets selected a young Finnish player named Teemu Selanne with their 10th overall selection. It took a few years for him to come to the NHL, but he finally did in the 92-93 season, and boy, was it worth the wait. Teemu exploded onto the scene, scoring 76 goals and 132 points as a rookie, records that stand to this day, records that may never be broken. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Teemu won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He played with the Jets for 4 seasons and scored 147 goals and 306 points in just 231 games before he was traded to the Ducks. And tonight, Teemu will return to Winnipeg for the final time in the regular season. Tonight there will be cheering, there will be tears, there will be smiles, there will be laughs, and memories will be made. And all this because one player is coming back to Winnipeg for the last time in his career.
While there is no question that Teemu put up some amazing numbers during his time with the Jets, the adoration that he receives seems, at first glance, a little much for a player who played there almost a decade ago and didn't help the team win the Stanley Cup. And yet Teemu deserves the adoration that the Jets fans give him. He is one of the greatest hockey players of all time, but he is an even better person.
In 2006, the (then) Mighty Ducks faced the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs and swept them. In the handshake line, Joe Sakic told Teemu congratulations and this was his turn to go and win the Cup. 1st of all, Sakic is a class act and one my favorite players of all time. For him to say something like that after losing shows what a great guy he is. 2nd of all, this just shows what a great guy Teemu is, Sakic had just lost and he wanted Teemu to finally hoist the Cup. The Ducks were not able to that year, but one year later, they finally did.
On June 6, 2007, the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup, the only Cup victory for Teemu in his career (but hopefully not his last). I was at the game, and I remember as the final seconds ticked away on the clock, I looked down at the Ducks bench and I saw Teemu. The entire team was excited, but Teemu wasn't just excited, he was jumping up and down on the bench. He was acting like a little kid at Christmas. He was finally realizing his life long dream and couldn't contain himself. He was just so ecstatic and happy, and it was clear from way up in the stands. And after the game, when everyone was busy celebrating, Teemu was going around the Pond, hugging and thanking everyone he could find. Everyone who was a part of this teams: the fans, his teammates, employees at the Pond, they all got hugs from him. And through most of it, Teemu was crying tears of joy.
I personally finally got to meet Teemu a couple of years ago at the Fedorin Cup, a local charity game in Orange County that has a mixture of local players, current Ducks, and former Ducks. At one point they players were signing autographs, and I handed Teemu my hat and told him that I was wearing the night the Ducks won the Cup, and he looked so happy and pleased. I was just another fan, but he looked so happy that I had been there when the Ducks won the Cup and that I was now sharing this with him. More than that, he seemed even thankful that I was letting him be an even bigger part of that moment by signing the hat. It was such a special moment for me and one that I will always treasure.
There are countless stories of NHL players going above and beyond to do nice things for the fans. And for Teemu, it's no different. But one thing that separates him from the rest is that he doesn't just do it for the hometown fans, but for all fans. Upon arriving in Winnipeg last night, there was huge crowd of Jets fans there to greet him. I don't know the exact numbers or how long he was out there, but I do know that Teemu stayed to greet and sign as many autographs as possible. He's always smiling and having fun with the fans. To him, it's not about the money. It's about the interaction with the fans. And tonight, he'll get one final chance to say thank you and good bye the the Jets fans who have been with him for the past 2 decades.