WINNIPEG – The love affair between Teemu Selanne and Winnipeg hockey fans began in 1992. The fires still burned strongly Sunday night when he made what is expected to be his final regular-season appearance in the city.
Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks pulled out a 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets, but the farewell to Selanne, who announced this past August that this season would be his last, dominated Winnipeg headlines this weekend. The adulation extended into the national anthems at MTS Centre, where the sellout crowd of 15,004 chanted his name as Selanne stood on the Anaheim blue line.
Selanne did not register a point in skating 17:23 against the Jets on Sunday. Winnipeg fans greeted their returning star with a first-period standing ovation, and Selanne ended the evening with another standing ovation after he was named the game's first star.
"[The fans are] unbelievable," Selanne said after the game before a gathered horde of media. "It's a good feeling."
Selanne spent parts of only four seasons with the original Winnipeg Jets and departed in a trade nearly 18 years ago, but he is still a household name in Winnipeg for his 1990s-era exploits.
Selanne's1992-93 rookie debut featured a 76-goal season in which he won the Calder Memorial Trophy and broke Mike Bossy's rookie goal-scoring record. Winnipeg welcomed Selanne as a 22-year-old NHL rookie in 1992, and he spent much of his time after the game greeting arena staff, photographers and media who worked alongside the original Jets during Selanne's stay in the city.
"They really made me feel so special," Selanne said of the nurturing that he received from Winnipeggers as a newcomer to North America. "It was so easy to come here."
Since leaving Winnipeg for Anaheim, where he became a beloved star in Southern California as well, Selanne had made only one on-ice appearance, a December 2011 visit to MTS Centre in which Winnipeg fans welcomed him back.
"We thought that last [December 2011 game] was going to be the last time," said Ducks winger Corey Perry, who scored the game-winning goal Sunday.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is reducing the 43-year-old Selanne's workload this season, and he will only play one game in each of the team's 14 back-to-back sets. Selanne did not dress Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild, but Boudreau returned him to the lineup against the Jets.
Boudreau raved about the MTS Centre reception that greeted Selanne.
"Canadian fans, Winnipeg fans, are tremendous," Boudreau said. "They've been tremendous ever since I've been coming here. You can't say enough about them. They're loud before the game. My first thought was that this is the Canadian version of [the] Chicago [Blackhawks' fan atmosphere]."
Talk often swirls in Winnipeg hockey circles about the possibility of Selanne coming full circle and him ending his 21-season career in Winnipeg colors. However, with Selanne's strong ties to the Ducks and Southern California, he shooed aside such a possibility.
"I think so," Selanne replied when asked if Sunday's game was his last regular-season appearance on Winnipeg ice. "I've decided that this is my last year."