WINNIPEG – Winnipeg fans never tire of a visit from Teemu Selanne, and the feeling is mutual for the 43-year-old Anaheim Ducks star.
Selanne arrived with the Ducks at the team's downtown hotel early Sunday morning after a 4-3 overtime road win against the Minnesota Wild. A swarm of Winnipeg hockey fans awaited Selanne to greet him in the hours leading to his final regular-season appearance in the city in which he began his NHL career in 1992.
While Selanne only logged parts of four seasons with the original Winnipeg Jets in the 1990s, he left an impression on the city that still stands. Selanne's rookie 1992-93 season featured a 76-goal debut in which he broke Mike Bossy's rookie goal-scoring record and ended with him winning the Calder Memorial Trophy.
"Obviously, this place is really, really special," Selanne said after the Ducks' morning skate at MTS Centre, where his team will meet the new version of the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday evening. "It's unbelievable. It's good to be here."
The original Jets shipped Selanne to Anaheim in February 1996 shortly before the team itself departed for Phoenix. When the NHL returned to the city two years ago after a 15-year absence, Selanne's first appearance on Winnipeg ice since that trade marked a can't-miss date on the city's hockey calendar in December 2011.
"That reception was unbelievable," Selanne recalled of that night at MTS Centre. "That was so special that I almost hoped I didn't have to come back here, because that was absolutely the perfect night."
But Selanne announced in August that this season would be his final tour around the NHL. While he has made his on-ice return to Winnipeg already, the Ducks' early-season appearance in Winnipeg became another circle-the-date event in Winnipeg. His return this weekend has drawn fans to the Ducks' downtown hotel, the team's morning skate and massive media attention.
"I always say that [signing autographs] is the easiest part of being an athlete or a hockey player," Selanne said. "I've always had a special relationship with the fans. It has been easy."
Returning in 2011 allowed Selanne to renew his relationship with his Winnipeg fans that the 1996 trade interrupted abruptly. Being back in Winnipeg again may not have the same emotional impact that it did two years ago, but Selanne has anticipated this visit.
"It was tough to leave that way," Selanne said of the trade. "This is going to be special, too. Every time when you come here it's fun."
"I couldn't wait to get here [in 2011]," Selanne recalled, "and it's pretty much the same thing again. It's a very special place for me."
This time, however, Selanne did not bring his wife and children to the city, where they skated outdoors in Winnipeg's frigid temperatures and took in the Ducks-Jets game that evening.
"It's too warm here [this time]," Selanne joked.
Winnipeg fans should see Selanne at his freshest against the hometown Jets. Selanne and coach Bruce Boudreau agreed on a plan this summer to lessen the right wing's workload. Selanne will play only one game in each of the team's 14 back-to-back sets this season, and he did not dress against Minnesota on Saturday.
Selanne admits that last season's compact 48-game schedule took a toll on him physically. Long resistant to the idea of reducing his game schedule, Selanne has softened his stance.
"I'd been really stubborn about taking days off, especially games off," Selanne said. "I think it's a good decision."
Between adjusting his mindset to a lesser workload, a competitive Ducks team and the opportunity to represent Finland in February in the 2014 Olympics, returning for one more season appealed to Selanne.
"I've enjoyed every day," Selanne explained. "I appreciate every day that I can play. [A potential Olympic roster spot is] a big bonus. A chance to play in my sixth Olympics is pretty special."
Hockey chatter in Winnipeg often drifts toward the idea of Selanne returning to the city to conclude his 21-season career, particularly if the Jets were lingering in playoff contention in March while the Ducks were not. But Selanne dismissed such talk again Sunday.
"My situation in my life with my family and everything back in Anaheim -- in the back of my mind, [playing for Winnipeg] would be an unbelievable story – but it was not possible," Selanne explained.
Instead Jets fans will have to content themselves with seeing their still-beloved superstar skate on Winnipeg ice one more time.
"They know how special they have been," Selanne said of his Winnipeg fans. "I've really appreciated this city. When I came here as a young [player], they really took me as their own and treated me so well. I'm so happy that I started here to create this relationship with the fans."