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Selanne looking forward to Winnipeg return

by Staff Writer / Winnipeg Jets
Whenever Teemu Selanne is on the road, he sees his past.

Sometimes he spots it from the team bus as it dips into the tunnel. Sometimes it walks right up to him as he makes the walk through the hotel lobby up to his room after the morning skate.

Other times he'll catch a glimpse of it during pre-game warm-ups, that quaint, retro-blue jersey staring back at him in the stands.

He doesn't have to look to see what's on the back of it.

"When I go to a lot of visiting teams, there's a lot of No. 13 Winnipeg jerseys," Selanne said.

Selanne long ago changed jersey numbers and teams, swapping No. 13 for No. 8, and Winnipeg for Anaheim, but the connection he has with his former team and city is undeniable and as strong as ever.

There's a reason the plates on the cars have 'Friendly Manitoba.' It's a really friendly city. I had a great (3.5) years there. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye there. That's why I'm really looking forward to going back. - Teemu Selanne
And it will converge for a cinema-like moment Saturday when Selanne, 41 and in his 19th and final season, will return to Winnipeg for the first time since he was traded in 1996.

"Every place where I've played, I've had a special relationship with fans, and Winnipeg was really special," he said. "There's a reason the plates on the cars have 'Friendly Manitoba.' It's a really friendly city. I had a great (3 1/2) years there. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye there. That's why I'm really looking forward to going back."

Though he was there only for a short period, Selanne burst across Manitoba like a comet with a magical 76-goal rookie season and a 100-watt smile.

He endeared himself to fans with his humble demeanor, borne from his Finnish roots. To this day he will sit and chat with fans and sign every last autograph and genuinely enjoy every moment of it.

"To some," said one-time Jets teammate and former Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle of Winnipeg fans, "he's their son."

Carlyle was making his self-described farewell tour as a player in the 1992-93 season when Selanne was a fresh-faced kid with the terrific scoring touch and knack for finding the puck.
Even though Selanne was entering a new culture, Carlyle watched him adapt with his sunny disposition.

"He was a very, very young 23-year-old who didn't have a full comprehension of the English language," said Carlyle, noting that the franchise previously had not had a lot of foreign players. "Then there was this young Finn coming down that swept people off their feet, so that was very special. You look at how popular he is across the city and how popular he is around the League, it speaks to how he is as an athlete and how he is as a person."


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It didn't hurt that Selanne came out of the gates with that 76-goal campaign. He had a hat trick in his fifth NHL game, the first of five that season.

Selanne shattered Mike Bossy's rookie goal-scoring record of 53 with a hat trick against Quebec on March 2, 1993 -- Winnipeg's 64th game of the season.

The 76 goals tied Alexander Mogilny for the League lead, and his 132 points were the most by a first-year player (Peter Stastny is second with 109 points).

Watching back in Finland was a then-15-year-old Niklas Backstrom.

"You still remember his celebrations when he scored and how good he is the first year and every year after that," said Backstrom, who now faces Selanne up to four times a season as goalie for the Minnesota Wild.

Backstrom, whose club was the rival to Selanne's club in Finland when both were younger, skated with Selanne in the summer, and knew then that Saturday was on Selanne's radar.

"It's something he's talked about," Backstrom said. "It's going to be special. It's going to be different. There's a couple of things for him this year that he never expected to happen: Going back home and playing NHL hockey in Finland (in the Compuware NHL Premiere Games), and now going to Winnipeg. I think it's going to be something really special for him, and also for the Winnipeg fans."

Selanne's last game in Winnipeg was Feb. 4, 1996, a 4-2 loss to Vancouver. Only three players from that game -- Selanne, Nikolai Khabibulin of the Edmonton Oilers and Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes -- remain active in the NHL.

Three days later Selanne was traded to Anaheim along with Marc Chouinard and a fourth-round pick in the 1996 draft for Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a third-round pick in 1996.

Selanne said team owners called him about two weeks prior, with rumors swirling that Selanne or Alexei Zhamnov were going to be traded.

When it actually happened?

Teemu Selanne
Teemu Selanne
Right Wing - ANA
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 29
SOG: 88 | +/-: 0
"I was shocked," said Selanne, who still owns the franchise record for longest goal-scoring streak (nine games), and is the only Winnipeg/Phoenix player with a hat trick in a playoff game.

"I didn't really expect to get traded. That phone call was tough … it's such a weird business."

Fast forward 15 years, and Selanne still is playing and the former Atlanta Thrashers have been moved and reborn as the new Winnipeg Jets just in time for his homecoming.

The franchise has a new uniform but retains the modernized jet logo. The fans are waiting for their adopted son.

"You're going to find that it will be raucous," Carlyle said. "There won't be pro-Ducks fans, but there will be pro-Teemu fans."

Carlyle added that "there's going to be a lot of No. 13 jerseys," and Selanne won't help but feel a tug when he sees them in that setting.

"Right when the season came, I looked at the schedule and marked it," Selanne said. "I know it's going to be very special. I really don't know what to expect.

"That was my first NHL team. Starting there I've always said was a big thing. The city makes the players feel so special. It was a dream come true to start my career there in Canada."

Author: Curtis Zupke | Correspondent

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