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City of Winnipeg ready to salute Selanne

by Patrick Williams
WINNIPEG - The memories from Teemu Selanne's rookie season in Winnipeg cross all lines in the city's hockey culture.

Those memories weave all across the city's fervent fan base, through the media corps that covered Winnipeg's NHL days then and now and into the dressing room of the current incarnation of the Jets.

Selanne's 76-goal rookie season in 1992-93 still resonates deeply in Winnipeg, and his arrival with the Anaheim Ducks for a contest Saturday night at MTS Centre is perhaps the hottest ticket in town since the Jets' season-opener Oct. 9.

"There will be a lot of buzz in the building regarding Selanne," Jets coach Claude Noel said, "and there should be. He's had a great career, and we want him to continue having a great career after the game. For what he has done for a lot of things here, he has been a tremendous player in the League and still is."

Selanne's 132-point rookie season earned him the Calder Memorial Trophy and began a career that is now in its 19th NHL season. Remarkably enough, Selanne's 76 goals that season only tied him for the League lead, as Buffalo's Alexander Mogilny also posted 76 tallies.


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Selanne will have a few fans in the Winnipeg dressing room Saturday night. Jets right wing Eric Fehr grew up in nearby Winkler, Man. and idolized Selanne as a youngster. A Selanne poster hung on Fehr's bedroom wall.

"He was my favorite player," Fehr said, "and he is still my favorite player. I enjoy watching him with Anaheim. I was a huge Winnipeg Jets fan, and he was their best player. Ever since then, I've been a huge fan."

But Fehr admitted that he will guard against watching Selanne on Saturday night, though he plans to dig up some old Selanne hockey cards that he has in hopes of meeting Selanne after the game.

"I'll try not to be watching him tomorrow," Fehr said. "It's going to be great to see him in this building. I think the fans will enjoy seeing him. I put him right up there with playing someone like Mario Lemieux."

Newly acquired Jets forward Antti Miettinen skated alongside Selanne for Finland in the 2010 Winter Olympics and like Fehr grew up admiring Selanne.

However, Miettinen laughed that he soon realized that there were limits to far that emulation could go.

"I tried to copy him," Miettinen said, "but I found out early on that I [had to go] my own way."

Veteran Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer Tim Campbell is still on the NHL beat in the city, but he goes back far enough to have covered Selanne's rookie season with the Jets.

The Jets had made Selanne a first-round selection in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft and so Selanne arrived in Winnipeg facing considerable expectations from Jets fans. But nobody certainly expected what ensued in Selanne's rookie season.

"I don't think that anybody had in mind what unfolded," Campbell recalled.

Selanne went without a goal in his NHL debut but collected his first tally Oct. 8, 1992 against the San Jose Sharks. Against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 14, Selanne posted the first of his five hat tricks that season and was well on his way to 76 goals.

As Selanne's reputation around the NHL quickly grew, he had to adjust to the considerable attention that he received from fans and media. Visits from the Jets to all corners of the NHL guaranteed a heavy media turnout for Selanne.

But it was attention from opponents that also drove Selanne. A finesse team that season, unwanted physical attention from opponents forced coach John Paddock and general manager Mike Smith to make-over the club's roster.

The Jets held a 13-19-3 mark on Dec. 28 when Smith pulled the trigger on a trade with the New York Rangers that sent Ed Olczyk, who had scored 32 goals a season earlier, to Manhattan in exchange for enforcers Tie Domi and Kris King.

With Domi and King serving as bodyguards, Selanne and Winnipeg's other skill players had more room with which to work. The Jets would roll off an eight-game winning streak and go 27-18-4 the rest of the season to finish with a 40-37-7 mark. The Jets managed to grab the Smythe Division's final playoff spot before bowing out to the rival Vancouver Canucks in six games in the first round.

"He is one of those players who seemed to thrive not just on the attention of the fans," Campbell said, "but the attention of his opponents."

Selanne hit the 50-goal mark with a four-goal night on Feb. 28, 1993 against the Minnesota North Stars, and he drove mild-mannered coach Bob Gainey to distraction that night.

"That's the kind of thing that Selanne was capable of doing," Campbell said. "He didn't care how much attention [teams directed], he always found a way to skate past somebody or slip past somebody."

That four-goal night was the first of three games with hat tricks in a span of six games - one of them on March 2, 1993 helped him eclipse Mike Bossy's record for goals by a rookie in one season with his 54th tally.

Selanne and Jets defenseman Phil Housley developed a special chemistry, Campbell recalled. The smooth, playmaking blue liner went on to post a career-best 79 assists that season.

Even nearly 20 years later, Campbell still sees more than a few glimpses of 1992-93 vintage Selanne when he watches the Ducks.
"His knack for the net is still a remarkable talent," Campbell said.

Just 22 years old and in a new country for the first time, Selanne had to deal with the normal cultural and linguistic growing pains that any European player in North America for the first time must encounter.

But those challenges did not prevent Selanne from connecting with Jets fans.

Julie Evans, a fan of the original Jets and their successors who arrived this summer, recalled meeting Selanne during his rookie season at the old Winnipeg Arena, where fans were able to walk past the Winnipeg dressing room.

Just 10 years old at the time, Evans headed to the old building one night with her father. During Selanne's pre-game stretching routine, Evans recalls Selanne interrupting his ritual to sign an autograph for her. Then, despite Selanne's English still a work in progress, the young sniper chatted with Evans and her father for a few minutes.

"I still remember my dad asking what his favorite pre-game meal was and Teemu telling us that it was spaghetti," Evans said. "I still have the autograph tucked away in a special place.

"As a huge Winnipeg Jets fan even at 10 years old, that was a very special memory I will never forget."
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